With author and pastor Karen Wilson.
Genuine, original, real, actual, not false, true (as in ‘true to oneself’): just a few of the definitions you’ll find when you look up the word ‘authentic’.
Rise Magazine editor Wendy Rush asked Karen Wilson, author of ‘The Inside Story’, what is ‘authentic living’ and why it is important for us to live authentically?
Karen explains, “there are many leaders who seem to be flourishing outwardly, whilst on the inside they can be harbouring deep pain and secrets that are almost crippling. Many of us are unaware of our shadow side and are not willing to pay attention to our souls. Living authentically means we are not okay with skimming through life, but instead we wrestle with what is going on in the deep places, the private places of loss and grief, and deal with things that are likely to rob us of joy and peace. This far better equips us for life and leadership as we serve from a place of honesty and openness…firstly with ourselves and then with others.”
A friend of mine recently commented that being ‘authentic’ is not always a good thing. You can be authentically good, he said, or you can be authentically bad. But Karen says that being authentic means more than just ‘being who were are’.
“There is a call over each one of our lives from our Creator to live life large. Jesus came to give us life in the fullest measure; life abundant; life beyond the average (John 10:10b) We are stewards of our soul and authentically living means we face the issues that need to be faced and we grow through them. It is not enough to just say, “This is who I am”. We need to know who we are called to be in Christ, what He has called us to do and what we need to work on to go the places He is leading us. Truth-telling, honesty, vulnerability are all part of the authentic journey. Putting our fear of what others will think of us aside, and embracing a journey of real-living.”
As broken people living in an imperfect world it is accepted that as we go through life we will have to deal with issues that are at worst painful, at best uncomfortable. Most of us probably feel that, for the most part, we’ve been quite good at moving on and leaving these painful or uncomfortable things behind us. But could the thing that we think we have moved on from still be impacting us in some way?
“I think every experience in life shapes who we are”, says Karen. “We have heard the adage, ‘Life can make you bitter or better. Choose better.’ Whilst I don’t like clichés, this has some ring of truth to it. What happens to us will definitely shape us – in a way that cripples us or strengthens us. Often I think the journey of walking through pain is indeed the very thing that brings strength. Those journeys of the soul bring revelation of so many other hidden things that may have been tucked away for a long time.
“I was sitting in a seminar just last week and they were discussing an issue that has risen its head over and over in my journey of being a woman in leadership. I remember turning to the colleague next to me and saying, ‘Oh no, I keep those conversations locked away deep within. I don’t want to talk about them again!’ What I was saying was that these things were not completely dealt with, they were still framing some struggle and I was being confronted with that. Usually they lay dormant and I am not aware of them even being there. All it takes is a trigger and they have a way of hijacking the moment!”
Karen emphasises that living authentically is a choice. “We choose honesty. We choose openness. We choose to face reality or not. We choose to work on issues or run from them.
“Pain will keep us from facing reality and living authentically.
“Fear will keep us from doing the same and perhaps fear is more immobilising than pain. We fear the opinions of others and the strength we have to continue. We fear trying and failing. We fear that if people see who we really are, then they won’t like what they see.
“There is something freeing in admitting who you are, the best and worst bits, and being honest about the journey of living truthfully with others.”
If we want to explore how live authentically, what is the first step we need to take? Do we need to focus on a particular issue, on our attitudes and behaviours? Or something else?
Karen explains that the journey of authenticity begins with knowing who we are in Christ. “It entirely revolves around seeing ourselves how He sees us. Not perfect, but accepted. Flawed and forgiven. It’s being okay that we are not okay all the time. I used to worry that struggling with issues would disqualify me from Christian ministry and leadership. In fact, the opposite is true. NOT embracing the struggle, and avoiding dealing with our humanity is what often takes us out of the game.
“I used to be fearful of sharing the struggle of the journey until I realised the power of the message of Jesus comes best out of Him being strong in our weakness. If we pretend we have nothing to be forgiven for, we nullify the gospel.
“There is something liberating about standing in front of people, sitting around a meal table, talking with friends at the sporting field, and being honest about the space you are in and the path of growth you are on. I find it inspiring when I join others on the path.”
Does the church have a role to play in helping people to find freedom to live authentically?
“We need to elevate a forgiving and loving Saviour. We need to pray for huge measures of grace as the broken come inside the doors of the church and are looking for acceptance. It was Brene Brown (research professor and author) who said, ‘To own and tell one’s story is perhaps the bravest thing anyone will ever do.’ It’s the secret of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. People begin by saying their name and naming their addiction. Surely freedom comes from admitting the struggle, but also walking forward into healing and restoration. Doing that brings an incredible sense of freedom.
“The church’s role? Welcome, accept, come alongside and love every step of the way.”
Karen shares, “I went through a really difficult season with a teenage child where he had seemingly walked away from God for that period. I was trouble and distressed yet I found the church one of the hardest places to find comfort. Being a pastor at the time I found everyone had the perfect Bible verse to let me know all would be ok. There is nothing more annoying than pat answers for some of life’s deepest struggles. I attended a conference where they had more than 50 workshops in the afternoon, one of which talked to this issue. There were more than 8000 delegates at this conference and when I got to the workshop there were 7 people there! I felt a measure of shame as I walked in. ‘Perhaps it is all my fault’, ‘Maybe we wouldn’t be going through this if we were good parents’. The list goes on.
“As this elective went on we were encouraged because we had actually faced our fears and had sought help. Things were said that got me back on an even keel and helped me gain perspective of what was going on. I am pretty sure 80% of the delegates should have been in that elective – yet they weren’t. I was tempted to lock those things away deep down, as they were, but there is no healing in that.
“My son is through that season and the issues are no longer there – there are always news ones popping up – for me and for my family. I have learnt to address them and own them. ‘Hello, my name is Karen. I don’t have a perfect life!’.”
In almost every season of her life, Karen Wilson has found herself in positions of leadership which have included both pastoral and executive roles. She thoroughly enjoys all forms of communicating and has a pastoral, relational approach to leadership. Being raised in a ministry home, she has always had a love for others. She is energised by being with people and seeing them grow and develop to their full potential.
Karen is very happily married to Mark and their children Daniel (son), Julia (daughter-in-law) and Katie (daughter) are a constant source of encouragement to her. Living life large is something this family has chosen to do and they love every minute of it!