With these eight words, Polonius summarizes well what, for many of us, has become the motto of the ideal life: to thine own self be true. They epitomize the constant drive we have for individual freedom. To be free is to be able to determine our own identity; it is to be able to define for ourselves who we are and how we will live. At its core is the ongoing quest that we all undertake to live authentically; to pursue a truthful life.
But what does it mean to live truthfully? Oftentimes we mean that there is congruence between our internal and our external worlds. To speak the truth is to say what you mean and mean what you say. To live truthfully is to live in accordance with your own internal convictions.
We all have a desire to live full and authentic lives. There is a cry for something more when we seek to be true to ourselves. It is the recognition that something is lost and needs to be found; something within us from which we have become alienated. Oftentimes it is in moments of crisis when this cry is heard most clearly. It is a cry for love, acceptance, recognition, and belonging that comes at the end of every failed relationship, every dead end job, every broken promise. I think that it is this search that lies at the core of every obsession, every mid-life crisis, every desperate effort made in order to obtain affirmation and acceptance. It is this burning drive that compels us to keep searching.
And so we look for something deeper; something more real, something more true to who we are. We long for a life of depth, beauty, and integrity. And so we look inward. We look to ourselves and ask, “Who am I? Why am I here? How can I be most faithful to who I am?”
The problem with such searching, however, is that such inward searching is self-referential. The truth is that none of us are the architects of our own existence. We who did not create ourselves and who have no control over where and when we were born suddenly believe that if we just look inward we can find satisfaction. The alienation that we feel does not come from being out of touch with ourselves. Rather, it comes from being disconnected from our Creator.
To live truthfully in the world is to live in light of God. It is to live according to how God has made the world. In defining the core of reality, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
The source of a Christian ethic is not the reality of one’s own self, not the reality of the world, nor is it the reality of norms and values. It is the reality of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ…This question itself, which none can answer by their own choice without answering it falsely, already presupposes a given answer: that God, however we decide, has already spoken the revelatory word and that we, even in our false reality, can live no other way than from the true reality of the word of God. The question about ultimate reality already places us in such an embrace by its answer that there is no way we can escape from it. This answer carries us into the reality of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ from which it comes. (Ethics, “Christ, Reality, and Good”).
As such, we only truly find ourselves when we find ourselves in God. This is why St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they find their rest in Thee.” Anything else that we seek to find our identity in, whether internal conviction or external allegiance, will ultimately leave us empty.
To live truthfully is to live in light of who God is and who He has made us to be. We don’t define who we are. Rather, we receive our identities as a gift from God, which He has given to us in how we are made and where we have been placed in life. to assert more is to deny ourselves and to reject our createdness. Until we learn to rest in God and in who He has made us to be, we will remain restless and unfulfilled in every other human relationship or man-made achievement in life.
Sadly, we tend to reject this truth out of fear. After all, it can be a terrifying thing to live according to God’s truth. We wonder if God can really be trusted to hear, much less to fulfill, the deepest longings of our hearts. How can we love and trust a God whom we have never seen?
This is why Jesus is so important. In Jesus we actually meet God. In his life, death, and resurrection Jesus proclaims and demonstrates God’s love for us. As such, God’s love is not an abstract idea or theoretical concept. It actually became flesh and dwelt among us. His ultimate love is expressed in going to the Cross and dying for us. In that single act of love, God bridged the gap and put an end to our alienation. Furthermore, He gives us a new identity; as His beloved children, His sons and daughters.
We can entrust our lives, our identities, our very fulfillment to God because of the love and trustworthiness that He demonstrated in Jesus Christ. We can live truthful lives because we realize that the One who created us is also the One who loves us and saves us.