As I sat in the drive-thru, waiting to place my order, I turned on the radio to break the silence. I flipped through the stations in an attempt to find some music when I stumbled upon a conversation between the DJ and a caller. “I would tell myself to be true to yourself. God loves you just the way that you are,” stated the caller. “You just gave me chills. What great advice,” responded the DJ. The theme of the segment was something along the lines of “advice you would give to your younger self.” With a befuddled look upon my face, I grunted with dismay. “What, daddy?” responded my 3 year old daughter. “Nothing, sweetheart. Would you like some chicken nuggets?”
I’ll begin with a question: What does that phrase even mean? “Be true to yourself.” The original phrase is Shakespearian, from the play Hamlet, where the character Polonius says to his son, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” I’m sure I’m not the first person to be confused by Shakespeare’s writing. Is this a profound statement about being yourself without fear of criticism or the disapproval of others? Or is it an ambiguous and trivial saying that promotes narcissism and moral individualism? Any way you seek to define it, the focus is on oneself. Which leads to a second question: Who are you?
This is one of life’s most difficult questions: Who am I? If we desire to be true to ourselves, we must first define who we are as individuals and as people. Is this something we get to decide for ourselves? Or is there someone or something beyond us that determines who we should be? I believe we were created in the good image of God, but are unfortunate recipients of a thing called original sin. Despite our potential for good, we are innately evil and the only hope we have of being true to the goodness that resides within us is through the grace of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As a Christian, who I am and who we are as people is defined by the God who created us.
The caller’s second statement also troubled me. “God loves you just the way you are.” In some sense this is true. God loves us all regardless of our sin and grace is available to everyone through faith in Jesus Christ. The problem I have with this comment is that it fails to challenge us to become greater, as if God is satisfied with who we are currently. We often refer to God as our Father; as a father myself, I have the difficult responsibility of growing my children into loving and respectful adults. I love them even when they’re being disobedient, selfish, and wicked, but I also need to teach them to be well-behaved, compassionate, and humble. God loves us as sinners, but He desires that we strive to reflect His good character. In the Bible, God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” We may never become perfect people, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
I’m sure the caller meant well and maybe I am way overthinking her comments. But I strongly believe that we need to think more deeply about the rhetoric that is thrown around in our culture. Before you nod in agreement with some eloquent remark, take the time to ponder what it really means.
Rev. Timothy Wilmetti – Bluffton First United Methodist Church