Being Myself: A Rant and Review

At the recommendation of a friend in ministry, I picked up the book The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner. Twenty-four hours later I’m struggling with what I’ve read, wondering if I should reread Benner’s 110-page book or just send an email to my friend thanking him for the timely recommendation. Of course, as far as I’m concerned, either choice will leave me exposed. And whether this sounds deranged or just delusional, I’d rather be caught naked in Central Park than have my deepest, darkest self uncovered (weird, huh?). I think most people would, at least most people I know. Rereading the book will once again force me to face the frustration of feeding and needing my “false self,” which, according to Benner, believes that my value “depends on what I have, what I can do and what others think of me.” On the other hand, emailing my colleague in ministry may also open up an uncomfortable dialogue that explores my reasons for finding the book helpful. And while I write this with a smirk on my face, I’m not sure I want to have my demons exorcised electronically, though it sounds like an interesting experiment.

To be honest, I thought The Gift of Being Yourself was going to be pure fluff. The title sounds so self-serving, so narcissistic. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book was neither. Frankly, I should have altered my expectations for Benner’s book when I couldn’t find it in my local, Christian bookstore. In my experience, if my Christian bookstore doesn’t carry a certain book, it’s usually because it’s worth reading. That was certainly the case with The Gift of Being Yourself.

As Benner helped me realize, I have never been very good at being myself. First, growing up in the home of a pastor is hardly an ideal environment for fleshing out one’s identity. Most churches are charged with a cult-like atmosphere of conformity, a soul-sickening culture of sameness. That atmosphere can spill over into the pastor’s home in harmful ways, going virtually unchecked until it's too late. The funny thing is if you take a pastor out of the ministry and give her a job selling real estate, odds are she'll be less tempted to taunt her children with biblical justifications for not piercing noses or navels in “pagan” ways. Christians in general and pastors in particular are curious when it comes to what they believe distinguishes them and their families from the surrounding culture, the world they seek to save. Love is usually last on the list, after the prohibitions against alcohol, tobacco, and vacationing in “blue states.”

Though they’re often maligned for their prudish proclivities, I’ve discovered that the Amish are not alone in their quest for uniformity. They are joined by Christians and pastors from every denomination who find homogeneity heavenly—further proof that religion seems to bring out the worst in people. In my most cynical moments, Mondays usually, I find that the church is an enclave for ego-centric individuals who are seeking to replicate themselves, not Christ, in others. There is an unrelenting affinity for the self bound up in the heart of every human being, and pastors are no exception. Benner’s book is a manifesto for those of us who have found this affinity destructive, but lack the wisdom and experience to transcend it by discovering and being our true selves. In my opinion, this little book holds a lot of promise for anyone tired of faking it.

Tom Guest Author