Let’s Drop the Cliché

Have you ever wondered who you really are?

Have you ever said something and wondered if you truly believe those words are true?

Have you ever wondered how much of what you say actually comes from the depths of you and how much is a repeat of someone else’s ideas or thoughts or beliefs?

I have.

The other day I was reconnecting with an old friend, retelling the stories of the past few years and giving pieces of my current struggles. I am generally a transparent person, I don’t mind the tensions of faith, but after recounting my hurts and fears I stated, “I don’t know, God will work it out….” In essence, I had dismissed every emotion and true belief that I had spoken. Anything real or deep or genuine, I had wiped away with a simple statement used to round out the edges of raw humanity.

It felt like a personal betrayal of self, as I have fought to remain authentic in this cross-cultural life. I have fought to keep myself from hiding. I have fought to be honest. Yet, I instinctually ran for cover when my courage failed, when I felt uncomfortable with my own revelations.

In this striving to be authentic, to know truth, I’ve found that authenticity emerges in those moments when I peek my head up, say what I truly believe about God, the world or myself. These aren’t the words of others. These are my words, spoken from the depths of experience and integrated faith. When what I say I believe is lived out in my life in tangible ways, as though my thoughts and words and actions are in alignment.

This true authenticity is not easy to find, and it is not easy to be. As simple as the idea is, it is a lot harder to implement as it carries with it a risk of rejection and judgement of our very core. It is much easier to spout ideologies of other people, to say what we know we ought to say, then to truly and courageously, expose ourselves to judgement. In this way, we don’t feel the rejection at our core when ideas are challenged, and any judgement is easily brushed aside as we rely on scripted beliefs.

I’d like to think that Christians and cross-cultural workers are the most accepting of authenticity. That these communities would be the safest place where we could truly be ourselves but I have not found that to be the case. There is a very low tolerance for authentically exposing ourselves when it doesn’t align with the Christian dogmas of our time and place. We rely on words like, “BUT, God is at work,” to dull the sharpness of our true struggle.

This is incredibly damaging because it is the wrestling and the struggling and the processing of our experience that deepens faith. This IS faith. When we can’t be broken, when we can’t be in process, when we can’t disagree, when we can’t be challenged, faith weakens. Then, when we are confronted with real pain, real betrayal, real loss and real evil, we collapse, and we have no answers for ourselves or for others who suffer.

But the gospel of Jesus Christ is not doctrine, it isn’t dogma, it goes so much deeper than that. It is the power of his sacrifice alive within our souls and expressed from the depths of ourselves. We give the gospel power when we share from that place within us, the place that feels the spirit of God move in passion because we are not speaking in theory, we are speaking from those broken places in which we have wrestled face to face with God himself.

That is our authenticity. That is our power. It is that which will change the world and shine a spotlight on Christ’s love because we can empathize in the reality and are not threatened by the struggles of others.

A part of being dangerously authentic is allowing others to be in process too, to be able to listen to the railing and the struggle without having to fix the theology. I love Job’s response to his friends when they tried to straighten out his theology with rote dogma.

“Honest words can be painful, but what do your criticisms amount to? Do you think your words are convincing when you disregard my words of desperation?” Job 6:25-26

What is the point of our perfect words? They prove nothing, especially when the words of a woman in struggle are like the wind. Her words are a part of the process, they are a part of the wrestling as she painstakingly rebuilds the image of God and reality from where it collapsed around her. She will be stronger for it and she will have something unique and real and eternal at the end.

If I could do it over again, I would return to my previous conversation with my friend. I would erase the clichés from my own mouth and let the truth of the struggle sit openly. I would risk looking pathetic, I would risk looking unspiritual and instead of weakness I would find strength.

Let’s not be hallmark card Christians, reliant on platitude and piety. Let’s be an army of women, armed with the courage to question, the strength to wrestle and the discipline to share all that God is doing within us. Let’s be women of depth, not because we have the right education, or the right words but because we have seen God and we have touched him and tasted him and we are willing to step out, once again, into the realms of the unknown, to grapple with God and truth.

Let’s be real.

Let’s be authentic.

Who are you? Do you rely on cliché when you experience difficulties? Can you take a risk and examine your speech for platitude? Let’s talk in the comments. 

Know that Velvet Ashes wants to come alongside and pray for you through whatever you are going through. Please check out our Prayer Wall to see how to share with us. Also, we want to connect you to good resources so you can receive the care you need. See our Resource Page to find opportunities available to you. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


  1. Becky January 28, 2019

    Thanks for this article, Joy, as well as for your others. I don’t always note who the author is when I first start to read, but I started this one and thought, “I bet this one is from Joy”, and sure enough, it was! I appreciate the depth of what you have to say, your willingness to speak from where you’re at. That’s something so refreshing.

    I catch myself using the kinds of cliches you mentioned too. it’s easier. It’s expected. It is much harder to leave something as it is.

    I had a conversation the other day in which I mentioned something difficult, something that was still quite raw, and for which I don’t have a tidy answer. I watched the person listening squirm, watched him try to reframe what I’d said in words that made it sound much more in control, made it sound “okay”. I kept having to say, “No, not exactly…. Actually, not really…” In the end, I had to offer assurance that actually I’m okay with things not being “okay”. Admitting I have unanswered questions, and broken dreams does not mean I have stopped trusting the Lord.

    I resonated with the picture of the woman “wrestling as she painstakingly rebuilds the image of God and reality from where it collapsed around her” . That’s a place I’ve been in for quite a while now. A lot of people offer me their own pictures, convince me to return to my old picture – but I know He was the One who did the collapsing because my “image of God and reality” were not full enough, not big enough – and now I’m waiting for Him rather than scrambling for all the pieces. I’m unwilling to paste together a substitute – even though it might make me feel better .Not a comfortable place to be in, but a necessary one, I’m pretty sure!

    1. Joy Smalley January 28, 2019

      Thank you, Becky, for sharing your story and experiences too. I love, love, what you said about ‘waiting for him rather than scrambling for all the pieces’. I can resonate with that so deeply as I try to rebuild what has collapsed on my own as quickly as possible. Yet, it is God who needs to do the rebuilding in his own time.

  2. Grace L January 28, 2019

    Thanks for sharing, Joy, and for stirring up some thoughts for all of us. It is true that in our world as cross cultural workers, we cannot show our authentic selves to everyone. For me, it is enough that I can be authentic with my husband and have a transparent relationship with him, as well as with a very few close friends with whom I can share via email. Otherwise, I find myself sharing glimpses of authenticity with others I am close to, but in bits and pieces, and not the total me. I have always been a transparent person, and my heart and soul is always on the lookout for someone that I can connect with on an authentic level. I was this way before I became a Christian, and during my Christian years in my passport country before relocating to my country of service.

    1. Joy Smalley January 28, 2019

      Thank you, Grace, for sharing. It is a grace to have friends who can accept you in your authenticity even if it is limited to email and a husband able to hear and accept your transparency. I will pray, also, that you have an opportunity to engage in a face to face friendship with deep authenticity, I truly believe that there is powerful movement in God’s kingdom when we relate in honesty. Your willingness to do so is highly valuable for the church! Blessings to you.

  3. Monica F January 28, 2019

    Thank you for sharing Joy. Authenticity is something I’ve begun to enthusiastically cling to in the last few years during our transition home- it’s quite freeing. No thunder-striking confessionals, just plain transparency at the appropriate time in order to encourage, empathize, or even instruct. I feel like I was always ‘honest’ on the field, but worried a lot about pleasing senders, friends, and colleagues. The more open I’ve been about challenges I faced during our 16 years overseas, the more ‘real’ I think people see me- not just the “Angel ‘M'” who gave up earthly comforts to work among the unreached. Of course, people can always dislike my honest-to-goodenss ‘real messy’ in the hopes of finding that ‘hero story’ , but I’m pretty much over that! I still ache, still dream, still strive, and honestly pray that God can use my story to encourage others- being honest is where it starts!

    1. Joy Smalley January 28, 2019

      Yes! Monica, it is so freeing to embrace authenticity! I can relate to being ‘honest’ on the field, but there is still a pressure to hold it all together, it often feels like our livelihood is dependent on it. I love hearing how God is using people’s stories to impact people and provide hope and encouragement! Blessings to you!

  4. M'Lynn January 28, 2019

    This is so good, Joy! It really hit home for me as I find myself tempted to hide for fear of judgement from those who rely on scripted platitudes rather than deep experiential faith. I especially liked this: “A part of being dangerously authentic is allowing others to be in process too, to be able to listen to the railing and the struggle without having to fix the theology.”

    1. Joy Smalley January 28, 2019

      Thank you M’Lynn! Yes! I agree, it is so easy to hide, especially with those who rely on platitude. It is a precious thing when we find people who can be authentic and allow us to be authentic too. Keep up the good, authentic fight 🙂

  5. Rachel Clow January 29, 2019

    Ah, fighting tears reading this. The struggle to allow real pain and real faith “sit”. Without qualifiers.
    I love your insight, because it comes from a real and relevant source. Thank you for writing.

    1. Joy Smalley January 30, 2019

      Thank you, Rachel! I love the, “without qualifiers”, that is a wonderful way of putting it.

  6. Rachel January 29, 2019

    Really good post. After returning from the field a few years ago now, this has been one of my deepest desires – to be my true authentic self. And it’s been a journey in finding out who that is. Being back in my home area has its challenges. I am being remade. I’m different than I used to be. I clash with people I used to agree with about everything, which is very painful. Your post brought gulps of fresh air to my soul. It reminded me that I’m ok, I’m not alone and I can KEEP doing this – living authentically!
    Thank you!
    “it is the wrestling and the struggling and the processing of our experience that deepens faith. This IS faith. When we can’t be broken, when we can’t be in process, when we can’t disagree, when we can’t be challenged, faith weakens.”

    I needed this today.

    1. Joy Smalley January 30, 2019

      Hi Rachel, thank you for sharing a piece of your experiences. It is a beautiful thing to experience personal growth and change but it is also a loss as relationships inevitably change as well. Keep up the fight for authenticity, I know that God is moving in it and doing immeasurably more than what we can see. Blessings.

  7. Chris January 30, 2019

    Thank you, Joy.
    It is only when we are transparent with others, when we share our own doubts and struggles, that we can truly bless them. What a gift to give–people discover that they are not alone in their brokenness. They learn that struggle is normal, that doubts come to all of us, and yet the Lord accepts and loves us right where we are. Let us encourage one another to run the race, to not lose heart as we press on toward the goal. The Lord will present us faultless before the throne one day.

    1. Joy Smalley February 1, 2019

      Hi Chris, thank you for sharing. I love what you said about the Lord finding us faultless in the end. It is this truth that allows us to be as authentic as we are, because we know that the blood of Christ has already covered us in our weakness. I love it.

  8. Lilly January 31, 2019

    Joy, I really appreciate this. I too am pretty transparent… and yet have found myself checking who I am transparent with… I love the confidence in God that this article exudes. Even if I am crumbling I know God. He is for me… So I can openly crumble with the confidence that that “crumbling” is not ultimate. This gives me a lot to think about. Thank you!

    1. Joy Smalley February 1, 2019

      Thank you, Lilly, for sharing. I whole heartedly agree that even when we crumble the crumbling is not ultimate, it isn’t the end, but it is the beginning of God’s grace. Blessings.

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