To be yourself must be one of the most often said maxims and most difficult to enact principle of all. "All you gotta do is act naturally," sang Beatle Ringo Starr in 1965, and I'm sure it was taken to heart by the Beat generation, but what after all is it to act naturally? It's sometimes difficult to discern who you are when so much of your life is spent in imitation of others. And yet there is something appealing about being comfortable in your own skin, about being uniquely who you are.
Writers struggle with trying to find their own "voice," to sound like themselves and not someone else. Christians struggle with not imitating the world, with being who God intended them to be and no one else. As Paul tells Gaius, "do not imitate what is evil but what is good" (3 John 11). But neither the call to imitation nor the many others admonitions in Scripture to a holy lifestyle conflict with being who we are, with being unique individuals before God.
Strunk reminds writers that "[t]he use of language begins with imitation," reminding us that the imitative life, which begins in childhood, continues long after, because it is almost impossible not to imitate what one admires. And yet the right kind of imitation is a key to being yourself. Strunk again: "Never imitate consciously, but do not worry about being an imitator; take pains to admire what is good. Then when you write in a way that comes naturally, you will echo the halloos that bear repeating."
Brother Lawrence, the poor monk in charge of sandals, the self-described "great awkward fellow who broke everything," practiced God's presence by continually conversing with Him. I have no doubt that the man was comfortable in his skin, that he acted naturally. The monk practiced the presence of God by, as he put it, "keeping the soul's gaze fixed on God in faith --- calmly, humbly and lovingly, without allowing an entrance to anxious cares and disquietude." He would not quit the conversation. He habitually looked to God. He didn't say it was easy but, rather, was a habit formed by trying and failing, trying and failing. He wasn't at all into imitation, but was focused on God.
Maybe Luther had it right when he summarized our duty as to "love God and do as you please." Or we might rephrase it as "love God and act naturally." If we focus on God, if we practice His presence, we will be on the way to being ourselves, the selves that God created us to be. There's nothing wrong with learning from the lives of other Christians, of seeing the habits of holiness in their life and being inspired to holiness in your own life, just as young writers learn the styles of great writers before they develop their own voice. That unique voice or life is, in the end, a product of many imitations, until unconsciously it becomes the unique person we are. The ironic conclusion is that you don't become yourself or become natural by trying. Rather, aim at God and find yourself. Then your life will "echo the halloos that bear repeating."