We hear this advice a lot over the course of our lives, but what does it really mean? To the thinking of the world this short phrase connotes a kind of individualism, an individualism that is often understood as a rebellion against what is perceived as the “norm.” It is the adolescent cry of the heart, or the sentiment of the old Frank Sinatra song, “I Gotta Be Me,” as if this were enough to excuse any and all actions. But is this really all there is to this idea of being yourself?
For the Christian, being “yourself” carries a much different connotation. The above interpretation is rooted in the thinking of the world, which is finite and often shallow and materialistic. For example, we live in what we have commonly come to understand as a “consumer society.” Our economy is no longer based on industrial or agricultural, labor-intensive output. Rather, the health of today’s economy is based more and more on the idea of our spending as consumers. We make less and less, but spend more and more on entertainment and stuff at every level and every kind. Matthew Kelly opens his book Perfectly Yourself with three questions:
“Are we still consumers, or are we being consumed? Have we lost something or ourselves to this unbridled consumerism? Can we get it back?”
As Kelly then goes on to talk about, Aladdin’s eyeroll response might be more appropriate – and telling. He writes about the idea of “branding.” Noting that our first use of brands was to mark ownership of cattle, and more terrifying, of human slaves, it is a bit odd that we go about every day wearing brand names on our clothes and he asks: “Do we own the brands, or do the brands own us? How many times have we heard people, or ourselves, express pride or our insecurity concerning our own value, or that of another, by the brands names of clothing, or cars, or purses, that we own, or don’t own? Though we like to claim pride in our individualism and our independence, are we not often moved consciously or unconsciously by our need to “fit in?”
Fitting in often means nothing more than wearing the “right” clothes and driving the “right” cars. And vice versa. But how often does this desire to “fit in” cost us the loss of our own priceless and unique selves, that is, the truly priceless and unique individual that God made us in his own image and likeness to be?
Our loving God made each one of us utterly uniquely and commissions us with a unique purpose in this life. To use a couple of analogies, we are like the pieces of a great, vast, marvelous picture puzzle, or like the individual words in a crossword puzzle. Without our own unique piece in this puzzle, or our individual word, the puzzle will never be complete. A picture puzzle’s pieces are not all shaped alike. They each have their own unique shape and coloring, or patterns. Though each is different, when they are put together they reveal something beautiful. Likewise, without the last word in a crossword puzzle, the puzzle remains unfinished. God’s purpose in making each one of us unique, was also to reveal to us how important each and every one of us are to his plan for salvation. We are, each one of us, a unique piece to that beautiful puzzle, or the word that is needed to complete his unfolding story of salvation.
The main reason for this is that we all too often get caught up in what Robert Spitzer calls the “comparison game” – or, to use the common phrase, “keeping up with the Joneses.”
God did not make us in order to compare ourselves to anyone else. He made us utterly uniques and, therefore, uniquely important.
He made us to know, to love, and to serve him in this world with and through the unique talents and gifts he gave us. How do we do this? We must, in our uniqueness and in our freedom, choose to be in a personal relationship with God. When we do this, we can come to know ourselves as persons uniquely known, loved, and graced by God. Then we will no longer be driven by the need to impress others, or to judge others, or ourselves, by things as shallow, vain, and finite as our clothing, or our cars, or our bank accounts, or by race, culture, or religion, or by our prestige in society. God made us for the good. Each one of us must find the good that God has given each of us in the form of unique talents and gifts and then we must share them magnanimously, freely, and joyfully. Then we will be ourselves in the way that God intended us to be.