Esse quam videri
I wonder how much of my life is like Main Street of an old western town.
Stroll down the Main Street of my life and you may be impressed with what you see. But walk around back and get a glimpse of what’s behind the imposing facade and, well, you may discover a different story.
Don’t take this as a confession of some gross sin. It’s just an authentic admission of my desire to impress — to feel valued and important.
I’m guessing you can relate.
Truth is, we’ve all been hiding behind facades ever since Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit.
“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
“…and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God…”
Our fig leaves are the facades we hide behind to conceal our fears, inadequacies, self-doubt, secret sins.
Ever seen (or worn) any of these fig leaves?
- Consumer debt to keep up with the Joneses
- Conspicuous consumption
- Brand name shopping
- Credentialism — caring more about fancy degrees from prestigious schools than real education
- Working in the wrong career, outside of our Soul Purpose, in order to make more money, flaunt a fancy title, impress others
- Stomping on others to climb the corporate ladder and get that corner office
- Stifling conscience and making dumb choices to follow the crowd (drinking, drugs, sex, mocking other people, et al)
- Ignoring spiritual promptings out of fear of what other people will think
Longfellow’s poem, A Psalm of Life, opens with the stanza:
“Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream,
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.”
We’re easily deceived by appearances — the superficialities of wealth, pleasure, power, physical strength and beauty, charisma, position, status, prestige. The glittering treasures of this world overshadow the plain and simple things, which lead to the riches of eternal life.
All that glitters is not gold. The people we look up to and the goals we aspire to are not always worthy of our veneration, time, and attention. Pretty faces and perfect bodies often conceal empty heads and rotten souls. Slick talkers and fancy dressers often mask ill intent and an utter lack of substance.
In Cicero’s essay “On Friendship” is found this phrase: “Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt.” Translation:
“Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so.”
A few years after Cicero, Sallust wrote in his Bellum Catilinae that Cato the Younger “esse quam videri bonus malebat,” meaning he preferred to be good rather than to seem so.
Now that’s something worth striving for: Esse quam videri — to be rather than to seem. To be more substance than facade, to be the steak rather than the sizzle.
There’s only one way to achieve the essence of esse quam videri: Stop worrying about what other people think and concern yourself only with what God wants.
Our lives are forever, fundamentally, and drastically altered when we seek validation from Him and Him alone and submit our will to His.
Before Adam and Eve transgressed, “they were both naked…and were not ashamed.”
Esse quam videri is to be naked before God and unashamed — because we’re living His laws, trusting His counsel, following His guidance. It is to be pure, innocent, and childlike before Him with no pride, no self-deception, no need to receive credit, no desire other than to serve and glorify Him.
Brennan Manning wrote that,
“The spiritual life begins with the acceptance of our wounded self.”
What we seek most to hide from others, by using our fig leaf facades, is our wounds.
To live esse quam videri is to recognize and acknowledge our wounds, stop trying to cover them up through external validation from the world, to ask God to heal them.
When we allow God to heal us, we have nothing to hide, nothing to prove. Then we can devote ourselves to living our true purpose with no motivation other than to please God and no intention other than to serve others.
As Dorothea Brande wrote,
“In the long run it makes little difference how cleverly others are deceived; if we are not doing what we are best equipped to do, or doing well what we have undertaken as our personal contribution to the world’s work, a least by way of an earnestly followed avocation, there will be a core of unhappiness in our lives which will be more and more difficult to ignore as the years pass.”
We may be impressing other people with our facade. But is God pleased with our substance? Are we merely seeming our way through life, or are we truly being?