In a video explaining the song, Swift has a desire to push past what gets in the way of “the real stuff”—she wants authenticity and honesty in her relationships, with few (if any) boundaries. In our authenticity-focused culture, Swift’s message resonates with many who want to fight for what they believe is subjectively true for them. However, this shift has brought several much-debated changes to culture. For instance, many Christians see the LGBTQ+ community, who live out who they believe their authentic selves to be, as an affront to Christian values. However, authenticity is only a virtue, in the classic sense of the word, insofar as it is in line with the truth of reality. After all, Jesus promises that the “truth will set you free” (John 8:32). So, how should we interpret the call for authenticity from Swift and others? And what does it look like to balance a pursuit of honesty and authenticity while living with the grain of reality?
The Downfall of Authenticity
It is good to pursue truth. People who are truth-speakers, though considered insensitive at times, are often considered trustworthy. Countless wise individuals through the ages have spoken from a place of truth even when it was costly for them to do so because they knew the importance of truth. When people can be honest with themselves, searching their hearts and minds, they are able to grow by seeking what they lack. Through gaining this knowledge, the truth can be transformational. However, this is not what “Lavender Haze” articulates as true.
In the music video, Swift offers a compelling vision using images of being trapped in a room and of looking past the surface of a person to get to what is real beneath. She depicts opening the curtains of the room she is trapped in as being able to look out into the cosmos, after which, she pushes down the walls of the room and finds herself within the cosmos rather than just looking at it from afar. She wants to break free of restraints and pressures to focus on being authentic to both what she sees inside of herself and what she experiences in love.
This desire to push past the surface is a good one. However, Swift seems to see being her authentic self—meaning living out externally the person she discovers she is on the inside—as being the ultimate good. But this is not necessarily the case. Each of us are also authentically broken, angry, hurt people who are scarred by the pain and evil of this world. By living out our ‘authentic’ selves, we are actually living out the facade of the true person who has been overshadowed by the vanity, brokenness, and warped desires of our humanity. Only God can peel back the facades, both outer and inner, of who we say we are to the truest person God made us to be.
The True Life
Our true self is who God created us to be—whole, beautiful, unbroken by any of the pain of this world—and the only way back to that true life is through Christ, who is himself “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). C.S. Lewis, in his wildly popular book, Mere Christianity, explains that this is because when we pursue Christ, who knows who we were created to be, we discover not just who he is, but also who we are. Lewis writes, “Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him…. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”2
By choosing to know Christ daily and coming before him in honesty and truth (both with him and ourselves), he begins to heal us. By asking him, “search me, God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23), we “call on him in truth” and he will draw near to us (Psalm 145:18). We do all this not so that God and others can indiscriminately accept us. Rather, we reveal ourselves to God and others in a plea that God would “see if there is any offensive way in [us], and lead [us] in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24).
In this practice, we find that, little by little, some of the brokenness within us begins to fade. Christ doesn’t stop at our obvious wounds; we all have brokenness inside of ourselves that even we cannot see. But Christ sees them obscuring our true selves. In the healing there will be pain as we grow closer to God and our deepest brokenness is exposed by his light (John 1:9-10). Because of this, there will be times when we shy away from his light and healing. God the Father is good to be patient with us, slowly helping us to untangle the knots in our hearts until we are ready to move forward.
Knowing God daily comes in foundational ways—reading Scripture, prayer and meditation, and in fellowship with other believers—and also in stopping to see beauty in the created world, in worshiping with the birds, in listening to another person without interruption, in offering a smile or word of encouragement to those who are often unseen. In these ways we choose Christ’s healing over the cures the world offers. At some point, we will see who we once were and realize that we have changed. As God heals the wounds and hurts inflicted by sin, we become our truest self, one who is in right relationship with God, creation, others, and even ourselves. Our ‘authentic’ self was who we once were, sin and all. But our truest selves have become more and more clear to us as we look not for ourselves but for Jesus.
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