“Get real!” was a phrase that was once popular. Few, if any, of us present our real self to others. We tend to show the side of ourselves that seems most acceptable and safe. At times this is appropriate and wise. But hiding our real self can make it difficult for people to accept us and love us as we are.
So what does it mean to be “real”? The story “The Velveteen Rabbit” by M. Williams may help us to answer that question. In one part of the story, the Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse are having a deep conversation in the nursery.
“What is real?” asked the Rabbit one day. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Sometimes.” For he was always truthful. “When you are real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or who have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
We tend to be so worried about our appearance, our abilities or our perceived faults that we hide our “realness.” And some of us are afraid to be real because we have been wounded. Because of shame and insecurity, we might even try to hide from God as Adam and Eve did. But, God knows us and loves us as we really are. Psalm 139:1 says, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” God knows our dreams, hopes, fears, faults, and failures; he knows our past, our present and our future.
If you want to know how to be real, observe a child. As long as the child knows that she is loved, she is not afraid to be real. She only starts to hide her realness when she doubts that she is loved. We can be real to God without fear, for he loves us unconditionally. If we doubt that love, we can look at the cross, the symbol of perfect love. Before God, we need not concern ourselves with things like wrinkles or spots on our skin, our hair or our body shape, our abilities or disabilities. We can trust that God forgives our failures and shortcomings, and loves us in spite of them. No matter who we are, how we are, or where we have been in life, God will always love us as we are.
The knowledge that we are loved by God as we are gives us courage to be real with people who love us. We can accept and embrace our different talents, skills, abilities and disabilities. To people who love us, a cane, walker, hearing aid, or wheelchair do not make us less real or cause them to love us less. We can celebrate our uniqueness and dare to be real to God and to those who love us.
The story of the Velveteen Rabbit continues: “And so time went on, and the little Rabbit was very happy – so happy that he never noticed how his beautiful velveteen fur was getting shabbier and shabbier, and his tail was coming unsewn, and all the pink rubbed off his nose where the Boy had kissed him.”
In 1 Corinthians 15:10 the apostle Paul wrote, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” May we be able to say the same of ourselves.
Rev. Jeff Harter is pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church, Sharon