One of my sons is obsessed with the movie Real Steel, starring Hugh Jackman. It is basically about robots that fight. Awesome. One day Hudson saw a scene in this movie, and little did I know that a new hobby would emerge—namely, robot imitation. What resulted is two years (to date) of dedicated and passionate robot combat imitation. And yes, I further fuel this hobby by allowing him to play an iPad game called Real Steel (don’t judge me, please).
One of Hudson’s greatest talents is echoing the introductions to the robot fights with almost precise replication (i.e. “From the dark corners of the underworld…”). He also has incredible sound effects that unfortunately involves flying saliva. As his dad, all of this is quite adorable to experience. At times we play Real Steel together. This entails me becoming a robot of Hudson’s choosing. Somehow he always ends up defeating me. The name for this favorite game of his is “Real Steel on the Bed.” Translation: “Dad, let’s go fight each other on your bed, and let me win as always, and make Mom mad as we totally destroy her clean room.”
There’s a great irony in all this. As much as he loves to showcase his robot imitation skills, there are times he doesn’t want an audience. Sometimes I’ll catch Hudson fighting imaginary bots out in the backyard and I’ll call to him through the window that I’m loving his moves. He’ll stop immediately, shyly look at me, and ask, “Dad, can you close the window please?” Of course I do that, and the imitating continues.
The truth behind that request struck me one day. When Hudson asks me to close the window, he’s really saying, “I just want to be free. I don’t want to feel self-conscious and alter who I am or how I behave. I want to be myself and not feel embarrassed for it.” He is being his true self in those moments. There’s no holding back. When the window gets closed, there isn’t an audience—no one else is watching or judging. He can let the full fury of his passion out through his moves without filter or alteration.
As adults, don’t you wish you could just close the window sometimes? Don’t you wish that your behavior wasn’t affected by others who are watching how you live, how you behave, how you parent, how you work, etc.? Don’t you just want to be free to be yourself?
I know this is true of me, I believe that this desire is part of being human. None of us like to be in environments or relationships that stifle us, hold us back, or don’t allow us to be our true selves.
So, what is stopping us from living a fully authentic life, unashamed and unembarrassed of who we truly are?
One of the less subtle obstacles involves who or what we find our identity in. Is our worth rooted in, based on, or fueled by anything other than God? Of course it is. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t struggle so much to free ourselves from this compulsive need to impress others or continuously adapt our behavior and expressions in our varying environments. The Old Testament refers to this human plight of false identity placement as worshiping idols. Idols aren’t inherently “bad.” Quite often, they are good or neutral things that we strive to make the ultimate thing. It’s like being conned into buying an average art piece for $20,000 because someone made you believe it was worth far more than it is in reality. We do this with idols. We get conned into over-inflating their value while vastly underestimating the value of the One who is of Ultimate Worth, God. And without really understanding how we got there, we are desperately trying to keep up the image that matches the over-inflated idol and wonder in confusion why it is so difficult just to let it all go?
I have spent far too many years clinging to the wrong things. Much of my own struggle has revolved around the pursuit of success, status seeking, and impression management. In other words, I care far more about what people think about me than I like to admit. Unlike Hudson who doesn’t want an audience, I do. I want the world to notice me, my accomplishments, and my worth. I work hard to hide my deficits and work even harder to showcase my strengths. I am too easily conned into putting great value on small trinkets.
I used to think that the journey toward becoming my true self was blocked by my insecurity: If I could just be more confident, then I could be me. But now I recognize the only power strong enough to remove that obstacle doesn’t lie in me becoming more confident, it lies in discerning what and who is truly valuable. I think of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). That man in the parable who sold everything recognized the value of that pearl, and it changed everything for him. When we recognize how little worldly things matter, and how infinitely God matters, everything changes. We don’t have to keep up our images because we are no longer deceived into believing any of that means anything. We can be free to be our true selves because we have finally seen the folly of chasing false idols and the glory in pursuing things that endure. This is the kind of life approach that makes us forget about ourselves, mercifully, and compels us to seamlessly remember the One who is the pearl of great price.
I have a long way to go in this journey, but I am no longer in doubt that God will bring me to the place where I am fully free. Thankfully, although it is a long process, God doesn’t leave us in the horrible state we have gotten ourselves into. And when we ask God to close the window, He says, “No, but do not fear. You can be your true self because I am committed to helping you discover exactly who that is.” We should focus less on wanting the world as our audience and more on being infinitely grateful that God is not only the sole audience that matters, but also amazingly, our biggest fan.