“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would be split open.” – Muriel Rukeyser
That quote. It cuts to the heart of something quite elemental, something we all long for. Truth. Authenticity. We all long to know and be known, to be real and transparent with those we work with, those we serve with, those we live with. But that ability to be real often eludes us. It’s just scary, all this truth. I know this from my own experience on both sides of this equation, but we will get back to that.
I got a Marco Polo video message a couple of weeks ago from a dear friend, one with whom I have a VERY transparent relationship. She was not having a great day. At all. She was overwhelmed, exhausted. Getting over being sick, my friend had one kid in a drama production which required almost nightly rehearsals, and one who needed immediately a prom dress altered, and for mom to purchase prom-worthy shoes, purse, and strapless bra. My friend was struggling on her healthy eating plan, and was in her minivan on the way to what she called a Stepford Wife Church Ladies meeting. The house she’d just left was a disaster, and her friend who was supposed to help her with said disaster had just bailed. It was an especially crazy week, her husband inaccessible in an all-day work meeting. And to add to that, she hadn’t rinsed the shampoo all the way out of her hair, which was now resting like a greasy hot clump on her head (her words, not mine), she hadn’t shaved her left knee and ankle well enough, and was overall teetering on the brink of a meltdown. But, she told me, in this group of Stepford Wife Church Ladies you can’t do that, the whole meltdown thing. This wasn’t a place for a let’s-get-real gut-honest talk, a place to air the frustrations or share what a rough day you’re having. In this case, she and her greasy hot clump had to stroll regally into an Olive Garden where all at the table would pretend everything was okay. When it was SO not. She confessed, just before leaving her minivan, her overwhelming urge to mess up the Stepford Wives’ hair and make them do a mud run.
No one wants to sit at that table at Olive Garden. Especially when you’re fresh from a heaping helping of reality in the form of daily hard life stuff. Perfection- or the illusion of acting like it’s all great- is inauthentic. And not at all welcoming or relatable. My heart went out to my friend, her words and feelings resonating to my core. I’ve been, as I said, on both sides of the equation
You see, for years I put up a cardboard cutout of myself, and slipped quietly behind it. Curled up into a ball, hiding behind my thin shiny veneer of normal and ok, I hoped and prayed no one noticed how flawed, how broken the girl behind the mask really was. Hidden, fearful, turned in, focused on my tiny world that I tried with fervent desperation to control. This state is the opposite of authentic, a million miles from real. But it’s where I lived for many years. Because I was afraid I wasn’t enough. I was that Stepford Wife Church Lady. I thought I had everyone fooled as I nearly killed myself striving to talk a good game, to act like I had it all together as a wife a mom, a professional, everything just so. And nothing could be further from the truth. Not that I was harboring a dark and ominous secret or I was a double agent with the CIA or anything, but hiding behind my cardboard cutout, my veneered mask, kept me from really being authentically me. Kept me from showing my true face. So rather than be open with my lack of perfection (which made me an actual real girl not a short red haired Barbie doll), I put up the cardboard. And I freaked out a bit when the life/work/kids/home/me I saw before me didn’t match up with the image in my head, the image I wanted to portray to those around me. So they would accept me. So they would like me. So they would think I was okay, too.
And one day, many years back, a loving friend (one who had actually seen my true face) called me out on it. One of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. Ever. But that conversation changed my perspective, and ultimately changed the way I walked through life. This difficult chat caused me to question some things about WHY I was choosing to live that way, hidden. After all, who was impressing? No one. Who would be handing out my martyr points? Again no one. I was ridiculously distracted by my inward focus, sure that I was being judged on every side, when that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
As I said before, telling the truth about your life is downright scary. No matter what your life is. It is a terrifying thing to put yourself out there, opening up to misunderstanding, to judgment, to criticism. So much easier to hide. And not everyone is going to be nice about it.
I have learned, however, over many years and many madness-inducing experiences, that real is so much better than faking Stepford Wife perfection. So. Much. Better. No one can keep up the facade, there is always a point where it starts to crumble. And it is the most exhausting thing to try to patch the cracks and repaint the faded cardboard, all to no avail. I’ve tried. And failed. And disappointed myself a million times.
But here is truth. People will love you for you (or not). And they will love me for me (or not). And they will want to know the real rather than the perfect. Perfection (or the imagined facsimile thereof) is terrifying.
Knowing what I know now, I can’t be friends with perfect. I just can’t. Because it’s 1) intimidating and because 2) (as we’ve established) it’s not real.
Walking in truth and authenticity holds vast power. Telling true (but scary) stories of your struggles will ALWAYS speak more loudly than pretense. As I walk through this blogging life, I see more and more that the posts that garner the most response are those in which I share my authentic feelings and situations. So I will live (and write) my truth out loud. And love Jesus and other people right here in the mess of my imperfect, non-Stepford Wife Normal Girl Who Loves Jesus life.