The Danger of Authenticity

Why being "real" with others isn't always the best choice

Recently, while checking into a hotel, I was making small talk with the person behind the counter. While she was finding my reservation, I casually asked her, "How's your day going?"

She responded with, "Well, I really don't want to be here!" and then muttered something under her breath.

I asked the question, but certainly wasn't expecting that answer. I guess she was just being authentic.

The brutal cost of undiscerning honesty

What would your life look like if you were absolutely honest with everyone? How would you respond when your friend asks you if you think she's fat (and she has put on a few pounds)? Or what would be your honest words the moment your husband finds out he got passed over for a promotion? Or your children asked if you had a favorite child?

Being truthful is different than being brutally honest.

In today's culture, there is a lot of emphasis on "being authentic"—just saying it like it is. I understand why we feel so strongly about the quality of being forthright. Our parents' and grandparents' generations, at times, harbored family secrets, made "polite" comments that compromised truth, and shied away from discussing anything unpleasant. Sometimes we Christians are guilty of backing away from truths that desperately need to be spoken. But just as often, we speak the "authentic" truth without the discernment and love that should distinguish us as Jesus' disciples. Being truthful is different than being brutally honest. There are a lot of hurtful and destructive things said in the guise of authenticity.

The qualification that we are being honest or authentic doesn't give us license to say whatever comes to mind. After all, Jesus didn't run around blurting out everything that was true. While he was never deceitful, Jesus sometimes intentionally withheld truth because he knew that the audience wasn't ready to hear it. He knew when to speak a harsh rebuke and when to be silent.

Evaluate your "authenticity"

reminds us that the tongue—our words—wields the power of both life and death. Let me ask you a few tough but discerning questions to help you determine how you are using the power of your tongue:

  • Do you listen more than you talk? All the emphasis on authenticity seems to be focused on what we say. However, the most intimate conversations are usually prompted by someone choosing to authentically listen. I have found that many people seek counseling simply because they are desperate for someone to listen and validate their experience. If you long for deeper intimacy, start by becoming a great listener—someone who truly cares about the heart of other people.
  • How are you dressed? gives some very practical advice for what we should "wear" when we interact with others. Using clothes as a word picture, Paul gives a list of things to take off including anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. Then he urges Christians to "clothe yourselves" with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness. This doesn't mean faking kindness when we feel anger toward something. It means having the self-control to harness hurtful words and asking God to show us what authentic love looks like in that particular moment.
  • Do you have the right to share? Have you ever realized how many other people your "authentic story" involves? When you share a piece of that story without wise discernment, you by default are sharing about your parents, your roommate, your coworkers, or your husband. Do you have the right to share their part in your story? How are you portraying them as you authentically vent your frustration to a friend?
The qualification that we are being honest or authentic doesn't give us license to say whatever comes to mind.

The truly authentic and free relationship

The Bible encourages us to show restraint in what we say. It takes a lot of self-control to tame the tongue! that if you can control what you say, you must be perfect! There is just one place in which we are completely free to let it all out—all the anger, frustration, guilt, shame, and discouragement. That one place is with the Lord. Ironically, we often tend to be authentic with everyone but God! But if you truly desire to be authentic and real, start with authentically talking to God. and pour out your heart. Consider the godly role models of Job and David to see what raw authenticity before God looks like.

Yes, we should be honest about our struggles and questions, not pretending to have it all together. But in the spirit of authenticity, let's be self-controlled and discerning, remembering that Christ's genuine love shining through us is the greatest power on earth.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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