Few things hurt more than being rejected for who you are. In my experience this often takes place when people call your interests or approaches wrong out of hand. You are dismissed as immature, rebellious, stupid, or some other negative name just because you don’t have interests or views that line up with them. We want to be liked and loved for who we are. We cry “That’s just the way I am” to a world that we often feel rejects who we are. I know that I can feel that way sometimes, but as I examine my own feelings and thoughts about this I’m not sure if I can leave it that simple.
I think the trap that saying “That’s just the way I am,” is that we don’t think we need to change at all. Even if that’s not what we mean, it can be interpreted that way pretty easily. Before I get into the trap aspect of the phrase, I’d really like to start with the positive behind the phrase.
The reality is that no two people are exactly alike. We all have a different combination of passions, thoughts, talents, personalities, ways of expressing ourselves, and interests. This probably doesn’t come as any surprise to people. There are people who are creative, musical, analytical, good at working with their hands, and many other traits. This mix of people allows for a fuller and richer existence.
In my experience as a Christian, I think that there is an idea that we all have to be uniform. That we all need to look the same way, have the same interests, think exactly the same way, and have the same gifts and talents. While obviously anyone claiming to follow Christ has to believe a certain number of things, there is a lot of room for our uniqueness within that relationship. Without people who are passionate and talented in music our worship may not sound too great, without people who are gifted to teach or to preach our Sunday schools, small groups, and sermons would probably fall flat. Without people who love to work with children or youth whole portions of the congregation would be ignored. I could go on, but I hope that the point is made.
There is a danger that lurks in this idea of uniqueness though. I think that there are two ways that clinging to this idea can be misused. The first is that we can use it as an excuse to limit ourselves. There are things that we are naturally drawn to and talents for. However, when we find those talents, interests, and points of view we can use it as an excuse to not be involved outside of those things. If we’re faced with something that we don’t know how to do or doesn’t come naturally to us we can easily cling to the identity that we’ve become comfortable with. This can limit us from finding other things that we enjoy or are able to learn well. We also limit ourselves due to this because we only surround ourselves with people who are similar to us and this too can not allow us to grow and develop because we have a very limited experience with people who have different points of view.
The other danger here is the minimization of sin and responsibility. When we say that we are a certain way and don’t think we need to change or we think that we simply can’t change the push then is to find acceptance for the way we are. The person who has always had a short temper is just that way, there is no need for them to change and maybe they really can’t change. While there may be an element of this that is correct it doesn’t mean that it is a good thing or that it should be fully accepted. It doesn’t mean that there should be judgment, but help offered to help someone with their temper, lust, greed, selfishness, etc… There can’t be help if there is no acceptance of something not being right or any holding of responsibility for parts of who we are.
To wrap up I’ll put this whole point in more of a theological framework. I believe that we have to hold to the idea that we have value in who we are. We are created by God and He sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins so that we may have a relationship with Him. We have an innate value. We are made with gifts, talents, and personalities and we should not disregard or discard them frivolously. However, we also have the reality of sin. None of us are fully good just the way we are. We all do wrong and that is a part of who we are. It is a part of who we are that we seek forgiveness for from God, but also it is a part that we try to battle in order to grow more into the unique person that God desires us to be.
I think these two realities are held in tension and both must be accepted. It is easy to hold one at the expense of the other, but both are present. Our uniqueness is God’s gift, but it is not a free pass that validates all that we are prone to do, think, say, or feel.