What you surround yourself with matters. Who you surround yourself is important. As humans we are expected to grow: physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, etc. Just like seeds that need good soil, we need good environments to grow in.
Jesus was clear that unless a seed is buried in the ground and sprouts and grows, it is nothing more than just a singular, granular lifeless entity that has no significance that produces nothing (John 12:24) -like that random penny you find in your couch which you look at and think "I guess it's got potential but by itself this penny can't do anything for me by itself sitting next to a bobby pin and a forgotten lego. Seeds need soil. Period. Jesus loves soil. Period. Jesus spent more time talking about soil than seed which means a healthy environment, surroundings and culture is more important than you think.
Our soil (dirt, y'all) is powerful. Soil sustains life by helping seeds become plants. Soil provides food, water and air that is needed by plants to grow. The healthier the soil, the more nutrients a plant can soak up. The healthier the plant, the better the fruit. In our natural world, the quality of the soil ultimately affects the health of people and animals.
If you want authenticity…you have to go first. That’s not easy. When I am meeting someone, I like to ask questions of them because when people talk about themselves they walk away having a more meaningful experience with you. That’s easy part and the first part. Once you realize you have a connection, it’s important to make that connection authentic and that happens when you choose to “give them the gift of going second” as you are the first to “open up.” So as a creator of connection, builder of community, a leader of leaders, you have to take that initiative.
Community without that natural chemistry is forced, mildly boring and lacks energy. So as the one “reading this post” you now have the responsibility to cultivate authenticity with your relationships. You are charged with helping others tear down their walls, to lower the drawbridge and to let others in. You can be a castle that’s closed or you can be a greenhouse that grows. Authenticity grows you to becoming a better Christian…a better human being.
So the question to ask your community is this: Is this a safe place for me tobe myself? Because the most authentic you is the you others are longing for and what God is waiting for…. Authenticity dismantles who others want you to be and enhances who you're supposed to be. So be vulnerable. Vulnerability says I accept you before you accept me. Authenticity starts when you become vulnerable in your relationships. When you choose vulnerability you choose community.
So stop self-protecting.
Allowing ourselves to truly experience our emotions is a beautiful thing and is the first step toward becoming a well-rounded and emotionally balanced person. It’s hard for people to see what a complete mess underneath while at the same time showing my cool exterior. But as I got older, I realized that being transparent with the people I care about is a true joy that many miss out. Instead of the freedom to be ourselves, we instead try to re-adjust ourselves according to who we think people want us to be.
Here’s why this is wrong: Everyone is deserving of unconditional love. This is the love of God so we need this, it’s the kind of love that we were made to contain. When we hide the things about ourselves we deem “undesirable,” we’re building shaky relationships that eventually collapse because they are build on a façade and not a foundation.
That’s why authenticity is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone. Someone who is not authentic can still be a leader and connect but will not add value to our community. A person who connects and cares authentically adds value to their community by making a positive contribution. The biggest blockage to this authentic community is self-protection.
Are you building barriers of self-protection or creating communities of authenticity?
Here are a few thoughts to get you thinking:
Self-Protection is rooted in fear and results in hiding vs authenticity is rooted in vulnerability and results in originality
Not everyone will like you. This was hard for me to realize because I thought I was a pretty likable dude. But that’s part of life I guess. But those who do like you will like you best when you are truly yourself. Sometimes we don’t’ want o to be caught being yourselves” because we fear others may not like what they see. So we chose to hide it from others until it’s “safe to reveal” the our true selves. That’s why sincerity and originality seam to go together. I live in MN and there’s nothing like walking on a freshly snowed sidewalk…not just hearing the crunch against the silent snowfall but walking and making prints of my own. Herman Melville says it this way,
“It’s better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation. –Herman Melville
Originality isn’t an option but an obligation. David couldn’t wear Saul’s armor so why are you modeling someone else’s? David learned that lesson. You be you and you do you. Because your community needs it.
Self protection controls situations vs authenticity celebrates people
Fear is controlling. And fear can permeate a situation quickly. But it can be conquered by authenticity. When you are authentic, you are showing others who you are and that’s a good thing. When you become yourself in front of others you celebrate yourself for the benefit of others. Authenticity dismantles who others want you to be and enhances who you're supposed to be. And that takes courage. Courage is comes from the latin word Kerr which is where we get the word “heart.” Fear is overcome when the heart of the person is revealed ad to others. You can’t make everyone happy…that’s never been your job. But you can make people better. Imitating others makes you a copy of others around you but the real you makes others around you complete. Seth Godin says it like this,
“Because, while we're each unique, we have far more in common than we're comfortable admitting. Amplifying our differences may make us feel special, but it's not particularly useful when it comes to getting better. ... Being unique is a great way to hide from the change we need when someone offers us a better future. Learning from the patterns and the people who have come before, though, is the only way any of us advance. “-Seth Godin
True community requires authenticity. And you can’t express authenticity without others. So ask yourself…how can you leverage your nique qualities to add value to others in your community?
Self-Protection wastes emotional energy vs authenticity creates relational connectivity
Your iphone has only so much memory and your emotional capacity has only so much energy. When you pretend to be someone who “has it all together” or try to be “the charismatic one or popular one”, it drains you and and isn’t sustainable. Give yourself permission to be yourself and you will enjoy being yourself.
Spiritual growth is not only a mark of Christian life but a necessity of Christian life. If you are the same person you were last year at this time...then you have some spiritual "growing up" to do. Becoming more like Jesus is our mandate. Loving God and loving others is our marching orders. So why do we lack spiritual growth at times in our lives?
Community life is something that should be a "no-brainer" for Christians. Yet, it is always seems to be a challenge for churches. So here it is: you need others. Your origin story is found and bound in your relationship with God. Genesis 1:28 confirms this when God says, “let us make man in Our image.” God is confirming the truth that "this is US" is better than “this is me." Your tribe makes you stronger. Your friends make you better. Every word they say, every value the cultivate and the culture they create are influencing you. For the better and for the worse. Your community is shaping you whether you believe it or not. They are molding you whether you want them to or not. Show me your tribe and I'll show you you're trajectory. Show me your friends and I'll show you your future. Show me your community life and I'll show you your spiritual life.
Others are necessary for spiritual life to even exist. It’s hard for you to be seen and heard by GOD in your life when you are desperate to be seen and heard by OTHERS in your life. If your community is making it hard for you to be accepted...then a change of community will mean a change of spiritual growth for you. You need people for your spiritual life to exist. Not just anybody..but a community that is centered around the love of Christ. A community centered on the attributes of Jesus means it's a community that is practicing unconditional love, forgiveness, radical acceptance of those who are different, a heart for serving others, etc. Yet, it seems we choose to put more value on our "alone time." I understand we need time to chill and decompress but that should not be our normal. Someone recently said to me, "I only can get close to God when it's completely silent with no one around." I understand we need alone time with God but that was never meant to be our only time and place for an authentic encounter with God. God uses your community to speak from. For example, if you're not hearing from God like you used to be, check first to see how isolated you are because it's in community where God often speaks. God will use the prayers of people around you to release miracles in you. God will inspire the worship around you and to reveal who God is to you. God will use the Bible spoken from others to you to declare God is for you.
Maybe that's why God puts such a massive emphasis on covenant. And maybe we need to revisit that word again. The Bible uses the word "covenant" when speaking of the value of others in your life. Generally a covenant with someone means that you feel you need them because without them you feel lost because with this covenant we find ourselves connected to each other so that we can accomplish more. Without you I can't. Without you I won't. So we choose to enter into relationships that are not meant to be broken...this is a covenant. That's why in the Bible, covenants were sealed with an animal sacrifice to show the severity of our bond of "we don't give up on each other unless one of us dies." That's commitment. It's a commitment to say I need you. It's a commitment to say I need others in my life because I can be more and do more with you. It's not about needing the right people to help you accomplish something it's more about having the right people help you become something...becoming a stronger person in our faith, in your families and in our workplace.
We live in a society that defines us by our work and values us because of our accomplishments. That compels us to fall into the trap of doing more work and doing better work versus becoming a better person so my work can become better. Your job isn't walking down a "career path" but discovering who God made you to be and be the best version of you to others for 40+ hours a week. This is what your community should do...help you find yourself. The quality of your work will increase when the quality of your relationships increase. The right people surrounding you helps your perspective get better, your contentment stronger and your influence greater. Not only that, but your measure of success purer. Your definition of success changes from what I want to accomplish in life to who can I raise up in my life. True success in life is not measured by the number of promotions before me but the number of successors coming after me. Trust me, the older I get, the more it seems the most important thing I will accomplish will be who I raise up in life and not what I do in life.
3 Questions to ask yourself about your spiritual growth:
1. Can you be yourself in your community?
No one can worship God like you or for you. Being yourself is what God is looking for and what the world is waiting for. If you can't be you, then you are robbing your community of the value you can bring and robbing God of an opportunity to show off his creative work. Remember, we are God's artwork, created in Christ, to do good works that God set up beforehand so we can walk in and "me do me and you do you." (Ephesians 2:10) Your community should be excavating and unearthing what God put in you before you were ever born (Jeremiah 1:5-7). Be in a community that pursues God and challenges you so pursue God. Discover who God is and you discover who you are but bury God and you bury yourself.
2. How mature is your community?
Spiritual maturity is giving to God and others and not getting from God and others. Valuing others before they value you creates an environment for everyone to be included. Being the first to forgive than "waiting" for an apology is what your friends need from you. Cultivate being a vulnerable person because vulnerability says "I accept you before you accept me." Be teachable and stop resisting sound correction because they are calling things out of you because they care. God says it best here,
"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ." Philippians 1:9-11
3. Do you feel better when you are in your community?
The key to this is does your community encourage each other? To encourage someone means to "in-courage" or "put courage in" others. I've realized first-hand that you can't authentically encourage someone when your proud because it means you're too focused on being better than that person than trying to better that person. Condemnation is one of the worst things for a community. Shame keeps you and everyone in your community from moving forward. Jesus showed this to a community of pharisees when they were going to punish a woman who was in adultery. He didn't condemn her or shame her but spoke wisdom. Your community isn't free from those in it making bad decisions. Your relationships around you can give wisdom or give opinions. How to tell the difference between someone giving you an opinion vs wise counsel: opinions can fuel judgement but wisdom always fuels guidance.
Jesus understood being devoted to a community of people was enough to change the world so...how intentional are you with the community God has given you?
Any I'm missing?