I am currently reading the book The Family That Overtook Christ by Fr. M. Raymond. It is the story of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and his family, who all became saints, venerables, blesseds, or some degree of holy people.
At one point in the book there is a discussion of the mother, Alice, her holy life and deeds, and the fact that she attained her sanctity by "just being a mother". The fictitious characters who are discussing her sanctity go on about how so often people think they have to be someone else, do daring deeds or give up great potential to do menial deeds, to be holy. They come back to this refrain which Alice taught them, that one should simply be oneself.
I found myself all at once thinking how strange it sounds for anyone to question that she could have attained sanctity by "just being a mother". It's no easy job, of course. Whatever do you mean she was "just" a mother?! And at the very same time I remember vividly walking to my classes at the University here before I was married with this directive of God ringing in my ears, that I should be myself. And feeling downright frightened by the prospect. It was something that the Lord brought me back to many a time from my entrance into the Church until those days... probably until getting married.
What was so frightening about being myself? Do I still find it frightening?
Maybe the fright arose from the fact that I felt very alone. Although I was in the Church, the Church was not in me, deeply at least, for the first several years I was Catholic. It's like the parable of the different kinds of ground. I had rocky and hard ground, and it took quite a bit of grace work for the ground to be broken up, watered, fertilized, watered some more, to the point where the surface was workable and fertile -- able to receive and sustain that which God wanted me to have. And so I felt very alone.
Alone is not how God created us to be. We are created to belong to others, to be in relation to others, to be able to open our hearts and be human with other humans, without having to constantly shield ourselves or hide away, or lash out at others.
So if we are commissioned to be ourselves but feel no connection, the fear is, who will love me, who will protect me, how will I find any happiness. And I think our time and energy is spent trying to surround ourselves with things, or people used as things, to buoy us up. But we only need a buoy when we are otherwise drowning.
To say it another way, I cannot really be myself apart from God. He made me, after all. In Him I'm complete. Without Him I'm broken pottery.
So, yes, I was terrified to be called to be myself because it sounded incredibly risky.
But I have to say I'm not terrified anymore. I may not always live fully myself, but I'm not terrified to do so, either. There are many times I don't know exactly how to go out being myself, and many, many times that I realize being myself is extremely weird in the eyes of other people. I risk the disapproval of others, or the disinterest of others -- don't know which of those hurts more.
But I think walking with Christ on a daily basis is the only path to being real. Jesus always takes us back to our hearts, and when we come to Him heedfully He will show us exactly our need, and then show us how He will fulfill the need.
What a waste we make of our lives if we don't walk with Christ. "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, yet lose his very self?" Thanks be to God that He is merciful, and makes over even our years of wandering, aloneness and pain into treasure.