University is this beautiful clean slate where everything is on the table, presenting us with one of the most unique opportunities to decide what kind of person we want to be.
So this leaves us with a choice. It’s not a one-time choice, but one that we have to make every day: the choice between the comfort of conformity and the courage it takes to truly dare to be ourselves.
Exposing our true selves makes us feel vulnerable. That’s why, every time we meet someone new or have a brave conversation, many of us try and hide behind the armour of appearing perfect. We try and assimilate into the group, and we take on the characteristics and culture around us so that we become less visible and less exposed.
On the surface, these defence mechanisms seem to give us protection against hurt or rejection. What we don’t realise is that they also keep us from true love and belonging. They restrict us from being our true selves, distancing us from the very thing we desire – to be truly seen and known. We end up hiding the gift of our true self under layers of self-protection.
Your true self is a gift that needs to be unwrapped. God is writing a story through your life that requires you to bring the fullness of who you are to the lives of those around you. So unless we show up as ourselves, the world is no better off for us being here. The gift we have to give away is not our sameness but our difference.
In the adventure of your life at university and beyond, which includes building community, facing challenges and making choices, we want to invite you to be authentically, strongly and courageously yourself.
New environments often mean building a new community around ourselves. Since the risk of rejection is increased by the frequency with which we’re meeting new people, we often strengthen the walls around our hearts and hide our true selves. We dance around in a masquerade ball, where everyone’s true self is hidden behind an elaborate mask. Not only that but, depending on whether it’s the church ball, the housemate’s ball or the classroom ball, there are a variety of different masks to hide behind.
One of the deepest desires of our soul is to belong, to find our tribe where we are fully known. However, the extent to which this is possible hinges on our willingness to allow ourselves to actually be seen. It’s counterintuitive and uncomfortable, but the truth is that we simply won’t find what we’re looking for until we embrace vulnerability and unveil our hearts to those around us. It’s time to take off the masks and allow ourselves to become visible.
Revealing our true selves can also become more complicated in seasons of challenge. It’s one thing to show someone your heart when it’s full of life and beating, but it’s another thing altogether when it’s broken into a million pieces. Our fear of inviting people into our pain robs us of connection and keeps us isolated. So strength actually looks more like having the courage to ask for the help we need, to talk about how we’re really feeling, and being willing to have difficult conversations in order to move forward.
Endurance and resilience don’t come from a place of denying our imperfections but rather from who God says we are. He cultivates the strength of character within us to persevere where others may falter through challenge. We become contributors to a more free environment when we are honest about our process because it gives those around us permission to be their imperfect selves as well.
Staying true to who God has called us to be is also essential and requires great courage as we navigate the path before us. Will we be active participants in our own lives rather than just letting life happen to us? Being authentically yourself means making decisions about your priorities and core values in advance so that they determine where you’re going rather than only telling you where you’ve been.
Courage comes from a place of knowing that God is with us and that He is for us. Courage allows us to have some conviction about the way we choose to live our lives. It keeps us anchored rather than getting swept up in the current of what everyone else is doing. It required courage for Esther to reveal her true Jewish identity in the midst of Jewish persecution. She was willing to risk taking off the mask, to let the king see her true self and have a brave conversation. There was no guarantee that her own life, or even the lives of other Jews, would be spared and yet she still dared to be completely herself.
So be you. Do you. Authentically, strongly and courageously. Not once does Jesus ask us to be something or someone we are not. Yes, he calls us to mature and to develop in character, to put off the old self and put on our new nature, but he doesn’t deny the way he made us because it has purpose. Purpose for building and growing his kingdom. In fact, Jesus chooses again and again to meet us where we are for who we are.
If you are made in His image, then being yourself reveals more of the Creator. Each one of us showing up in our unique giftings gives the world a glimpse into the infinite glory of the Father. If you don’t show up as you, the whole you, we all suffer for it because there’s no one else quite like you. You are the way you are for a reason, and hiding that would be like putting the Creator’s glory and grace under a basket. Show up as you, with all your passions and purpose. The world desperately needs that.
Lizete hails from Swaziland, studied in North Carolina, and now lives in Manchester where she leads the student ministry for Vinelife.