It sounds so inviting, so “of course,” as though this should be a natural desire, a natural goal in any setting. I can see it in mission statements, values descriptions, and marketing pieces.
We value authentic community!
We offer authentic community!
We are an authentic community!
Of course these enthusiastic statements would be accompanied by pictures of smiling groups of people, leaning in close, obviously connected with one another. But behind buzzwords and stock photos, what reality lies at the heart of this phrase… authentic community?
For most of my life, authentic community was oxymoronic. I craved community desperately, but authenticity, at least on my part, seemed like a barrier. In seeking connection, my chief aim was to perform and adapt, to study others and to discover what was wanted (or what I thought was wanted), and then to focus my energy on being just that.
Now, this didn’t mean being completely fake, necessarily. Rather, it was playing up parts of me and playing down others as seemed appropriate. Achiever needed? I can do that. Conservative Christian wanted? I have my membership card. Sporty, active girl? Bring it on! Socially conscious reformer? Let’s talk over coffee. Leader? Follower? Confident? Shy? Firm? Gentle? Yes.
While I didn’t yet have the tools to identify them, I had powerful filters in place.
You are an outsider.
You are too much.
You don’t belong.
You can’t let that part of you show with this group of people.
These filters kept me firmly believing that my whole, authentic self could not connect in community because something about me, some element of who I was, would consistently disqualify me. To be authentic was to be vulnerable to rejection.
Now, on the other side of a multi-year journey of freedom, healing, and discovery, I have come to understand that I actually wasn’t that far off base. Authentic community is saturated with vulnerability. To press into it means pressing into those most vulnerable of places, to let our full, whole selves be exposed. Sometimes that exposure is raw and awkward. Sometimes we experience the very thing we most fear: rejection, disconnection. Sounds great, right?
For all of the vulnerability, exposure, and awkwardness, authentic community is one of the most beautiful experiences that life has to offer. There is something sacred about being with people who have seen you fully and embraced you- through celebrations, through grief, through laughter, through reactivity, through rawness, through difference, through confidence, through insecurity, through success, through failure.
But this beauty is not something we find; it’s something we create. Authentic community can only exist when I choose to give myself permission to be authentic.
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown says, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.
To make this choice, I must start by cultivating the most important relationship in authentic community: my relationship with myself. I must choose to show up and be real with myself, to be honest with myself, to let my true self be seen and to accept that true self fully as good enough and worthy of love. The gateway to that level of freedom ultimately comes when I ground my identity in who Jesus says that I am, letting Him be my good enough-ness.
As I choose to give myself permission to be authentic, to see and accept my full self, I then give others permission to be real, to be honest, to be seen. And in that space, I discover authentic community is born.
So where are you on this journey? We invite you to take the next step, to join us at Mothers & Others May 10 where we will be exploring this topic in more depth, in a class, or through therapy at House of Hope.