The fall semester of my freshman year in college, I attended the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. I was young, scholarship money was involved, and well, it was Alaska. So I went north, only to discover that Fairbanks in winter is cold, dark, and far away from home. There was little to do, and the student body divided; some pursued drink, while others pursued exercise. I hit the gym.
There I met Brian. He was a beast. No nonsense in the gym, he kept to himself, worked out hard, and never made a show of the fact that he was a muscular monster. He seemed, in fact to hide it. He wore oversized, baggy clothes—never so much as a tee shirt that might show off his granite arms—and rarely if ever glanced at himself in the mirror. I asked him one day why he hid the physique he worked so hard to build. His reply has stuck with me. “When you’re big, you don’t need to try to look big. You just are big.”
He was right. No baggy clothes could conceal the fact that he was a mass of muscle. And the same is true of each of us. An intelligent woman does not need to try to appear intelligent. A compassionate man does not need to try to appear compassionate. A generous child does not need to try to appear generous. These traits, which make us who we are, lie largely on the outside, and all those good traits that you try so hard to showcase are already visible to everyone who knows you. Like Brian said, when you’re compassionate, you don’t need to try to look compassionate. You just are compassionate. But the opposite is just as true. All those dark traits, faults, warts, and ugly places within your heart that you try so hard to hide, these are like the muscles that lie behind Brian’s baggy clothes; they cannot be hidden. People see you for who you are and who you are not, no matter how hard you try to hide the bad and showcase the good.
And so each of us plays an exhausting game, trying daily to put his best foot forward, to accentuate the positive, and to conceal the ugly places. And no one is fooled. But in the Church, no such games are necessary. Christ has seen you for what you are—all the good and the bad and the ugly—and has loved you with an everlasting love. I need not strive to impress others, for Christ is already impressed with me. I opt out.
Do you know the freedom that comes with being accepted in Christ? Can you imagine the love of a God who truly sees you—all of you—and still loves you? That is what it means to be a Christian.
When you’re loved, you don’t have to try to be loved. You just are loved.