Recently, Kathy and I watched Rocketman, and Sir Elton John’s quest to be loved for who he truly is, depicted in that film, gave me the idea for this post.
Humans and confidence
Modern psychology emphasizes how impactful our childhood experiences are on our approach to adult life. This is so for many reasons, but what we’ll talk about here is our notions of (a) who we are and (b) whether or not that’s a good thing.
Our formative years have a great impact on those two pesky little items that may haunt us all of our days. Were we wanted? Did we ever manage to receive praise from the adults around us? How did our peers treat us – was being who we were a good experience? What can we change, what should we change? Ultimately, this speaks to the level of confidence with which we approach life, and it also speaks to our career paths, our drive, the strength of our will, a lot of important things.
As my Psych 101 professor taught us, humans have four basic instincts, the four F’s as they are known, feed, fight, f(have sex), and flee. Our level of confidence impacts all of those instincts, our choices in where we will seek sustenance, where we will hold our ground, whom we will couple with, and when we will run away. This, in turn, leads to an impact on our longevity: I don’t know about you, but if I get in a fight I’ll get the tar beat out of me.
I was born into a middle income class family, and mom got pregnant by accident, ten years after she’d given birth to the second of my two sisters. She and dad had just moved to New Orleans and it’s fair to say that I was probably a Mardi Gras baby. My sisters adored me; mom was not so pleased; dad was rarely there. Aside from that, I had just about every disease in the book – German measles, mumps, chicken pox, and I was sick until I had my tonsils out at age 4. They waited that long because Ether was still in use rather than modern Anesthesia, and it was dangerous at a younger age. All I remember is having as much ice cream as I wanted before the surgery and that odd mask on my face with people pouring liquid into it and asking me to count backwards. The next day, I wanted Frito’s and mom called Dr. Desetreaux (can you tell we were in New Orleans?) who told her to let me have one and that the pain would keep me from eating them. I consumed the entire bag.
I was a very shy lad, but not so with my friends with whom I was more of a ogre and task master. My selfishness knew few boundaries, yet I had very little confidence largely because I couldn’t seem to get anything right. Sometimes we mask a lack of confidence with bombast and audacious attitudes, we should note.
I couldn’t do anything with sports (later I’d discover that I was severely near sighted and, at age 55 I’d learn that I don’t have all of the vertebrae in my neck – can’t get a fly ball if you can’t look up!) But to hell with excuses, I’m a klutz. My style of dancing is treading on people’s feet and trying to minimize the screaming.
At the age of ten, my father announced that my mother, who by that time had fully manifested her alcoholism, was being driven crazy by me and that I needed to get a job. I did just that, working for Cabby’s hobby corner at a discount (no pay for children of course), and I learned quite a bit from the old geezer who owned the place (he was in his 70’s). Employment gave me a feeling of worth, and I’ve been continuously employed since age 10 for that reason, as well as the need for money. Is that why I’m a “workaholic”? Yes, it is – work gives me a feeling of worth. So does writing, can you tell?
I dreamed of romance but that was not to be, not until a guy named Kenny coached me in college (at Tulane in New Orleans), and I actually got a girlfriend. That lasted through college but it go so serious that I ran away from it. I’d not have another such relationship until I met my wife when I was in my 40’s. No confidence there either, but there was something very nice in that college relationship. The problem was that I had too much control, it felt contrived. I was not achieving what I hoped – I wanted to be loved for who I am, not for what I do or the places I take people to. I found that with my wife, whom I dated while I was in peril of losing my job. I was working as a facilities liaison in the grunge and heat at the time – our love was not based on my station in life. She gave me confidence and strength. Now that’s a match.
Long story short, I still have feelings that I’m not good enough, that I don’t meet people’s needs or expectations, that I cause harm, that I am robustly disliked. I still have a temper, albeit it’s better, and I have lots of anxiety. Am I worth being around? Perhaps.
Experiences with the Holy Spirit and our God are commonplace, many people have them, and I’ve had quite a few of my own. Perhaps the most spectacular of those experiences came unexpectedly in prayer about this sort of thing. I felt like a small child on Jesus’ knee with him smiling and mussing my hair (no, I didn’t see Him, I felt His presence and “heard” Him.) And He observed “You are worthless in my sight, but I love you anyway.” That felt like a warm, cleansing bath and I’d love to recapture that feeling and live it forever. My Lord accepts me, loves me, for who I am. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need to try to do better and all of that, but it does mean that He really understands the struggles, the temptations, and problems, and He’s going to accept this failed human anyway. What a relief that was, what a blessing.
And it does not mean that I am special. Everyone is special to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I am a worm and no man and He loves me anyway. So, too, does He love you.
This is what the Christ has to offer: unconditional love for those who come to Him. There are no preconditions, there are no performance requirements, there are no rules – come to Him and be accepted, be saved, be redeemed, feel your worth in His love. You and He, you’ll figure out what’s to come. And you’ll fail as I have, and He’ll still love you because you try, even if you try His patience.
I was in a confirmation class with another adult (I was Methodist coming to the Episcopal church and she was a Catholic being received into the Episcopal church), and she said that it seemed that there were things that she must do to merit salvation. The priest and I both told her that this was not so, but sometimes I wonder. You see, what you must do is pick up that cross and try to be loving to those whom you hate – try to find that selfless love that Jesus gave us. All you need do is come to Jesus and talk about it, but you do need to come to Him.
For all we read in Scripture, for all of the preaching and repenting, one thing certainly true: Jesus loves you. You’ve truly got a friend in Him. This, you can take to the bank, the bank of eternity.
A common thread between Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody is that both Sir Elton John and Freddie Mercury struggled with who they were and whether or not that person was palatable to and lovable by others. It seems to me that this is part of our lives, and especially so in American culture where our experience is not monolithic with hundreds or even thousands of years of heritage to guide us in who our ancestors were and so forth. We have the freedom, even the right, of self determination. But that does make for a puzzlement throughout our lives.
It also seems likely that you, like me, struggle with who you are supposed to be, as compared with who you actually are and that this becomes a source of anxiety and frustration for us all. That’s not the same as the struggle between who you want to be and who you are which is the challenge of our lives, no it’s that nagging feeling that you’ve let someone down, that you’re a disappointment, that you’re not worthy, all of that baggage that comes from being on a different path than others have expected you to tread.
In both of those films, and in our lives, we find that the most common method if sorting these things out is trial and error, and that’s where we come to a cross roads in our lives because the things we try and the errors we make, if too audacious (or illegal) can pose a barrier to our primary quest, who we want to be. And that’s where hunting for wisdom is important, and caution is sometimes very wise.
Then again, if mom and dad had shown a little more caution on their first Mardi Gras, I’d not be here, now would I! Like errors in experiments that lead to discoveries, sometimes adventure is the best thing that can happen to us, going beyond our comfort zones and finding what we never dreamed could be true.
But what about who you are? The Oracle at Delphi displayed an enigmatic maxim for all seeking wisdom of the words of Apollo: Know Thyself. Who are you? How does one learn?
Now there’s a tall order, knowing yourself. After all, you may find that you don’t like yourself very much. I’ve certainly had that problem from time to time – not as much self loathing as ex post facto “why the hell did I do that?” sorts of things. I do not have a photographic memory, but I can replay conversations in my head. Why on earth did I say that???
Despite those instances, one can come to know one’s own self quite well. After all, I can tell you that your domestic partner, and your coworkers and other folks with whom you frequently associate, will know you well, sometimes better than you do. One need not be in an intimate relationship with another or a group for them to detect and be able to predict one’s actions, even words. Yet, we often cannot do this ourselves and that’s part of what the Oracle at Delphi is getting at. You see, if you can predict your responses, you can avoid bad situations and you can learn to prepare yourself for that which you cannot avoid.
There are a lot of things to know. Your emotions and confidence are important, but this sense of who you are underpins so very much that it’s important to get to that. In N. T. Wright’s work, and lots of other scholarly efforts, this who you are is a primary component of your worldview. Things like who one is in terms of the general population, what one believes is wrong with society, what one believes the solutions are, and what time is it on the scale of need for those changes, their urgency. These beliefs make an enormous difference in how we interpret and respond to the world around us. N. T. Wright goes on for thousands of important pages about this in relationship to understanding the New Testament. For us, we’ll leave it here – your worldview becomes part of who you are. The wise can learn to change their worldviews based on evidence. St. Paul did.
Other components of who we are we often discuss as a society. Our sexual orientation, our physical gender expression, our gender identity, our race, our ethnicity, our skin color, our religion, our views on key issues of our times, these things all mark out who we are. The thing is, we keep some of these things inside because we’re afraid of what other people will think if we let them know. You know, things like sexual orientation or our hook-ups or other sexual dalliances, or fetishes for that matter. We also withhold our religious views, our political views, our support or rejection of movements such as #ME TOO or the LGBTQ movement, and we’re careful about expressing our views because we don’t want to offend and we do want to blend in. Alright, you’re careful; I’m a blunderbuss. That’s my coping mechanism – I try not to hide much.
When things about ourselves are hidden, we are always at risk of those things coming out, of the smear, of blackmail, of extortion. This creates two things: anxiety about that possibility as well as a thrill when being “yourself” with in a group of trusted people. Provided that one’s nature does not harm others, I personally would be thrilled if everyone could be themselves, could have the freedom to be who they are, love whom they want, and enjoy the sunshine.
You see, that’s the common thread in these two movies. Both Sir Elton and Freddie went through all sorts of things, including hedonistic dives into unbridled sexuality to come back to the surface and find true love. People seem to think that such debauchery is a homosexual trait because they are biased and don’t notice the heterosexually oriented businesses on every corner, the strip clubs, and the wide variety debauchery manifest by people like Mr. Epstein. We see what we want to see. I digress. Back to knowing one’s self.
Some good advice on knowing yourself can be had from the twelve steps which I’ve heard preached many times, and one of those steps is to make a fearless moral inventory of one’s self and reveal it, confess it, to one other person and to God. Leave it at the feet of Jesus, in other words. By the way, I’ve done this at great length in my life, in prayer, and with a trusted friend who happens to be a Priest. It is indeed a cleansing experience like none other.
The problem with that step is that a person needs guidance on what is harmful to others and what is harmful to self. The worst harm happens when a person feels compelled to deny who they actually are, and I mean things like being gay not things like being a serial killer, leading to despair and, quite often, suicide. There are a lot of things about ourselves that we cannot change, and we must accept them as they are. Sometimes churches give horrible advice in this area leading to further despair. How sad this must be for Jesus.
When I advise a person to accept who they are, I do not mean that everything that is inside a person needs to be manifested. Whatever one’s sexual attractions are, restraint must be exercised for many reasons including the fact that your partners are being disrespected and harmed by hookups and such things. That item, respect, needs to be high on our list of changes to make, all of us: whatever we do and however we live, we must learn to respect others and ourselves. Our behaviors must take into account their impact on other people and, when they don’t, we need to feel shame and sorrow. That said, people have every right to be proud of their ethnicity, their heritage, their gender identity, their sexual orientation and other components that make a person whom they truly are. Our attitudes must not oppress people. This is always unwise.
Loved as you are
English, unlike Greek, has but one word for love. When we want to be loved, we want what in Greek is called Agape love – unconditional love – not eros erotic love – that’s what we want when we want sex, when we lust. We also want Philo love – friendly love like Philadelphia – love of brothers or for that matter, Philosophy – Philo-Sophia – the love of wisdom. Yes, wisdom is a lady, Sophia is her name (sophia means wisdom in Greek), and Wisdom is personified as female in the Biblical text. Here, at least, Scripture rings true.
Can you be loved as you are? Let me tell you a secret: you already are loved as you are. The problem is, for you and for me, that we reject that Agape and Philo love over and over again in our lives. Love cannot be forced, it is a free gift and we are surrounded by loving people. We fear the strings attached to love and we often reject it for that reason.
The blunderbuss question is: can I be accepted as I am? Now that’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it? I mean if you’re gay or black or female or transgender, (or, or, or) there’s a lot of groups that won’t accept you for who you are and that’s a fact.
And bridging the gap gives us some answer to who am I supposed to be: you and I, we’re supposed to use our talents to bridge the gaps, to stand proud for ourselves and each other, and to make the world a better place for everyone in it. We must remember that those who love us the most also fear the most when we take risks, and that some risks need to be taken to fully express ourselves and add value to the our societies. That’s our job, to gain enough wisdom to do that without hurting other people, which in my case means refraining from dancing.
I’ve wandered through a lot of ideas here that you can find expanded in my bibliography sources as well as my other blog posts. But what is the conclusion to Loved as you are?
The first conclusion is yes, you can be loved as you are. Sir Elton and Freddie found this out, and so will you. But the deeper problem is not being loved by others. No, what we often lack is loving ourselves in those three forms: Who we are, who we want to be, and who we’re supposed to be.
Who you are
Knowing yourself, who you are, is the foundation of being comfortable in your own skin. We all have moments where we believe that we’re unloved, even hated by the world, but I’m here to tell you that God loves you as you are, and that if you look about and have a chat here and there you’ll find others like you and you’ll find others that accept and love you exactly was you currently are. Yes, this is incredibly hard, trust me, I know.
So, like Sir Elton and Freddie, our question is answered with yes, hell yes, you can be and are loved as you are.
That does not mean that change is not beneficial, even necessary. I myself need to conquer my addiction to cigarettes. Some people need to conquer sexual addictions, drug addictions, violence, and lots of other characteristics that are present in Who you are but need to be removed in future.
That notwithstanding, and to quote Lady Gaga,
| There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are”|
She said, “‘Cause he made you perfect, babe”
“So hold your head up girl and you’ll go far,
Listen to me when I say”
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way
Born This Way lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
Who you want to be
More than anything else, our self perception and satisfaction with our lives depends on who we want to be in comparison with who we are. We want to be loved, we want to be happy, we want to be safe, we want to provide for ourselves or to be provided for. Whatever we want to be includes those items, almost always. And, most often, sex.
In today’s world, we preach that anyone can be anything and that’s simply not true. We place stellar expectations on the youth and we teach them to grab for the brass rings. The thing is, who you are limits things and we need to learn about this early on in order to avoid damage from learning who we are too late. There are a plenitude of ways to be loved, happy, safe, and provided for, and we need to take care that our wants also meet these needs.
I’m not talking about keeping one’s station in life or accepting injustices in the world. No, I’m talking about very basic items like an uncoordinated 5′ 11″ guy who can’t look up wanting to be a basketball star. It is possible, but as likely as winning the Powerball, and we need to accept some of these things early on. By the way, I bought Powerball tickets yesterday.
Towards that end in my book, The Hunt for Happiness , I write: “No, that’s not so. As I told you, it’s a choice most of the time, Steve. It’s a negotiation. Everything between birth and death is a negotiation. And you have to give quite a bit to be content and happy – you have to learn to be happy by helping other people succeed rather than focusing on yourself so much. When that makes you happy, when seeing other people star in the play, when seeing them headlining on the marquee outside gives you a thrill, then you can be happy.”
So, be wise, set your wants with a bit of negotiation between where you are and where you want to be. Go for your best, but don’t set yourself up for failure. You’ll find that you’ll be loved no matter what course you plot, if you accept that love.
Who you’re supposed to be
At the age of nearly 59, I’m finally coming to peace with who I am supposed to be. This is the hardest self to know, and the one that our upbringing has the biggest impact on. I’m supposed to be sharing the knowledge that I’ve acquired throughout my lifetime, but not as an expert. I need to be the humble old fool telling tales of the past to interest those who have the spark to take up study and learn about the ancients and the times of the Bible. Thus far, I have scant opportunities to do this, but I’m working on it. That, too, is who I am supposed to be, someone who tries.
I would never have guessed that this is who I am supposed to be, and it’s certainly not the destiny that I dreamed of, but I’m happy with it. I met my parents expectations, to go to college, to work, to leave home and stay gone. And those “want to” needs are mostly handled albeit the friend pool is low.
What expectations did your parents levy on you? Do you agree with them? Are the expectations that you levy on the young, and yourself, straightforward? And your partner?
Finding out who you’re supposed to be is about being content, finding the balance between who you are, who you want to be, and the life that you live. Only you can do this.
You see, that’s what happened to Sir Elton and Freddie as the movies came to conclusions. They found their true selves, and who they were supposed to be, and they made peace between their was/is, want to, and should be. This is our task. And it is also our task to seek others of our ilks and help them in this task.