What does it mean to be authentic? Authentic has a very popular appeal in these times, I suspect because there is so much that feels insincere about our culture we are looking for something “real”. I further suspect that my obsession with consistency has a lot to with this same search for authenticity. There is so much talk that feels like it has more to do with the one offering comment than it does with the one who is the object of the comment that I wonder if there is in fact anything lasting, authentic, consistent, about what is being said. A person with tears in his eyes tells me he loves me, that my ministry or columns or outreach work will never be forgotten, that I am a valuable source of meaning in his life and then because of a word I spoke or more likely words I failed to speak he is telling me he never trusted me, that I am a bad person and that he always knew this. What does one make of these encounters?
People often criticize me because after a long period of consistent and caring relationship I suddenly seem distant or separate. The reality is my words and actions have not changed, I have only moved on to another church, another set of relationships, where my focus has to be on those whom I see and hear from each day. I never tell people “you are my best friend” or “you will always be with me”, those designations are reserved for my wife and daughter. Rather I try to consistently and authentically love and care for those whom I am in relationship with on a daily basis. If that reality changes my focus has to change. Of course when I meet someone from a previous relationship I hope and pray that all is well with them. But it is impossible given the number of people and places I serve to remain permanently connected to them all.
Oddly many of these same people are folks whom at certain points in our relationship gave full throated affirmation and lasting acknowledgment of my presence and then when hurt or disappointed asserted they always felt separated from me. It is one thing to evolve one’s relationship with another, to learn new things and be able to say “she was important to me then, was supportive of me then but now we are different…” and another thing to just forget that the past ever happened. In other words all of us change our perspective on previous relationships, that why I am not keen on reuniting with old friends through facebook. There was a reason we grew apart reconnecting will only remind me of that. But surely those previous relationships did mean something, I can with great affection and affirmation remember all of those whose lives touched me deeply. I give thanks for them on daily basis.
When I am no longer connected to someone I don’t develop an amnesia about their good qualities or the good times and transformational conversations we shared. Both are real; the past relationship that brought me new life and the present lack of relationship that was either brought about because I have moved on to another community or an evolution in me or them. That is why I am so reluctant to use that sentimental language of “you will always be my…” or “we will always be friends” or “your kindness will always make you someone with a large space in my life”. I know those statement almost always have limited shelf-life and saying will only undermine my credibility and cause doubt about other things I have said.
What I know is this; people are complex and complicated, so are relationships, so am I. And thus I try to honor what is real, the moments, the connections, the virtues and insights I gained through the witness or words of the other. So I try to keep all of that in heart and mind. I constantly remember sacred words and actions offered to me throughout my 55 years and give thanks for them. Some of these persons are no longer my friends because of distance or a change in pastoral relationship. Some are no longer in my life because of a “falling out”, cause either by me or them or both of us. I make no distinction between my gratitude for those who are currently my friends and those who are no longer my friend, a gift is a gift. If God loves them all how can I do any different, if I have made mistakes how can I hold others’ mistakes against them? I only have so much energy and time. People are always telling me I need to slow down, relax and spend more time with my wife and daughter. Yet at the same time they wonder, they sometimes demand, in a hurtful voice, why I don’t have the time for them I once did.
Likewise I struggle with how to interpret words and actions that sound so affirming and then when things “go south” they speak as if there was never any affection or appreciation. I find that hard to fathom. I pray over it. And it makes compliments very problematic. People say I can no longer take a compliment. This is why. I ask God to reveal some wisdom in this but I am still waiting for the answer.
In the meantime I attempt to be authentic.