I remember so vividly our Sunday morning routine when I was a child. There was screaming and fighting and swatting and tears.
Like an unseen bully, the volatile tension would follow us into the car, its presence thick and heavy and loud.
I'd hold my breath, and silently beg for a ceasefire. The words "please stop" would turn over and over in my mind. All the way to church.
And as we pulled into the parking lot, there came the inevitable instruction: "You better put a smile on your face before we get inside."
I'd do my best to dry my tears. Wipe my snot. Calm my blotchy skin. With my plastic smile crookedly in place, we'd walk into church. Together. A happy family.
And so I learned to live a double life.
I don't have much of a poker face -- my eyes always give me away -- so I tried my best to be invisible. In the church foyer, I'd scurry away from my family as soon as I could. I'd walk close to the wall, stick to the outskirts of the crowd, avoid eye contact. And when I inevitably still heard my mom's voice from across the room -- "Oh, praise the Lord!" -- I'd recoil inside. I'd roll my eyes, let out a groan, and inwardly seethe with resentment.
I wanted to scream; I wanted to run and hide. I hated feeling like a genuine fake. But somehow I knew that exposed truth would hurt more than hidden truth. Besides, who could I possibly tell? And how would I ever find words that could explain?
So I became good at remaining unseen. Master of the phrase "I'm fine". Proficient at simply being quiet. Skills I still excel at, even though I am desperate for different...
And so I live in the tension of my love/hate relationship with authenticity.
I despise artificiality, yet I find it strangely comfortable. I crave transparency, yet I cower away from it. I so deeply long for authenticity, but I am scared to death of being laid bare.
So I learned to be authentic in past tense. To speak of what I've overcome, how much I've changed, what I used to struggle with. But past tense authenticity isn't really authenticity at all, is it? The present tense, bare-boned kind is vulnerable and exposing. Naked, with nowhere to hide. Just me, broken and battered.
Deep down, I want to be Velveteen-Rabbit real: threadbare and worn, and loved even more for it.
But I despise my own frayed edges, torn limbs, matted fur, missing whiskers. Afraid that if anyone really saw me for who I am, there's no way they would love me... There's no way they could love me...
In an attempt at present-tense authenticity, I don't have a red bow to wrap this all together with. I don't have a grace-lined ending or some nugget of Scripture that ties this all neatly together. Just an honest confession of my constant struggle to be really real.
And I keep thinking about that stuffed bunny who became real because he was deeply loved. And how I want the opposite to be true of me.
I want to be deeply loved because I am real.
Maybe not so much despite my flaws and failures and shortcomings... but because of them.