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U B U

July 27, 2020
Who, me?" The What, Who and How of Accountability | USCJ

The best and the worst advice I ever got were in the same phrase: You be you.

It’s the best advice because trying to be someone other than yourself is a hopeless project. I should know. I’ve tried to be someone other than myself. One of the times this was huge was when I was in Jr. High. This was back in the day when there was no Middle School. Just Jr. High. I’m old.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who did this – trying to be someone other than who I was. More than anything else, when I was in Jr. High, I wanted to be in the “In Crowd.” I wanted to be liked and accepted. I wanted to be in an inner crowd of cool kids. Actually, what I wanted was to be in inner crowd of the way cool, groovy kids crowd.

This meant a couple of things regarding accepted style. It meant wearing penny loafers (with the penny in them) and Levi 501 jeans. I had neither. My mom bought all our clothes at J.C. Penny. And if they sold Levi 501’s, I never knew it, because she always fitted me off the Penny’s brand tables. They were serviceable jeans, as far as I can remember. But very not cool. Way not cool enough to get you in the In Crowd.

The penny loafers were less of a stretch, since J.C. Penny also sold shoes, among which were penny loafers. Nobody knew what brand of shoes you wore. Unless you took them off and showed them the insole, which, even in Jr. High, wasn’t accepted protocol. Thank God.

Clothes and style weren’t the only thing required for getting into the cool kid group. You needed a girlfriend. A cheerleader, if possible. But there was a limited supply of these, and all of them were very far out of my league.

You also needed to be witty. Or sarcastic. Jr. High people have no way of knowing the difference between the two. I could pull this off. But the only way you’d ever get to show out on this is if you were already in the In Crowd.

In Crowd kids had a kind of swagger. The boy’s did, anyway. They had an uncharacteristic confidence. How many confident Jr. High kids are there in the world? Who knows. I’m pretty sure they’re all confined to the In Crowd, wherever they can be found.

Finally, as a 9th Grader (my Jr. High was 7th through 9th grade), I was asked to join the In Crowd at a High School football game. By this time, I had a paper route and was buying my own clothes – Levi 501 jeans and penny loafers. I did my best to curb my enthusiasm and just be cool. I didn’t want to get kicked out of the In Crowd the first night I got into it. Being cool was a prerequisite to the whole thing, whether you felt cool or not.

It was awesome. For the first few minutes. I was In! I was cool. I was valuable. And that all felt fantastic.

But after the first 10 or 15 minutes, I realized that I was still me. Under the cover of my cool jeans and shoes, I was still the Preacher’s Kid who lived in a tiny little house in a not-cool neighborhood. I was still the possessor of countless insecurities. I was still me. And that set up a fear that I’d be discovered as the fraud I knew I was.

I have, unfortunately, not fully grown out of this. I still like to be at the cool kids’ table, wherever that table might be found. We’re not kids anymore, so it’s more the high-value people’s table. And it may not be an actual table. But the compelling desire to be included among the influencers and important people is still there. Thankfully, there are no more penny loafers in the mix, but the magnetic draw of this desire to be “in” hasn’t gone away.

I’m still trying to learn how to be me, and let that be enough. I haven’t yet mastered the U B U thing. I’m not interested in trying to be somebody I’m not. It’s still my goal, but I’m not in sight of the finish line yet.

There’s a down side to this advice, though. I’m familiar with this, too. It’s that if I misunderstand the essence of U B U, I may think it’s permission to not bother with being more than I am right now. That I’ll be better off to just be the way I am and let people deal with it if it doesn’t suit them.

Well, yes. And no.

For me to be me, I’ll have to let go of the obsession with trying to be who they think I should be and meet other people’s standards. When I don’t meet them, they’ll have to deal with it. I may have to deal with it, too.

But no, this isn’t a free pass to coast and just let myself be my bad self.

I got 30 pounds overweight under this paradigm. And way out of shape. And ended up with Type 2 Diabetes. It didn’t work out very well in these physical areas. Age and gravity always win. That’s just the way it is.

Spiritually, none of us can afford to coast and be our bad selves. That will not work out well.

There’s an important dynamic in this U B U thing that we have to deal with. It makes it a little messy and sometimes complicated. Still, it’s got to be addressed and somehow factored in. Here’s what I think it is: The ultimate power in the entire U B U thing is God’s Grace. Without it, we’ll never get there. Ultimately it’s God’s Grace that empowers you to be you and me to be me. His goal for extending us that grace is enormous – it’s our only hope that we will grow into the us He had in mind when He first thought of us, back before He spoke the cosmos into being and spun the planets into orbit.

The thing about grace that makes this U B U thing complex is that you can’t effort your way into it. You can’t earn or deserve it. You can’t try harder to access God’s Grace. You have to humbly accept it and embrace it.

But once you have accepted it and embraced it, it empowers your effort toward the development and growth that God has in mind for you.

Never get effort ahead of grace. You just can’t get where you want to go if you do. Grace first, then effort.

From this perspective, my path to me being me looks like this: humility – embrace grace – make effort by grace. It’s easy for me to type. Why is it so durn hard to do in life?!

The idea of making effort isn’t rare in the New Testament. I did a quick search of the phrase, “Make every effort,” on Biblegateway.com and found more than I thought I would. You should do that search for yourself. The Apostle Peter used these 3 words most often. Here’s what he wrote in 2 Peter 1:5-9:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

To form the kind of character that will emerge in a person who is adding these good things one to another takes effort. None of it will happen consistently by accident. It takes intention, focus, effort to pull this off. Even if your temperament sets you up for some of them to be easier for you than they are for “normal” people.

I want you to be you. I want me to be me. I don’t want to be held hostage by what I think other people think of me or expect of me. And I want my character – my spirit – to grow and deepen. So here’s what I’m trying to do, and what I recommend to you. I’m trying to make every effort toward becoming who God has in mind for me to be, humbly depending on His grace for the power to do this. For me, this means that I have to visit and revisit His grace in my life over and over again. Remembering it. Bathing in it. Basking in it. Drinking deeply of it.

And then I move ahead with sincere, though often faltering, effort.

If you’re a mom or a dad, imagine what it could mean to your kids to see you modeling this kind of life. Imagine what this approach might do to your marriage. To your job. To your whole life.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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