This week’s challenge: Lose your veneer

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Years ago I had a sort of business acquaintance whom I idolized.

I was just getting started in book writing and at the time she was one of the top names in Christian publishing.

This woman wrote some of the funniest books I’d ever read, plus she was highly in demand as a speaker. She probably still is.

Back then she could make audiences laugh until they wet their pants and snap her fingers and bring them to their knees in surrender to the Lord.

I met her at a Christian Bookseller’s convention one year and was awed in her presence. At 6-feet tall, she towered over me by a foot, but it was her ability to be on stage and be both funny and poignant that overshadowed me.

After meeting her I went home with my piddly little books and meager talent determined to be like her. No, that’s not true. I determined to best her.

Eat my dust, Famous Christian Writer Woman (FCWW).

Sadly, God did his equivalent of taking me to the woodshed and I learned my lesson not to try to be someone I’m not, at least not FCWW.

The funny thing is, I met her again years later and got a chance to talk with her. I told her that I had tried to be her but it didn’t work out all that well. That’s when she told me that it wasn’t working out all that well for her either.

Who she had become on stage at conferences and in her early books wasn’t who she really wanted to be or who she was anymore. She wanted to be a serious Bible teacher and write historical novels but everyone expected her to be funny — demanded that she be funny.

So, she was. She put on the funny veneer to make other people happy — her audiences, her readers, the publishers.

Last I heard she’s finally doing what she wanted and doing quite well.

To that I say, good for you, FCWW!

Recently, I listened to an interview with Tim Willard, a young guy who just wrote “Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society.” He talked about the difficulty of being honest — with ourselves and with others.

He avoided using the word “authentic” because that’s become a clichéd buzzword among hipster Christians and has come to describe a cookie-cutter brand of Christian church pastor, the skinny black jeans and black shirt wearing, Starbucks coffee sipping, cuss word spouting guy with the soul patch and shaved head who sits on a stool to preach.

Willard said “authentic” has become a veneer. As humans, it’s hard not to be ‘unveneered,’ he said. We all want to be accepted. We all want to be loved.

We also all have things we want to hide, so we do what it takes to be who we’re not. Some of us are better at it than others.

A few weeks ago my husband and I met a couple who were sitting at the bar in a restaurant. Within minutes we learned how many houses they owned, how many vacations they had taken and that they just bought a new Corvette.

That was their veneer.

Just as I started getting all high and muckety muck thinking that I don’t have a veneer, I realized that in many situations where I’m with strangers, and even sometimes with friends, I ask a lot of questions but rarely give out information about myself. I can walk away knowing a person’s life story but they might know only my name and that I’m awfully nosy.

That’s my veneer. That’s how I protect myself.
Some talk about what they own or who they know, hoping to impress, hoping they’ll be liked; I keep quiet and not let people know anything about me so they don’t have a chance to not like me.

The thing is, most people tend to disdain veneer — fakery — in others. Most people want to know each others’ true selves with all our flaws and scars and disabilities. That’s what makes us approachable, and when we are weak, the Bible says, that’s when we are strong.

And it’s only when we know that we are utterly loved — loved by God — that we can find the courage to be who we are.

I’m not there yet, but I want to be.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.