One of my favorite children’s stories is that of the Velveteen Rabbit. In this tale, the rabbit asks an older toy, Skin Horse, what it means to be real.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you…It doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I’ve come back to this passage several times over the last few years, mulling over what it costs to be real. When I read about great pillars of Christian faith, I often wonder how they approached that place and what experiences they faced that shaped their character.
As I walk through my own peaks and valleys in the Christian life, I suspect that the Skin Horse is right that being real is a process that takes a long time, that there are aspects of who we are that must be ‘worn down’ or ‘worn away’ with love, and that there will be people who don’t understand what real is or why you’d want to be real.
I pointed out the cost of being real because I believe that the sticker shock alone can turn some people away from the journey to becoming real. It costs us everything, particularly some of the things we hold very dear to us and the hidden things we are reluctant to give up under any circumstances.
The beauty of being real that is seen from afar loses some of its appeal when we are confronted with the commitment and the sacrifice involved. Being real is not for the faint at heart. Real people often share a testimony that tells of God’s faithfulness through many trials over the course of years.
It isn’t for those looking for recognition. You cannot cling to your pride. It is not possible to defend or protect yourself while becoming real. Inevitably, it is a breaking down, a humbling, and a tilling of your soil. At first, perhaps all you will see is God clearing away the chaff from your life. It might not always be pleasant because you actually liked some of those things that He removes from the picture. You may notice that you depended on those things He seems keen to dispose of.
A further caution is that there will be people who just don’t get it. Some of these people will even be fellow Christian travelers. There are aspects of the journey of being real before God that are personal enough to where sometimes other believers who haven’t been called to the more specific details God has entrusted you with won’t understand why you are taking great pains to handle your Christian life in a particular way. For examples, consider those who are called to missions work overseas or those who homeschool their children or those who aim to keep the sabbath in some way. There are tons of other ways that we may be impressed to live out our faith that aren’t a must for every other believer you will encounter.