The idea seemed harmless enough- THEN. As I straightened my black and white polka dot dress after standing up, I found myself uncomfortably positioned between a young mother holding her uncontrollably crying baby and an elderly man who smelled like Old Spice and Ben Gay- undoubtedly wearing his Sunday best. We all turned toward the center aisle, just like we did every Sunday and waited for the usher to tell our row that it was time- time to make that long walk down to the smiling pastor standing behind basket and give our best offering to God while every eye seemed to be watching and judging and speculating about what was in each envelope. And here I was coming before God with what appeared to be an offering but what was actually nothing. Even as I dropped the empty envelope in the basket, I felt only slightly remorseful because, after all, no one would know that the blank envelope belonged to me. I had NOTHING in my envelope, and somehow it did not really matter because everyone else thought that it contained something of value in it. Only I knew the truth.
I am sure that the church had tons of “wasted” envelopes- some of which were hidden in well-meaning churchgoers’ Bibles between the book of Mark and Luke or haphazardly written on by a youngster whose mother was trying to keep him quiet during prayer. The envelopes were inexpensive, I’m sure. The issue was not the envelope. The issue was what the envelope represented- a giver, a participant in God’s work, a “good” person. I wanted to be celebrated. I wanted to be seen in a “good” light, and that envelope- the simple action of giving- would help me to be seen in that way. My desire to appear like a faithful person made it easy for me to give into the fallacy that it was OK for me to pretend to be someone on the outside who I clearly was not on the inside. THAT WAS THE ISSUE- a BIG issue.
Now as an adult on a constant journey to lead my life with internal integrity, I look more at what the empty envelope represented. It represented the need for looking the part being more important than being the part. It represented the mediocrity that tricks us into thinking that it’s ok to be celebrated publicly but fail miserably privately. It represented all of the energy we put into keeping up the facade that our lives are satisfying, fulfilling and purposeful when in fact they are no where close to what we want them to be.
It has become increasingly popular in society to appear to be a lot of things that we are not. If we can pull off the appearance of being wealthy, intelligent, popular or genuinely happy- you know all the things we should be- , then it doesn’t really matter that we may not REALLY be those things as long as we can make others believe that we are. Social media makes it even easier to hide in the shadows because, after all, we may never meet any of the people who approve of us, which is clearly shown by their comments under our latest and most favorite unfiltered picture or post. We easily get caught up, and dare I say, become satisfied living in the gray area of who we want people to believe we are instead of engaging in the work to become the best version of the person that we want to be. Phony appearances lead to apathy in the land where “likes”, “retweets”, “followers” and “reposts” becomes the novocaine that deadens our desire to BE better instead of just LOOK better. We gauge “winning” in life by outside influences and materialistic measures that do little to nothing to connect us to our authentic self. Why then should we work on the treasure WITHIN when it’s OK to be defined by the treasures we amass on the outside?
Coming out of the shadows means committing to BEING the part instead of just LOOKING the part. It means refusing to be defined by society’s standard of success and greatness and taking full responsibility for defining your own standard of happiness and creating it. Creating the definition means knowing exactly WHAT you want, WHO you want to be and WHERE you want to go then getting on a journey to get there as the most authentic version of yourself that you can be. It sounds simple enough, right? WRONG! The key to winning WITHIN is knowing that the journey is not one that is easy, trouble-free or without some detours and setbacks. For those of us who were taught from childhood that others thinking that we were polite, smart or talented was important, it takes longer to find our voice and listen to it without doubt or insecurity. It takes longer to fight the urge to please everyone or make everyone happy. It feels weird the first time that we say, “No” or not actually count the likes we get on the picture we thought highlighted our best features. It takes courage and guts to win within and not care more about how it looks. It takes practice, and it takes patience, but the work is worth it!
There are few words to describe how it feels to live life outside of other people’s small, suffocating box of expectations and opinions, but LIBERATING is one word. EMPOWERING is another. The freedom you earn from doing the work is so worth it, and it’s the way to make sure that you stay true to YOU. NO MORE empty envelopes for me! I’m out of other people’s box, and I am FREE!