We all know the pop-cultural Shakespearean line, whether we know Shakespeare or not:
To be, or not to be, that is the question.
But if you ask me, to be is the only option.
When I encourage my kids to be themselves, before they go to school or a birthday party or a situation that might be new or anxiety-inducing, I don’t mean it as a passive thing. Like, as a synonym for “just relax, hang back, don’t make waves, chill.”
Not at all.
Which is why I will often follow up “Be yourself” with this: “Don’t be afraid to fully express exactly who you are. You don’t need to hang back or hide. Because who you are is exactly who God made you to be — wonderful and beautiful and brilliant!”
I recently came across this simple but powerful quote from theologian N.T. Wright:
Love is not just tolerance. It’s not just distant appreciation. It’s a warm sense of, ‘I am enjoying the fact that you are you.’
Our baseline for understanding what the love of God is like, and what our love for each other ought to be like, is exactly this: That love doesn’t look for what it can get out of someone, nor hold their being at arm’s length in order to observe from a distance; no, love is enjoying, completely and closely delighting in, the very fact that they are who they are!
Which then informs all of us to be exactly who we are, because it’s the only option, the only way to experience real love, the only way to find genuine belonging and flourishing.
And if I may anticipate any pushback, no, this is not about endorsing any and all of our behavior as justifiable self-expression — because some of our behavior is assuredly not justifiable. But, I would argue, those behaviors that are sinful, or harmful, or whatever are precisely so because they are out of step with who we really are.
Put another way: to be is also to walk in the humility of recognizing our frailty and failing, repent, and try again. In this way, even our shortcomings play a vital part in us being exactly who we are made to be.
Which is, always, wonderful and beautiful and brilliant.