Our family went to a gathering Sunday where I ended up talking to a teenager for a while. He was wearing some kind of metal band shirt that looked pretty creepy, so I decided to ask him about it. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: “So what do you like about that band?”
Him: “The lyrics are really good.”
Me (laughing): “Do you realize that every teenager in the history of time, including myself, has told an adult at some point that the lyrics of the scary-looking band they listen to are actually ‘really good’? Now you have to prove it to me. What are the lyrics about?”
Him: “Well, it’s just kinda like about being who you are and being true to yourself. Not being who anyone else wants you to be. They’re really good. They’re really different.”
It wasn’t the right setting for me to continue the conversation with my next thought (“That’s not different at all…that’s the message being sold to young people everywhere today…and let me explain why you shouldn’t buy it…or that shirt…”). But I thought I’d continue the “conversation” here. Kids are constantly being fed the idea that they should be “true to themselves” and it’s important that Christian parents recognize the danger that lies in such a belief.
There are two problems your kids should understand: the logical problem, and the spiritual problem.
The Logical Problem with Being True to Yourself
From a Christian perspective, there is a fundamental spiritual problem with believing that you should be true to yourself. But before you engage with your kids on the spiritual problem, it’s important to walk them through the logical one. Even at the level of basic critical thinking, the ubiquitous call to “be true to yourself” shouldn’t pass their smell test.
So let’s start by simply getting our kids to think a bit. Ask your children this: “Is it a good or bad idea to be ‘true to yourself’? And why?”
I asked that question to my 6-year-old twins, and my daughter replied, “Well, it could be bad…like what if who you really want to be is bad? You shouldn’t just kill someone because that’s who you want to be.”
This isn’t a tough philosophical question. At a simple logical level, it doesn’t make sense that we should always aspire to be true to ourselves. What if being true to yourself hurts others (should a child molester be true to himself)? What if being true to yourself hurts yourself (should someone who enjoys being anorexic continue to be anorexic?) What if being true to yourself means having a character that is despicable?
Whether you’re a Christian or not, it’s clear that this advice begins to logically stink when you get just below the surface. But, for Christians, the spiritual problem runs even deeper.
The Spiritual Problem with Being True to Yourself
Here’s the kicker: As Christians, we should absolutely NOT be true to our natural selves…because the Bible says our natural selves have some serious problems:
- We are sinners by nature (see Romans 7:14).
- Our natural mind is hostile to God (see Romans 8:7-8).
- We consider the things of God foolishness (see 1 Corinthians 2:14).
- We all fall short of God’s glory (see Romans 3:23).
- Without God, we are hopeless (see pretty much the whole Bible).
Our natural selves are so spiritually problematic that the Bible says we must be born again (that is, take on a new self) in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). This new birth is possible only through the Holy Spirit that we are given when we accept Jesus as our Savior.
With our new spiritual self:
- We have a new nature (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).
- The sinful desires of our natural selves are lessened (see 1 John 3:9), though we will always have some struggles (see Romans 7:15-20).
- We are a work in progress as God sanctifies us (see 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 John 3:2).
In other words, Christians thank God when we’re not being true to our natural selves. We deeply long to replace that self with our new spiritual self.
Getting the Message of Our True Identity Right
Let’s be honest: The Christian message of the human identity doesn’t quite have the same marketing appeal. It (at least initially) sounds a lot more exciting and adventurous to just be “true to who you are.”
In fact, if we’re not careful to help our kids grasp the full picture and context of what the Bible says about our identity, they can easily develop a very wrong understanding of who they are.
Case in point—here’s a meme that went viral in the last couple of weeks:
Setting aside for a moment 1) the absurd notion that “science” is telling her all those things and 2) the Bible never says we are dumb or “nothings,” let’s boil down what this little girl has been taught: Religion says there’s a problem with her, while the rest of the world says everything is peachy and the sky’s the limit! Score one sad face for religion being “damaging,” and one happy face for everything else.
What’s actually damaging is not knowing, understanding, or acknowledging the truth about yourself.
What if this little girl…and all of us…are broken, flawed, sinful, and weak? What if that is our true self? It may give us a pretty smile to think we’ve smartly eschewed all those “negative self-esteem” words, but if those are accurate descriptors, we need to know.
We also need to know that’s only half the story.
The other half is that God doesn’t leave us there. By His grace, He gave His son Jesus, allowing us to accept His gift of forgiveness and become a new creation. Our new identity in Christ assures us of an eternity with our perfect Creator. It’s a before-and-after picture that has to go together.
When we teach our kids this truth of who they are, they’ll understand why they should no longer want to be “true to themselves”…no one wants to look like the before picture once they have a vision of what’s to come.
Ask your kids today if they think it’s a good idea or bad idea to be “true to yourself.” I’d love to hear what they have to say! Please share about your conversation here if you have a moment.
…And is there anyone who wants to make a new meme to go viral? 🙂