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Can You Be You?

My friend Gail asked me recently if she can know Jesus and still be herself?  I can relate. We have all been weaned on songs like, “I Wanna Be Me”, and Frank Sinatra’s old standby, “I Did It My Way”. Most of our lives we’ve been encouraged not to live a selfless life but rather to make sure no one ever shapes us into something we aren’t. Honestly, had I not become sick of the way my life was turning out, I never would have given it to God. But once I did, I soon realized that Jesus’ statement that “It’s more blessed to give than receive”, pertained to virtually every area of life.

 Still, my friend fears becoming what she calls a ‘cookie cutter Christian’ and I can understand why. Although Jesus used the emotional carrot more often than the stick -- encouraging people to do what is in their own best interests -- many churches rail on about our sins every week. They use guilt as the primary motivator for personal change then wonder why people are not transformed. Jesus has a better way. His love and grace change us like nothing else can. And ironically, I have found that, far from making us what we are not, true Christianity helps us perfectly become what we really are – it helps us be our very best self. Salvation is a progressive verb; a lifelong journey towards wholeness. And amazingly, the more we become like Jesus, the more we become who we really are. That’s because we are made in God’s image. Anything ‘ungodly’ is inconsistent with our true nature.

 When I was a teenager, I read a short story in which a man could help people discover what they were meant to be. This was a great gift and people beat a path to his door for his sage advice. If a person were cut out to be an airline pilot, he wouldn’t waste years of his life trying to be a dentist. Moreover, he’d be much happier doing what fit him. Such a gift of wisdom was truly worth its proverbial weight in gold. People could discover their destiny, their purpose, and what would make them happy. Their lives could become a perfect fit.

 This little parable reflects my experience of the Christian life in two ways. The first involves vocation, the second personality. Both are invaluable.

 When I was a new Christian, I was in my early 20’s and soon realized that the business world bored me to tears. I had been the highest paid executive trainee of the Heinz Company. I sabotaged the job because it was so mind numbingly dull. I just wanted to help make people’s lives better, no matter how little money I made doing so.

 That’s when I discovered I could teach. I was at a Bible study led by Warren Campbell, a wonderful man who became my spiritual father. His Bible studies weren’t mere monolgues. He encouraged each of us to share what we were learning about the Bible. As I discussed some exciting new discovery, my friend Harvey, a tall handsome black brother who had been converted out of the Black Panthers at Kent State University, turned to me awestruck. He said, “Man, you have some gift of teaching.” Surprised, I replied “I do?” It never occurred to me that I could do that.

 Similar things showed me I had a writing gift. Later in my life, I discovered I had profound gifts for healing people’s deepest hurts. Writing, speaking and healing became the central focus of my life. None of these things showed up on some academic preference test. If I hadn’t decided to follow the Spirit, I never would have discovered the various ways in which I am uniquely suited to make the world a better place. Years later I saw how important this was to my own personal sense of satisfaction. My wife at the time said she experienced God’s presence when she worshipped. I told her I felt it most strongly when I was doing healing work. It’s akin to that comment made by the Eric Lytle in the marvelous film, Chariots of Fire. When his sister accused him of wasting his life by competing in the Olympics instead of preparing to be a missionary he simply told her, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.”

 Each of us is made for something wonderful -- something that makes our world better and truly fulfills all of our gifts and talents. When you give your life to God, He is the ultimate career consultant. He cares about your heart’s desire enough to show you how to attain it (cf. Psalm 37:4). As you seek the Lord, you gradually uncover that for which you are uniquely suited. I can’t imagine living life any other way. It would simply be too boring. The great adventure of following the Spirit makes all other ways of life seem dull.

 The second way in which we are enabled to become our real self goes even deeper than that. The process of socializing us, from the childhood discipline we receive at home to being forced to sit quietly at a desk for hours in school, to instruction we receive in church, usually leaves us a but a blurred shadow of our real self.

 Though some people feel that Christianity further suppresses one’s true self, my experience is just the opposite. When I first gave my life to Christ, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of profound acceptance. God took me “just as I am, without one plea,” as the old hymn goes. This was even more powerful because the Spirit enabled me to experience it at just the moment when I was so acutely aware of how unacceptable I was -- right when I saw that my own sin was destroying my life. At that very moment, deep inside, the awesome Presence of God’s love showed me He understood completely why I was the way I was and hence He accepted me completely and unreservedly. Shortly afterwards, I told the skeptical pastor of the liberal church I grew up in that I knew I would never again have to justify my existence. Talk about an existential moment!

 As I continued trying to become an obedient Christian that sense of unconditional love I’d felt from my Heavenly Father dissipated. A few years into this new way of living, I was becoming bound up in legalism and performance anxiety as I tried so very hard to please God in everything. I often found myself desperately in need of what Bonhoeffer calls the “grace that must be sought again and again.”

 My failure to live up to my highest ideals plunged me towards my first retreat experience. I went hoping to change my life and it did, almost as powerfully as my conversion had. There, the love of Christians who knew me at my worst and accepted me anyhow began to persuade me that God’s grace was truly big enough for my sin. Gradually, it dawned on me: just as Christ accepted me as I was when I first gave my life to Him, He still accepted me as I struggled to be better. I finally realized it was okay to be me.

 At that time, the book I’M OKAY, YOU’RE OKAY was popular. I found myself having to say, “I’m not okay, but it’s okay”. Such is the true nature of grace.

 Throughout my Christian life, I have sometimes found myself in need of another more transformation. To receive that, I have gone to seminars, retreats, and conferences and even into personal mentorship with people who could help me grow. It has cost me many weeks out of my life and thousands of dollars to do this, but nothing has paid greater dividends in my life. Each one has helped me to advance on what Dag Hammerskjold called life’s longest journey, the journey inward. Each has made me more Christ like and each, amazingly, has helped me become more uniquely whom I truly am. The God who made each snowflake different takes remarkable effort to help each of us become special in our own inimitable way. In fact, I believe only He can.

 Can you be you and be a Christian? Better than that. You gradually become Christ in you, and in that is our hope of a more glorious radiant life, both in this life and the next. If there were no Heaven, I would still be a Christian. The abundant life Jesus came to give us makes everything else pale in comparison.



Ken Unger is President of and founder of, where you can learn more about him and his transformative ministry. click here ,
 "Ken's new book, The Ultimate Breakthrough, goes beyond self help to self healing. You can preview it at  The Ultimate Breakthrough "
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