It’s Thursday and I’m supposed to meet her at Starbucks in 30 minutes. The fear grips me as I say a quick prayer while I change my clothes and put on some makeup. Feeling guilty for not setting aside more time earlier in the day to pray and prepare, I kiss my kids and husband and head out the door.
Each week I meet with a young woman in our church to talk and mentor her. Each week I feel like I’m letting her down; wishing I were more spiritual and had more wisdom to offer her. But, she keeps coming back and seems excited for our weekly discussions. I try to steer the conversation to accountability topics: school, family, relationships, ministry, and her walk with God. I feel stiff and awkward, worried that I might accidentally slip and say something that a mentor shouldn’t say. I find that sometimes I don’t listen as well as I should because I’m desperately trying to find something insightful and challenging as a response.
Last week things changed. God began showing me the importance of being genuine, of being me. He showed me that He created me as a unique individual to fill a unique need. This young woman didn’t ask to meet with me because I’m some doctor of theology or great spiritual leader. She wanted to meet with me because I have a relationship with her and she likes to talk with me. My feelings of inadequacy don’t come from her; they come from my own insecurities.
So, as I walked to the local Starbucks that Thursday I pushed aside the normal feelings of guilt and focused on the fact that I was about to enjoy an hour of adult conversation with no children to interrupt. I quit reminding myself that I was a mentor and needed to play that role, and instead embraced the idea of just being me.
It was one of the best times we’d had in the nine months we’d been meeting. We laughed and chatted and lost track of time. Before we left I prayed for her about the things she’d shared, not because that’s what a mentor would do, but because I felt like I wanted to. It was so relaxing and comfortable to just be myself and not overanalyze everything I said or did.
This plays out in more areas than just my mentoring relationship. As a wife, mother, friend and Christian I’m constantly trying to appear to have it all together. I want my marriage, family, home and relationships to be perfectly in order and ready for inspection. I’m slowly learning that people don’t want to see the perfect Melissa. The perfect Melissa seems like she doesn’t need help, advice, companionship or encouragement. I’m also learning that in trying to be the perfect Melissa I’m alienating myself from those who are closest to me.
If I’m not being real with my husband, friends and relations how can they have an authentic relationship with me? They need to know the messes I’m dealing with, the struggles I’m having and the fears that haunt me. That way they can help me walk through it and rejoice with me when they’re really overcome, and not just covered up.
It’s a classic example, but still poignant, to compare the way I was acting to the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. In Matthew 23 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees by saying to them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” I was working so hard to make sure that the outside appearance is acceptable, but I was neglecting the inside.
My husband has a tattoo that says, “Esse Quam Videri” which means in Latin “to be rather than to appear.” He got it to remind himself that he wants to genuinely be the man of God he knows he should be, not just have the appearance of one. Taking a cue from him, I’m working on making sure that the person I present to the world around me is the real Melissa and not the perfect, fake one.