rebelling against low expectations

What’s Wrong With Saying, “Be Yourself”


The world loves to talk about the struggle for authenticity.

As many teens (and adults) will recognize, we constantly encounter messages in mainstream culture such as “be yourself!” and “let them know how you feel!”

They’re tempting when they present the opportunity to lay down our wearily-built facades and “live and let live.”

Before I became a Christian, I lived like this — throwing propriety and caution to the wind and letting others know the full force of my personality. But when the Lord touched my life with his healing, mercy, and grace, it was one of the first areas he showed me needed his loving change.

Wanting To Be Accepted Is Good

One reason the “be yourself” movement is so emphasized is that we really do have good desires in our hearts to be accepted.

We want to be liked. We want to be respected for our individual qualities and quirks. But like many of our desires in a fallen world, they are corrupted and we end up seeking security in a vapor: man’s opinion.

We are buying into the lie that if we lay out our every emotional whim before the world we’ll be more accepted, more appreciated and we’ll solve the dilemma of living with our imperfect selves in a culture that clamors for perfection.

The problem is, this concept of authenticity puts forward a very self-focused mindset. When we’re focused only on expressing ourselves, we forget the impact of our self-expression on others. When our feelings come first, the potential to wound friends is not far behind (Prov. 12:18).

But the truth: greater peace within comes from being intimate with God, pouring our hearts out before him, and receiving his grace and truth in exchange for our inability to see ourselves (and life!) clearly in this age (1 Cor. 13:12).

It comes from being authentic with God before being “authentic” with the world. This morning I was reading through Psalm 6, and David seemed the perfect example of this God-focused genuineness.

David: The Example of True Authenticity

1. He acknowledges his weakness.

“O Lord, do not condemn me in your anger, do not punish me in your fury/ Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am weak; heal me, my very bones are shaken.”

I can imagine David, who slayed Goliath and armies of invaders, trembling on his knees as he speaks before his God. He recognizes his weaknesses; he realizes that he can’t deal with the trials of this life alone.

Recognizing our weaknesses, as Christians, is crucial — Christ’s power is amazingly magnified in our weakness — but those weaknesses should lead us back to God to be both empowered and comforted by him. I tend to forget that our God is the same One who made the world, spoke light into existence, and breathed life into us.

2. He acknowledges his feelings.

“I am wearied with my groaning; all night long my pillow is wet with tears; I soak my bed with weeping. Grief dims my eyes; they are worn out with all my woes.”

David is clearly suffering — his vulnerability and weeping before the Lord is astoundingly personal and dependent. God wants to bring us comfort when we’re hurting. He wants us to pour out our grief before him, expecting his love to quiet us and to sustain us.

Do we turn to someone else or someplace else to assuage our sorrows, before we seek his presence? There is so much comfort awaiting us if he is our refuge!

3. He shifts his eyes from himself to God.

“Away from me, you evildoers, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my entreaty; the Lord will accept my prayer.”

Here, amidst his sorrow, David is reminded of who God is. The Father who hears our weeping, sees our tears, and longs to comfort us in his goodness and mercy. We are not left alone. We have a God who is Faithful and True, a friend who sticks closer than a brother, a Father in heaven.

God hears us, and he is mighty to save. There is no flaw his love does not cover.

How To Be The Right Kind of Authentic

David’s genuineness — his courage, generosity, wisdom — before the world, as the God-led king of Israel, was not a random, uncontrolled flow of emotion or words; nor did it spring from the wrong motives.

His was an authenticity that came from intimacy with God, knowing who he was because of God, and it flowed from security in the One who knew his mind and heart perfectly (Ps. 7:9).

It came from being authentic first before God in, a deeply personal relationship with the Lover of our souls. What comfort comes to us when we exchange others’ opinions of ourselves for his truths! I pray David’s example will encourage you to press more deeply into the Lord for security and love.

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About the author

Anna Northup

is a college student and edits for her school's Christian publication. She hopes to one day reach hurting women with the Gospel through her career, words, and lifestyle, and is passionate about knowing and sharing Christ. She loves Jesus, writing, coffee (and anything that combines them), Audrey Hepburn movies, Elisabeth Elliot, and anything soul-stirringly beautiful.


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  • Hey Anna! Thank you for this post! I agree, the “be yourself movement” of our culture never set very well with me. After all, Jesus transforms our identity, so we should be striving to be more like Him, not indulging our personalities, which, from birth have always been bent toward sin. I also love how you pointed us to a fabulous example from Scripture. My favorite point was, “He shifts his eyes from himself to God.” 🙂 So good, and a great reminder to keep our eyes fixed on our King! Thanks again! 🙂

    • Also, I like your bio. 🙂 Audrey Hepburn is a favorite of mine too. But then, I love (almost) all old movies. 🙂

      • Sara, your kind words and thoughtful response got me thinking even more on this subject! Thanks for taking the time to read. I’m a lover of old movies as well! There are many greats, but Audrey Hepburn will always have a special place in my heart. 🙂

    • Thank you, Haven! It’s such a prevalent mindset in public school, and I’ve certainly been there myself. Glad to share.

  • Thanks so much for this! I’ve always thought something was wrong with the whole “Be yourself” idea, but i wasn’t totally sure what. I’ve been waiting for somebody to write this!

    • Thanks for reading through, Jalisa! I couldn’t put my finger on it, either, even before I came to know the Lord, but he has graciously been revealing his pattern for who we are before him. So glad it helped – it always means a lot to know someone truly benefited from what we are able to share!

  • Great article here, Anna! The popular message of “be yourself” definitely has permeated into Christian circles and it’s hard to tell the difference between looking for attention and being authentic. Thanks for writing!

    • Indeed it has – and you’re right, the line between looking for attention and being genuine can be thin. I know I’ve been there! But once we begin to see ourselves as God sees us, security follows. Thanks for reading, Ashley!

  • Awesome article, Anna! I’ve written about the issues with the “Be Yourself” ideology before, but I can never seem to do it in a not condescending tone. Here, you’ve pointed out the problem, but you’ve also put a positive twist on it by pointing to the better alternative. 🙂

    • Hi Olivia – thanks for reading through! That can be difficult, and I find myself revising and perusing some of my writings – sometimes more than two or three times! – to avoid sounding condescending. But I’ve found that being humble and acknowledging my own shortcomings, usually in the area I’m writing about, helps. We’re all in this together, after all.
      And thanks for your thoughtful feedback. It definitely assists in future writing!

  • I love this! I think that, as Christians, we really should “be ourselves” because we are a new creation. When we say “be yourself” we’re really saying “act like you’re a child of God”. We know we’re flawed, but we know our identity is in Christ.

    • Thanks Tim! Glad you liked it. That message can get warped when we see it the world’s way instead of through God’s eyes. Great point!

  • Anna, thank you for such a Godward perspective here. Trevin Wax, in his new book, refers to our longings, the lies, and the light. Often in our longings we buy into the lie. As you say, “But like many of our desires in a fallen world, they are corrupted and we end up seeking security in a vapor: man’s opinion.” Desire itself is not bad, but you make the excellent point that our handling of desires (and some desires themselves) are corrupted because we live in a fallen world. What we need, then, is the light of the gospel to shine through, exposing the lies and revealing our longings are found in Christ. Authenticity does not happen when we are merely looking horizontally but when we look vertically. Thank you, again, for such a perspective!

rebelling against low expectations

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