Our twenty year old Youth Minister is studying for a degree in Theology and Youth Ministry and she was talking to me the other day about a lecture she’d had at college. The lecture was about the general personality differences between the generations.
She said that, unlike Generation X (my lot) and Generation Y (her lot), the Millennials (our youth club kids) are looking for authenticity.
I was surprised to hear this. And pushed back on what she was saying – in a typical Generation X way.
My point was not to dispute that Millennials want to see authenticity in people around them, but to say that surely all generations want this too?
Look up authentic in a dictionary and it speaks of something being of undisputed origin, not a copy, something accurate and reliable. Surely these are qualities we all look for in other people?
But how authentic are we really?
Or how much are we bullied by convention into being or trying to be something other than our true selves?
I remember a talk once about burn out. And the speaker saying that the most important question to ask (and to know the answer to) if you want to avoid burn out – is the question Who are you?
Not being ourselves is not only inauthentic – it’s a huge cause of stress.
I remember, years ago, when I was my Youth Minister’s age and at university – feeling agonisingly embarrassed that I came from far less privileged background than my colleagues. I never invited my ‘friends’ to my home or introduced them to my family. And this was an incredibly stressful way to live.
As I grew older, I began to accept who I was and what my story was. And I’d say that God had a big part in helping me to do this – affirming that I was loved just the way I was. That I didn’t need to be different. I could simply be myself.
Nonetheless, there’s still the temptation to want to fit in, to compromise, to try hard to be like others. I remember when I was training to be a Vicar. I had a brilliant training incumbent and I admired this Vicar so much – that I wanted to be an exact copy of him. But again I heard God say – be yourself. Learn from this person, of course - but be yourself.
If Millennials are truly calling people to be themselves, to be authentic, then we all should listen up.
Because being authentic is not easy. It makes us vulnerable. It means being unconventional. It means inviting criticism and even being mocked and ostracised.
In the church, we are coming up to Palm Sunday – when we remember how Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. He was greeted by the crowds with great cheers. But a few days later Jesus had upset everyone – by turning over the tables in the Temple - by not being the person other people expected and wanted him to be. And, as you know, he ended up being crucified.
But Jesus triumphed over death. Because he was fully himself, fully God – he could not be defeated by death.
We, of course, are not Jesus.
But the more we are fully our true selves, the more authentic we are – the more we too will triumph over those who seek to put us down.
Trying to be someone other than your true self is exhausting and a worthless way to live. We can never manage it. And our attempts to do this simply diminish our lives.
So be yourself.
Or, as my teenage daughter (a Millennial) put it to me the other day, Be yourself. Everyone else is taken. CLICK TO TWEET