As a kid, I tried to blend in… which is really hard to do when you’re three inches taller than all the boys in sixth-grade. I proudly wore my Guess overalls, Coca-Cola shirt, and white Keds to blend in. I listened to the right music (Rick Astin), wrote in notebooks decorated with Teen magazine headlines, and had a favorite member of NKOTB (Joey). Conformity was all the rage in 1989.
Middle school survival requires conformity, but as an adult, it’s a flaw I don’t want you to know about.
In some ways, I don’t conform, but in others, I totally do. It’s easy for me to me to conform with every other mom on my block and writer on the Internet by denying who I most fully am — ignoring my own capacity and gifts and creating unreasonable expectations — in order to not cause a stir. I’m not proud of this. In fact, it’s totally embarrassing to admit.
But I’m wondering if you conform too.
It’s so much easier to ignore our calling and chase what everyone else is doing. It’s easier to push away our gifts when they don’t seem to be on trend. It’s easier to not be passionate about certain causes because no one else is. We don’t want to be the outlier.
Conformity denies who we most truly are.
The conformity we’re talking about here is not about wearing cool-kid clothes, reading best-sellers, or watching the TV shows our neighbor does. The conformity that’s most destructive to our hearts is the kind that causes us to miss out on God’s custom-fit plans so we can blend in.
To conform, we shun our indwelling divine gifts and live a lesser life. Conformity requires that we deny the good works pre-destined for us to do because our plan doesn’t seem to be everyone else’s plan and that makes us nervous. To conform, we must deny who we most fully are.
To deny who we are takes effort and a toll on our hearts. Our calling — our unique dreams, quirks, ideas, and talents — is our homing device to Christ. When we ignore what’s pulling us home, we find ourselves exhausted, out of sorts, unwell in our soul. We’re overwhelmed because being who we aren’t is far more work than discovering who God created us to be and then becoming her.
So why do we conform in the first place?
Conformity is caused by wanting outside approval.
We think that if we’re just doing what everyone else is doing, the approval will come. We often hear, “Follow along, we’re all doing this now.” For example…
In my role as mom, I subtly conform to the image of Good Mom: she’s crafty, volunteers like crazy, and makes homemade meals from scratch. But Good Mom has different passions, gifts, and resources, but I try to become her anyway.
In my work, I conform to the image of Successful Writer + Speaker Lady: she’s on all the social media channels, hosting webinars, and administering an online community. But Successful Writer + Speaker Lady has a different capacity and goals than I do so I hide who I most truly am to chase the dream that’s not right for me.
We think that approval equals security and success, but something rumbles in our souls.
Conformity isn’t doing us any good.
The truth is that we are designed to conform, not to each other, but to the image of Christ. We are, first and foremost, image-bearers of God Most High.
Being an image-bearer is not just who we are, it’s also what we do. It’s not just an adjective but an active verb. “Imaging God” means loving Him and loving others (Welch in When People Are Big and God is Small). It means receiving the hand-crafted and exclusively-designed role God gives us. It means obeying Him in ways that people see Christ shining through us (Matthew 5:14–16).
When we conform and play someone else’s part, we miss out on having a unique impact as image-bearers. Our impact and transformation happen as work out what Christ worked in.
When we conform, we’re not helping our world know Christ better — we’re suffocating the light that was meant to shine on a hilltop. Let’s not do this. Let’s be who we most fully are. Let’s shine the light given exclusively to us. Let’s glorify the “the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.” (Pressfield in The War of Art)
Conformity is a choice we don’t have to make.
As kids, blending in by wearing the right outfit, listening to the approved music, and holding our own in a conversation about New Kids On The Block helped us survive school.
As adults, blending in by denying who we are and what we’ve been on earth to do has far greater consequences: our God isn’t glorified in the way only we can make Him shine. This is a flaw all of us want to hide.
We were made for more — to be lights and image-bearers. We do this only when we conform to Christ, not those around us. The world is waiting for us to be who Christ called us to be. Let’s let this flaw go.