I’ve told her she’s “my treasure” since she was old enough to understand me. I honestly think my heart doubled in size on the day that she was born. And here I am almost two decades later wondering how it all went by so fast. My little girl, Madelyn, just turned eighteen.

I keep asking myself, Is this really happening? As a parent, you think you’re prepared for this, but I can promise that you’re not. It feels like just yesterday that she was the newborn gazing up at me in those early morning feedings. I remember that chubby toddler who fit perfectly in my lap while she sucked her thumb and twirled her hair. “Swing me higher, mommy!” she would squeal during adventures in the park. And our bedtime story ritual always ended with that sweet voice asking for “just one more.” Oh, how I wish I could go back and relive those moments again. I can still picture her eager expression on those first days of school, waiting for the tooth fairy and looking in the starry sky for Santa’s reindeer. I giggle now remembering the day she cut her hair and tried to hide it in the sofa cushions. Cleaning car seats full of Goldfish crackers, handling meltdowns and even potty training are beloved memories today. I’ve cared for her when she was sick and held on for dear life through puberty and teaching her to drive. Countless tears I’ve wiped away and many a success has been celebrated. We’ve endured divorce, moving houses and changing schools. We’ve blended families and applied to colleges. And now here we are. My Madelyn is eighteen, an adult many say. She will be leaving me in no time and I wonder how I’ll make it not seeing her every day. This is gonna be hard.

When you envision sending your child off into the world, so many things go through your mind. You’ve had eighteen years to instill the faith and values that you believe in. For eighteen years you’ve tried to teach her good manners, responsibility, and the benefit of hard work. You’ve done your best to make her feel unconditionally loved and supported. But has it been enough? What have I missed? As this time approaches, what is it that I want most for my daughter’s future? I’ve concluded that it’s not about accomplishments or money. It’s not about appearance or reputation, nor being married and having kids. It’s not about any of the things the world tries to convince us of. Above all else, what matters most to me is that my daughter truly knows her worth and embraces who she really is…who God made her to be.

I’ve been focusing more on this idea as the new year has begun. During these first weeks of January, as most of us do, I’ve done some personal reflection. It’s interesting to me how every morning show and magazine cover offers the latest New Year’s advice on how to lose weight, better manage our money, get organized, and be more fashionable. What is it about the start of a brand new year that means we need to become brand new as well? There is a pervasive assumption that we are so flawed in our looks, finances, and relationships that we need help, and we need it desperately. The focus is on what we need to improve. What needs to be changed. Is this what you want to hear? Is this what I want my daughter to strive for? Do any of us feel better when we set these standards for ourselves and make these resolutions? Quite frankly, I’m tired of being told that I am not good enough. Are you? What if, this year, we choose to accept who we are instead? What if we stop trying to be something or someone that we are not? Perhaps it is not about focusing on our shortcomings, but rather our strengths. What if we resolve to find our authentic selves?

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brene Brown writes,

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

What would it feel like for you to show up and be real? A little scary? Or maybe freeing and liberating? I think we all possess the desire to let our true selves be seen. To shed those layers of falsity, to take off the masks that conceal, to stand bare and be genuine with no apologies or excuses. But, how in the world do we do this?

I believe that finding your authentic self means first knowing at your core that you are a beloved child of God and that you are one of a kind. It means knowing that your Heavenly Father is always present and that your worth to Him is immeasurable. Zephaniah 3:17 promises,

“The Lord your God is with you; the mighty One will save you. He will rejoice over you. You will rest in His love; He will sing and be joyful about you.”

And Max Lucado writes,

“Da Vinci painted one Mona Lisa. Beethoven composed one Fifth Symphony. And God made one version of you… Scan history for your replica; you won’t find it…You aren’t one of many bricks in the mason’s pile or one of a dozen bolts in the mechanic’s drawer. You are it! And if you aren’t you, we don’t get you. The world misses out. ” Cure for the Common Life

You are so important to God that He only made one of you. He rejoices over you, my friend! Have you ever realized this? You are special to Him and there is no one else exactly like you in this world. And, you know what? There is a reason for this; it’s because God created you with a purpose. In Psalm 139:13-14, David says,

“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that full well.”  

Do you, like David, know this truth “full well?” Imagine if you chose to look in the mirror every morning and instead of focusing on your imperfections, you proclaim, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” In essence, “I am wonderful – just the way I am.” Would you carry yourself differently? Would you approach your life with more confidence?

Our Heavenly Father wants us to walk around with this confidence, but often there are things that hold us back. Many of us believe that we need to measure up to another’s standards, so we constantly compare ourselves to those around us. How can we fully embrace our worth when we are trying to fit into a mold that was not created for us? It simply won’t work. We spin our wheels trying to be what we think our boss, family members, friends or even the world wants us to be, but end up feeling deep down that something is missing. Then, we may try to fill this void with accumulating material things, overly focusing on our appearance, or stacking up successes on the mantle. But it doesn’t satisfy. This is what happens when we deny our authenticity.

My grandmother, Mary Jane, was an only child. With no siblings to keep her company, she surrounded herself with animals. A brood of mutts, a Persian cat, and even a pet duck named Charlie brightened her every day. But Charlie was unlike any other duck. He was afraid of water. Having grown up surrounded by his canine brothers, he thought he was one of them. When Mary Jane took off down the sidewalk with her crew, Charlie waddled along trying to keep up. When Charlie quacked, he thought he was barking. I’ve loved this cute story since I was a girl, but I’ve often felt sorry for Charlie. He never knew who he really was. Do you think he ever looked out over the neighborhood lake with a longing to dive in? Did he ever gaze up at the sky and desire to take flight? Maybe he never even considered it because he was too busy trying to keep up with the other dogs. There were so many blessings and gifts that only a duck can possess, but Charlie never realized any of them.

Can you relate? Are you trying to keep up with the other dogs around you? And by doing so, missing out on the talents that are unique to you? God has blessed you with remarkable skills and abilities. If you spend your energy and effort trying to be something you are not, the result is guaranteed. You will feel out of balance, disconnected, and incomplete. More importantly, the world will never know you!

With social media being what it is these days, my daughter and others her age are constantly playing the comparison game. It frustrates me as a parent, but I have to ask the question, “Am I any different?” How many times do I play the same game, comparing myself to the mom who always packs the healthy, organic lunches for her children, or the highly compensated businesswoman who has it all together, or my friend the perfectly slim and toned fitness model who happens to be a mother of four. I’ve realized I do it every day. Don’t we all? And hence my point. Instead of focusing on the gifts God has blessed me with and the things I do well, the things I am passionate about, I spend much of my time looking over my shoulder at the talents and accomplishments of others and feeling “less than.” Is this what God has planned for me? For you? I don’t think so.

All of these people I am comparing myself to – those things they are great at and bring them fulfillment may be exactly what God has planned for them. But my focusing on trying to be what they are instead of focusing on being me takes me further away from God’s plan for my life. My simple act of pursuing that which is not me, by and of itself, is creating the “failure” that I am so trained to be fearful of.

Friends…It is not about your resume – it is about your soul. It is manifesting your deepest passion into a life. What would it feel like to let that go and pursue what really makes you feel excited and alive? Steve Maraboli writes,

“There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a person being themselves. Imagine going through your day being unapologetically you.” Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

So, if and when we finally reach this state of being real, being authentic, and not apologizing for it – what does it mean? Is it just for us or could there be a greater purpose? Could it extend beyond our limited selves? And what does that translate to in our lives and the lives of others? Ephesians 2:10 says,

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Embracing your authentic self does involve others. God wants you to positively affect the world around you. To further His kingdom and bring broken souls into His presence. This is indeed your purpose.  But you get to do it in your way. Whether it’s through your artistic talent, teaching ability, or gift of encouragement. Through your management skills, financial knowledge or creativity. Maybe you use the pain from your divorce, infertility or loss of a loved one to support another who is struggling. Or perhaps your patient and devoted parenting just might raise a future leader for Christ. It could be your loyalty, attention to detail or beautiful singing voice. Or your tenderhearted smile that gives a stranger the strength to make it another day. Whatever it is, your authentic self has meaning to God.

But hold on… what about the meaning this will have to you? What impression is left on your heart from living and loving in this way? The contentment that comes from being authentic and using your gifts to help others can be compared to no other reward. It is quite possibly the key to self-fulfillment. In her exceptional book (that I continually read cover to cover in raising my son), Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, Meg Meeker, illustrates this point,

“For a boy to learn early in his life what he likes, what he is good at, and what he wants are all important. But, in the end, unless he learns how to use those things to help others around him he will never recognize the true purpose of his life, nor will he live a more fulfilled life.”

This is true in raising sons and daughters, and this is true for ourselves. Helping others with who we truly are is the most worthwhile purpose of a lifetime.

1 Peter 4:10-11 encourages,

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”

When we realize our God-given gifts and reveal them to others with no apologies and then use them to help the world around us, it is then that we will be living the life God has intended for us. Sounds good, right? But, what does that really mean? It means a life of connectedness and confidence. Of peace, joy, and freedom. The knowledge of our true worth. The deepest understanding of being wholly loved for simply who we are. I mean, Wow! Isn’t this what we all want in life anyway?  Because then it won’t matter what others around us are doing, possessing, and achieving. We will be satisfied and comfortable in our own authenticity – living out our purpose and watching others live out theirs. Would I really appreciate the beautiful painting my friend, Jan, made me if I could paint one just like it? Would I enjoy my son’s unique sense of humor as much if I could tell jokes just like him? Would I delight in the food the chef prepares at our favorite restaurant if I could cook as perfectly for myself? It takes all types to make God’s world be what it needs to be, and you are a valuable part of it.

So, let go of the notion that you need to change to become worthy. Move on from the desire to become new and improved. Give the world the greatest gift and embrace your authentic self. It would be a shame if we missed out on the real you!