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When you’re only as secure as your latest joke and smartest comment

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Fr. Alex Kirby Lancon - published on 05/18/23

I figured out where to find freedom, and true security, deciding to exist outside the orbit of other people’s expectations.

I still remember the road, the time of day, and even where I was sitting in the car — the whole bit. 

Fourth of July was around the corner and plans were being discussed. “I’m going to a bonfire back home,” I told my new college friends. A pause followed, then a sigh. From the front seat a friend announced to the driver, “Ugh, see, even Alex has plans!” 

Ouch. “Even Alex?” What was that supposed to mean? Behind a fake smile, my spirit was crushed. 

Moments like these are not easily forgotten. How could they be? They jolt us out of our complacency and force us to see ourselves from the outside in. And what do we see? In a mental frenzy we weigh the image we had of ourselves with how we thought others saw us over against how others actually see us. The search for our true self can be dizzying. A dreadful question arises: Which view is true? In truth, none of them are. 

I thought I was living on full throttle before. A year into college and I had some good friends around me. Life was good. My social identity was secure. I was safe, so I thought. Not so fast. 

My social life was only an illusion, a volatile one. In reality, I was the “plaything” of those around me. Yet I only realized this when the cliff between my perspective and theirs was laid bare. I was only as secure as my latest joke, my smartest comment, my “being on” for those around me. I was perpetually “trying out” but never felt like I got the part, in competition with those around me, but eclipsed by their social successes. If he’s the “smart one,” then I can’t be. If she gets the laughs, then I don’t. If they win, I lose. I was in a zero-sum game and didn’t even know it. 

What changed? I found the answer to my question and lived in it. I learned what, or rather who, defines me.

You may think this article is about friendship, inclusion, or even hidden pride. Sort of, but not really. The dignity of the baptized — unchanging, unearned, ever-lovable — is really at the center. A soul claimed by Christ leaves no wiggle room for other measures of worth. This truth, received deep in my bones, dug me out of my social hole and set me on a path to freedom and life. 

Freedom begins when we decide to exist outside the orbit of other people’s expectations (or better, our expectations of their expectations). To be fully alive is to live out of the gift of an identity we did not give ourselves, a gift that comes from another world. This means it is indestructible, untouchable. It is the gift of beloved sonship or daughterhood in Christ. Without this foundation, nothing else can be built.

Perhaps you’ve had similar experiences, like changing schools or starting a new job. Grounds such as these can be shaky. Don’t run. Answer the questions: Which view is true? Who am I really? Anything short of an identity in Christ is simply not enough. 

~

This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.

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The Human Being Fully Alive
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