Just be yourself. It’s what we tell our kids as they get on the bus to middle school for the first time to ease their anxiety about making friends. It’s what we tell our girlfriend when she goes out on her first date with that guy she’s had a crush on for three years. It’s what we say to the reflection in the mirror as we pump ourselves up for a much-anticipated job interview.
But do we really mean it?
This morning when I packed my kids’ lunches, I wrote on their napkins, “Always Be Yourself.” The challenge for me as their mom is to accept them when they are being themselves, even if what that looks like is not my expectation of them.
More often than not, people are punished for being themselves – punished by their pre-teen peers, punished by that guy who wanted only one thing, punished by a society that would rather we conform to the norm than color outside the lines, sometimes punished by the people who are supposed to love us the most.
Even Christianity, which professes the unconditional love of God and being “neighbor” to strangers and even one’s enemies, is often not very accepting of people being themselves. The message is mixed – be yourself, as long as being yourself means conforming to this particular interpretation of scripture.
The problem with being myself is that who I am is constantly growing, developing and changing, even if other people’s expectations of me stay the same. Like many other people, I struggle to find that balance between meeting expectations and being true to myself, whoever “myself” is today. So when I heard I Can Just Be Me by Laura Story, the lyrics resonated.
In the past, I’ve set some pretty high standards for myself. Some people might even say impossibly high. I’ve had more than one priest or spiritual advisor suggest that I ought to cut myself some slack now and then. “Pray for the grace to let yourself off the hook,” was literally one of the penances I was given during one confession! High standards are fine, as long as I remember that it’s God who does the heavy lifting. And if I look back over my history, I can see some of my weaknesses and failures are exactly what God could use to reach other people and give them hope.
Today, being myself means accepting myself the way God accepts me, not to stay who I am, but to grow ever more perfectly into the woman God intended me to be.