How many time has someone told you that happiness is just a matter of being yourself?
It seems so simple. But I’m convinced we often don’t mean it. Or we mean it but only within a narrow range of behavior.
Schools, companies and churches reward compliance and attempt to categorize us based on traditional roles. Teachers reward a very narrow band of behavior. Companies reward predictable behavior. It seldom pays to rock the boat at work. Churches reward members who toe the line, and punish those who question why things are done a certain way.
I’ve spent most of my life being the person I thought my parents, teachers, friends, and church leaders wanted me to be. In high school I was rewarded by performing well in sports. I wasn’t expected to be a stand-out academic. When I was called to serve a mission, I assumed I should pack my personality because “being myself” would be the best way to meet and convert Germans to my beliefs. The first time I was dismissed in class I understood that what the church actually wanted was a doctrine spewing clone that never went off script.
Even as I write this blog, I’m aware that a few people come here expecting me to write a certain way and use language that’s not upsetting. Recently I’ve been told that I shouldn’t write about my beliefs because they are too personal and they upset others. This has never crossed my mind because I figured if what I wrote was upsetting anyone, they could stop reading what I write.
This blog is one place I can be myself. I’m OK that my children know where to find it and have enjoyed the questions they bring to me after reading it. They know I make a lot of mistakes. My son read my post about being married before and had some tough questions for me. I was caught off guard, but the result was a memorable discussion with my son who came away knowing a bit more about my life, even if it included periods for which I’m not proud.
I’m struggling to figure out what it means to be me. My entire belief system came crumbling down a year ago. It’s been challenging to pick up what pieces are left and see how they fit into my new life. My beliefs have ostracized family members and cost me a few friends which has been the worst part of it all. On the flip side, I’ve had a lot more people with similar theological struggles reach out to me and provide support. But most of them are looking for a sympathetic ear because they are in a situation where making their beliefs known could cost them their marriages.
But there’s no turning back. After nearly 5 decades of allowing people to define who I am, I’m taking a step towards being the person I want to be rather than the one others expect me to be.