“Honestly, I just love how you…you…” I couldn’t quite think of what it was about my friend that I was trying to describe, until finally it just came out. “You live so unapologetically! Yes, you are so unapologetically yourself.” It wasn’t until that moment that I could finally put a name to the characteristic that had drawn me to one of my closest friends.
And it was true; she was unapologetically herself. She went about life being genuinely kind, bubbly, and full of personality without worrying about what other people thought. People couldn’t help but gravitate towards her confidence and sincerity. Yet, I couldn’t help but be skeptical of the idea. Live unapologetically? I mean, it’s a nice idea, but I have flaws—parts of me others might find annoying. From what I understood, to live unapologetically and be completely “myself” meant to embrace all of my imperfections, and that idea felt wrong. How could I truly embrace myself if “myself” wasn’t quite right and was always in a working state of change?
Till We Have Faces
Saying “I’m sorry” used to be a bad habit of mine. It was one of those automatic responses given even when it doesn’t make sense. I used to apologize for everything: in the middle of conversations when I felt like I was talking too much, when I tripped up the stairs (even when no one was there), and when people complimented me. I was the epitome of living apologetically, as if my very existence was a mistake I needed to remedy.
But talking with my unapologetic friend and reading a passage from a C.S. Lewis novel changed my perspective. Lewis’s book Till We Have Faces is a retelling of an ancient Greek myth of Cupid and Psych, told from the perspective of Orual, Psyche’s older sister. Orual is angry with the Greek Gods and chooses to hide her face behind a mask because of a facial deformity. The mask is a double meaning, both covering her outward features and the inward bitterness she had towards the Gods. At one point, in a dream, she finally faces the Gods, figuratively taking off her mask and showing her true self and feelings. She comes to this realization:
“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” (C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces)
In Doctrine and Covenants section 121, the Lord conveys an idea similar to the C.S. Lewis quote, saying invs. 37 “But when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition…behold, the heavens withdraw themselves.” I realized that I had been hiding behind a mask of my own, “covering” my sin, weakness, and insecurities with premature, hollow apologies, too afraid to fully be seen by God and those around me.
Taking Off the Mask
Like the scene C.S. Lewis describes in Till We Have Faces, there were times that I found myself angry with God for something that had happened in my life and ashamed of that anger. I only prayed and said what I thought was the right thing to say, claiming that I wasn’t actually upset, that I was fine, etc. When I told this to a friend, she said, “I think it’s okay if you tell God you’re angry and upset. I think He can take it.” When I finally did pour out those feelings of hurt and bitterness, showing my true face and feelings, only then did I have a sincere, two-way conversation with God that softened my heart and began my healing.
I realized that God wanted me to be myself, to be open and honest with who I was, shortcomings and all. Only then, “till we have faces,” could He truly commune with me “face to face.” The healing and growth became real and authentic because I was being real and authentic with God.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said that we cannot heal “if we hide behind personal, dogmatic, or organizational facades. Such artificial discipleship not only keeps us from seeing ourselves as who we really are but it also prevents us from truly changing through the miracle of the Savior’s Atonement.”
Hiding behind a mask of perfection does us no good. God wanted me to come unto Him as I was, not as I pretended to be; I think He wants us to do the same with others, too.
Being Seen by Others
I’ve found that when I show my true face to my Heavenly Father and to those around me without automatically apologizing, then I have the opportunity to see my weaknesses and strengths in their entirety. Yes, I still make mistakes, but instead of preemptively apologizing for what might or might not be wrong, I’m allowed to see where I haven’t made a mistake—where I’ve done some good, where I’ve been strong, and where I’ve lived up to my potential. I am able to see those divine, integral parts of my identity instead of assuming the worst. I’ve also been able to see more clearly where I can improve, where I have been in the wrong, and how I can remedy that.
One of my favorite moments from last general conference was when Sister Bonnie H. Cordonshared a story about two men who had an authentic, vulnerable conversation with one another. It happened after one man asked the other if he wanted to talk about his wife’s recent suicide attempt:
“When I said, ‘Your wife attempted suicide. That must be overwhelming for you. Do you want to talk about it?’ he openly wept. We had a tender and intimate conversation and developed a remarkable closeness and trust within minutes….I think our tendency is just to bring brownies rather than figure out how to walk into that moment with honesty and love.”
When we “walk into that moment with honesty and love,” we are allowing ourselves to be seen—genuinely seen—by others. And, I think in doing that, we are better able to see others as they remove their own masks, and then we are able connect and grow together in ways we otherwise couldn’t. Sister Aileen H. Clyde beautifully describes the moment this happens:
“Each of us has had the experience of matching a truth or a realization through inspiring words or music from others to something deep within our souls. When that connection happens, it feels like a small explosion of knowing. We are lifted and warmed; both our minds and our hearts are involved. These experiences, at least momentarily, verify our kinship with one another and with God.”
I don’t think living unapologetically means ignoring or condoning our flaws, but I do think living unapologetically means we recognize that we are a work in progress. Yes, parts of my life and the way I identify myself will change, especially as I progress, have more experiences, and strive to be more Christlike. But the core of my identity as a daughter of God doesn’t change. To live unapologetically means to embrace our truest selves. We are, in the truest sense, sons and daughters of God with divine natures and divine potential—and that celestial truth is nothing to apologize for.