I recently had my children go through their bedroom and get rid of toys they no longer play with. I was saddened to find in the pile of things to give away, superhero costumes, pirate swords, and homemade shields. It brought back memories of them pretending to be Superman, flying around the house with a red cape trailing behind them or acting out stories of good battling evil.
Playing dress up and pretending to be someone else is fun. But eventually children grow out of doing so.
Or do they?
A Pretend Life
In reality, many of us play dress up every day. Some of us have worn our costumes for so long that we forget we are wearing it. What kind of dress up do we play? We wear false selves, disguising who we really are so that others around us will not see our imperfections, wounds, struggles, sins, or pains.
When someone asks how we are doing and we smile and say, “Fine,” but inside our heart is aching, we are in fact pretending to be someone else. When we act like our life is great while our world is crumbling down around us, we are pretending. When we fear to open up to others about who we really are and instead mask our aches and pains, we are pretending. When we act as though we are not battling sin and temptation in our life, we are pretending.
The truth is, I am often a pretender.
I fear what other people may think of me so I hide what’s really going on in my life. Instead of talking about my aching heart, I talk about the funny thing my child said, a new sale at the store, or what I saw on television last night. Rather than admit my failures, sins, or temptations, I keep them hidden behind shallow conversation and a painted on smile.
Pretending No More
While small talk is a cultural and often a necessary part of conversation, it shouldn’t always stay there. Small talk is for introductions and perhaps even for those we’ll only meet once. But when it comes to Christian friendships with others in the Body of Christ, at some point, conversations should go deeper. In fact, it needs to go deeper. Certainly not with every person we meet, but there should always be people in our lives with whom we are real. We need to have friends with whom we share our true, real selves.
God gave us each other in the Body of Christ to encourage and spur one another on (Hebrews 10:24). We simply can’t do life on our own; we need the support of other believers. In fact, God calls us as Christians to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13). How can we do that if we don’t know each others struggles? How can we do that if we pretend that everything is great? It is only when we are transparent with other believers that we can live out the call to “love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
The reality is, we are all sinful. We are all sinners saved by grace. We all live in a sinful broken world where the effects of sin has left its mark upon us. So to pretend that we don’t have struggles, temptations, or wounds is to deny what Scripture teaches us.
It’s not easy to stop pretending. The longer we have worn our mask, the more painful it is to remove. Like ripping a scab off before it has healed, taking off our mask often reveals raw wounds, ugly sin, and oozing emotions. And then once it is gone, we have to endure the heavy silence while we wait for the other person’s response. What if they react to the ugliness? What if the messes in our lives turn them away? What if they don’t reciprocate? What if they simply stare at our wounds and don’t even acknowledge what we’ve done?
I have lived both with my mask on and with it off and I prefer to live without it. There have been occasions where I have revealed my true self and the other person did not reciprocate. There have also been occasions where my honesty has been rejected. Yet the acceptance and love I have received from those who respond with grace and in turn remove their own masks, more than makes up for it. These real friendships have encouraged me with the gospel, walked with me through trials, and reminded me of the hope I have in Christ.
When I am tempted to continue to live a life of pretending because I fear rejection, I have to remember that my Savior also faced and endured rejection for my sake. Knowing that Jesus’ closest and best friends turned away from him at the time when he needed it most, helps me to risk my own rejections. And because of what he did for me at the cross, my Father in heaven will always accept me and never reject me (Romans 8:38-39). No matter how others may respond to the truth of who I am, God will never turn away from me.
Putting on costumes and playing dress up is fun. But playing dress up with our hearts is not. We need to be real with other believers so that we can help and support one another in this journey of faith. We are all wounded, broken, and sinful; it makes no sense to pretend otherwise. So let’s remove our masks to others in our Christian community and walk this journey together.