During my formative years, I attended a community church with my family. Back then, I wasn’t interested in church. I grew up watching Wonderama on Sunday mornings, and the thought of sitting in a wooden pew for ninety minutes didn’t interest me. It wasn’t that I hated church; there simply wasn’t anyone at church who I could connect with on a deeper level. I was an introverted young boy surrounded by extroverted adults who seasoned their conversations with religious talk that I didn’t understand.
But there was one gentleman who always managed to put a smile on my face each Sunday morning. His name was Dean.
Dean was a 40-something man whose goal was to help you feel welcome at church. He had an amazing memory, remembering just about everyone’s name in the congregation. Whenever the church had a social event, Dean was there to connect visitors with members and help everyone feel welcome. He was always happy and quick with a joke, and always shared his best jokes with me. He was just one of those people who never had a problem or issue in his life.
But through my adolescent eyes, I noticed one thing about Dean: He didn’t have any close friends.
One Sunday morning, the pastor announced that Dean’s 12-year-old daughter was killed in a traffic accident. She was crossing the street when a drunk driver rounded the corner and hit her in the crosswalk. The incident appeared on the front page of our city’s newspaper, stating that the man was charged with drunk driving and felony manslaughter. I didn’t know what felony and manslaughter meant, but I knew it was serious.
What puzzled me was that Dean never showed any emotion throughout the ordeal. At his daughter’s funeral and at church in the proceeding weeks, Dean continued to reach out to people with his jovial attitude, telling everyone that he was “doing OK” and life couldn’t be better. But I never saw him share his heart with people. Even after his daughter’s death, he never shared his grief with people at church.
Looking back, I think Dean believed that sharing pain would alienate him from the congregation. Life is messy, and some people don’t have the capacity or skill to help someone claw out of a difficult circumstance. But if you’re never open and honest with others, they’ll never reciprocate with you.
Ultimately, authenticity is key. It’s your most precious commodity. And when you lose your authenticity, you lose everything.
Dean taught me a valuable lesson: Be open and honest with the people you meet and befriend. And if they don’t accept you for who you are, it’s time to start looking for new friends.