Has anyone ever told you to “get real”? Usually this phrase gets tossed into a conversation when one person thinks the other is being unrealistic, perhaps hoping for an outcome that is unlikely to happen. Getting real means opening our eyes to the truth and being willing to see what’s really there.
The Cambridge Dictionary says “get real” is used to tell someone “they should try to understand the true facts of a situation and not hope for what is impossible.” The trouble is, who’s to say what’s possible or, for that matter, real? One person looks at a situation with hope and optimism, while another sees the same situation and feels more discouraged than ever. Researchers say we each have a kind of personality set point that places us somewhere on the scale from pessimistic to optimistic, and we pretty much stay at that set point throughout our lives, no matter what happens. One study showed that people who won the lottery—even though we think that would make us happy forever—soon came back to where they were before the win. On the flip side, people who lost a limb in an accident also came back to the same amount of general optimism or pessimism that had already informed their view of life. We see largely what we think we will see, and that view varies for us all. “Get real” means widely different things for different people.
But being willing to “get real” with ourselves—and even more importantly, to get real with God—is the first step in a journey that draws us into ever-deepening faith and trust. When we’re willing to know the truth inside ourselves, not only do we let go of our expectations that the outside world change to what we want it to be, but we also discover within our very own souls the continual companionship and leading of Spirit. And that constant guidance—Christ is come to teach his people himself—moves us grace by grace toward more love, more peace, more God in our daily lives.
Here’s how Margaret Fell put this:
Now, Friends, deal plainly with yourselves, and let the eternal Light search you, and try you, for the good of your souls. For this will deal plainly with you. It will rip you up, and lay you open, and make all manifest which lodges in you; the secret subtlety of the enemy of your souls, this eternal searcher and trier will make manifest. Therefore all to this come, and by this be searched, and judged, and led and guided. For to this you must stand or fall.
~ Margaret Fell, 1614-1702
If we want a living, growing faith, Margaret Fell is saying, we need to let Spirit lead. But it does sound awful, doesn’t it? Letting Spirit show us all the imperfections in ourselves. It’s a hard thing to see—but it is truly good for our souls, and good for our world. Such is the work of the Light. But as God reveals us to ourselves—our tendency to control, the places where we are the opposite of humble, the times when we would rather gossip than find a peaceful solution—God is helping us see where we need more and more grace, more and more Light to shine in. As we “get real” with what still needs work within us, we begin to be transformed, ever-so-slowly, into the image of Love in which we are made.
You can hear why the writer of Proverbs wrote so movingly about the importance of wisdom:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
11For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.
12If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.”
In our modern day, folks often want to replace the word fear in the “fear of the Lord” with something softer, like respect. I can understand why: none of us wants to literally be afraid of God, nor do I think that’s what scripture is saying here. I like the way one pastor I heard probably 30 years ago explained this. He told us to picture ourselves as a three -year-old walking up to a busy street. Our dad holds out his hand and we clasp it tightly. We feel safe and secure, in the care of someone stronger, as we cross the road together. Fear of the Lord, he said, was fear of crossing anything in our lives without God’s loving guidance and watchful care.
This is where wisdom begins, the writer says, with our awareness of our need for God’s presence with us. There is humility in that, the softness of a seeking spirit. When we let God in and give God permission to shine the light on whatever in us is a block to love, change for the good begins to happen. And this brings wisdom that will serve us throughout our lives—and be a blessing to others, too. It reminds me of a beautiful saying by Rumi:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Christ’s Light, as Margaret Fell said, helps us do just that, if we are willing to “get real” with ourselves and God.
Do you remember the children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams in 1922? Chances are that you read it to your children and grandchildren, and perhaps—once upon a time—had it read to you. The Velveteen Rabbit has long been one of my favorite books of theology. It tells the story of the transforming power of love, which changes us, little by little, over time, into the truest expression of who God made us to be. This story shows—quite literally—how love makes us real.
You may remember the story. It begins like this:
“THERE was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.”
The little toy rabbit was not a fancy sort, and he was shy and snubbed by the more expensive toys in the nursery. But soon he made a friend in the rocking horse, and one day he got tucked in with the boy at naptime, and ever after, they were great friends.
One day in the nursery, the rabbit asked the rocking horse, “What is real?” He thought maybe it was reserved only for the most well-made toys. But the horse said, “Real isn’t how you are made…it’s a thing that happens to you.” It happens, he says, when a child loves you—really loves you—for a long, long time.
The rabbit settled into the nursery and enjoyed being the boy’s constant companion. With all the cuddles through the years, the rabbit’s plush fur gradually wore through and all the pink had been kissed off his nose. The boy loved him so much he took him everywhere.
But then, the boy got very sick. The bunny stayed by his side, tucked deep into the blankets. When the boy began to recover, the doctor said that anything that had been close to him had to be burned because of scarlet fever germs. The bunny, along with the bedclothes and boy’s favorite picture books, were put in a bag and taken out to the trash heap to be burned. The bunny wiggled to the top of the sack and looked out, seeing the places near the forest where the boy used to take him to play. Feeling sad, a single real tear fell from his eye and where it touched the ground, a flower grew, and in the middle of the flower, a fairy appeared.
I know what you’re thinking. “Get real,” right? What does a sweet little children’s story teach us about God? I would answer, everything.
Because that’s just what happened next. The fairy delivered the happy news that Love had turned the bunny into a real rabbit. The bunny didn’t understand that he could now run and play like the others until his nose itched and he reached up with his hind foot to scratch it. And the next spring, the boy was outside one day when he saw two bunnies hop out of the woods. One had what looked like faded brown and white spots and soft eyes, and the boy said to himself, “That reminds me of my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!”
God’s love, over time, helps us become who we were made to be.
In our New Testament scripture today, the people listening in the crowd ask Jesus, “Who are you?” Jesus assures them he is who he’s said he was from the beginning. He tells them that all he does comes from God. “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me,” he says. He urges them to follow his teaching and example, because he adds, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
When we’re willing to “get real” with ourselves, lay down our defenses, stop justifying our anger and outrage and give God free sway over all that is in and among us, the truth will lead us to create a more loving world. We discover the truth of who we are in Love, who we were created to be, what God yearns to share with us each and every day. Goodness and mercy. Peace and well-being. The light of kindness, connection, and care the whole world over.
All that’s needed on our part is a willingness to let the Light of Christ show us where we still need to be made real in Love, where our seams are showing and our sawdust stuffing needs to be replaced with a vibrant inner life of Spirit. Love will do it all, if we’ll only let the eternal Light search us and truthfully reveal what we need. It’s the natural way, the loving way, the most real way to bring the living Love of God into our world, from the inside out, one person, one bunny, one prayer at a time.
- OT Proverbs 9: 10-12
- NT John 8: 25-31
- Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/11757/11757-h/11757-h.htm