I am an imposter. And so are you. We play-act our way through life building massive façades to conceal our true identities. The reason we hide this way is because we are afraid that others will not accept us as we really are. Who can blame us? Who among us has not felt the sting of rejection or the crushing shame of being out of step with our peers? We learn very early in life – we are programmed by the society around us – to earn the approval of others.
To go without this approval is like going without air to breathe. So we will do almost anything to be accepted and embraced by others, even if this means giving up who we really are, even if we have to sacrifice our self. As an example, I have two children who will enter High School in the coming academic year. This is a colossal adjustment for all parties involved: Parents, educators, and of course, the children. Gone are the days of walking single file in line. Gone is so much of the structure and safety of the elementary years. And gone is the simplicity and happy-go-lucky manners of childhood. Those were left behind.
See, it used to be that my boys didn’t care if their hair was brushed in the morning, if their shirts or socks matched, or if they had brushed their teeth or showered in the last eighteen days. Now, while I am very pleased with their radically improved hygiene, their motivation for this change is obvious. They want to fit in. They want to be accepted by the jocks, stars, girls, and opinion leaders in the grand world of High School. Thus, no hair is out of place, style is suddenly important, showering has become a religious ritual, and “What will my friends think” has become the most critical question for them because they simply cannot let their little hearts be broken with rejection.
Not all this is bad. It’s good to belong to a group and to have friends (and it’s good to brush and shower regularly). But I certainly do not want my children to live lives in which they are excruciatingly sensitive to public opinion, or for them to give away who they are to gain these things.
Now, I’d like to tell my children that it gets easier after the ninth grade, but it doesn’t always. As adults we hide behind our careers, the plaques and diplomas that hang on our wall, our status, and our money. These are fig leaves we learn to wear to fool others, and some of us never learn to be the true selves God made us to be.
Fig leaves, of course, are nothing new. After plucking that beautiful piece of fruit from the forbidden tree, our primordial ancestors became aware of who they were; their failure and their sin. Adam and Even slunk into the woods snatching fig leaves as they went, and the task of hiding from God and from others began in earnest.
It is in our blood, our very chromosomes, to hide who we are. Somewhere in the human psyche we have accepted as fact this idea that others will not love the true person buried deep behind our multifaceted defenses. And we believe this about God as well: Even though he made us, he will not accept or love us. But that is a lie.
In Romans 8, maybe the greatest single piece of Christian literature outside the Gospels, the Apostle Paul asks this rhetorical question: “Can anything ever separate us from the love of God?” And then he offers all these possible answers: Death, angels, demons, worries, fears. Hell itself?
But then Paul comes to this conclusion: “No, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So quit hiding in the woods weaving fig leaf underwear. If God accepts you as you are, it really doesn’t matter what others think.