Years ago we had neighbors over for dinner and their little girl had fun playing with my Matryoshka dolls. You may know them better as Russian nesting dolls or Babushka dolls. They are wooden painted dolls, hollow inside except for the last one, and they get smaller and smaller as you open them to reveal the next size. Ultimately there is a tiny little peanut of a doll hiding at the interior of all the dolls, painted as creatively and delicately as her larger counterparts.
My young friend and I entertained ourselves by hiding the littlest doll under one of the halves of the larger dolls and having the other guess her location, like a street scammer in New York City. Then the game turned into creative ways to stack the doll halves, all the while featuring the tiniest doll prominently in our display.
At times, this is how we play games with other people in an effort to hide or highlight our truest selves. Sometimes we want to present ourselves as being bigger and stronger than we really are, concealing our weaknesses or vulnerable areas from others and presenting a decoy of ourselves, detracting attention from who we really are. Other times, we may creatively arrange our circumstances to put our best features in the most favorable light, in essence screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!”
It’s a challenge to present a healthy version of ourselves to people we trust. It takes time and energy to determine which people in our lives are safe to be real with. That’s a good thing. Not everyone gets the most intimate access to my heart. But everyone deserves to see something real.
Sometimes I wonder if I even know that little peanut well enough to display it to others. Am I a stranger to myself? Am I living in denial of my true value or my detrimental flaws? How much effort am I willing to give to hiding and presenting a selective version of myself?
Being authentic in all things requires the discipline of silence and stillness to connect with that little peanut’s Creator. It also involves some relational trial and error, and not a little pain in the process. The result, though, is ultimately the freedom to be who we really are. All the time.