Authentic or Anchored?
By Scott Hughes
“The irony here, of course, is that the desire to live authentically by one’s own preferences is attended by a strong desire to form a persona acceptable to one’s peers. Everyone is ‘true to themselves,’ but that self begins to look remarkably uniform, typically authorized by the consumer and media industries.”1
Perhaps a boat captain’s equivalent of Murphy’s Law would run like this: “In the event you need an anchor, it will go missing.” If you have ever been in this situation, you can imagine the feeling of helplessness that comes with it. An un-motored boat on the water without an anchor will drift wherever the current is leading. Like a pinball, it will go where inertia leads and only where inertia leads. Thankfully, my only experience on a boat without an anchor was on my dad’s boat, and the motor worked! We couldn’t anchor where we wished, but at least we were not left to the mercy of the waves.
Life can certainly make us feel as if we are drifting, directed by external forces in paths we may not have chosen. Those forces might be our busy schedule that propels us to rush from event to event. Or perhaps it is our finances (or lack thereof) that motivate our ceaseless work and fuel our play as a way to escape this uncomfortable cycle. Often, there are a multitude of forces shaping our actions and decisions. Usually below the level of our awareness, the cultural voices (which we’ve explored in this blog series) guide our perceptions of self and many of our actions. We live adrift, subject to the forces of culture. Ironically then, in our search to be our “authentic” self, we end up pulled by the forces of culture. Consequentially, our authentic “self” looks like everyone else around us.
Without an anchor for our identity, we feel adrift regarding our direction in life. If our purpose in life is to be “authentic,” the result will be a false authenticity that is shaped by the surrounding culture. In contrast, if our anchor is the hope that is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ shaped by the baptismal community, the result is an identity that is growing into Christ’s likeness. Our identity (beloved of God - link) then gives shape to our purpose (loving God and loving neighbor).
This anchor (faith in Christ) keeps us from feeling as though we are adrift. Though cultural waves will continue to bombard us, our anchor -- the risen Christ -- provides a solid foundation for our identity and serves as the source of our calling.
The mystery is that our anchor is also liberating. Secure in our identity, we are freed to live purposely - loving God and neighbor. Anchored in Christ, we become secure in our ability to recognize the waves of individualism, consumerism, perfectionism, and the myth of self-sufficiency for the passing idols they are. Christ’s law - love God and neighbor - claims us and propels us to help others find the security and direction they too are seeking.
Reflective Questions for Individuals:
- What practices (corporate worship, small groups, Bible study, prayer) serve to remind you of your anchored identity in Christ? (Hebrews 6:19)
- How do these practices help you to discern meaning and direction?
Reflective Questions for Church Leaders:
- As United Methodists, our purpose is stated as “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” How do we help our congregations move past an individualized notion of purpose to finding their purpose in the larger story of God’s mission of reconciliation?
- “The midlife crisis is ultimately a spiritual one that challenges us to transcend a mainly vitalistic or functional appraisal of life.”2 How do we as church leaders help adults in midlife to see their identity as more than their jobs or accomplishments (or lack thereof) or functions or roles? How do we help them discern the overarching purpose of using their unique gifts and talents in serving God’s Kingdom?
1 Setran, David P. & Kiesling, Chris. Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Young Adult Ministry. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 142.
2 Quote from Adrian van Kaam in Roberto, John. The Seasons of Adult Faith Formation. (Lifelong Faith Publications, 2015), 76.