POSTED ON APRIL 27, 2011:
Uprooting the pretender in us all
It takes so much out of me to pretend tell me now, tell me how to make amends Maybe, I need to see the daylight to leave behind this half-life don't you see I'm breaking down." -Duncan Sheik, "Half Life"
I've always been struck by these lines from Duncan Sheik and wonder if he, as most art does, unearths what really lies beneath the surface of our shiny veneers.
We are all pretenders in some way or another, aren't we? I mean, if someone could peek into the thoughts that rattle in our heads and the insecurities that clatter in our souls, many would see that we are all trying to be someone or something we are not. It scares us silly to think that someone could find out who we really are. It's much safer to create a facade that we think people will be more accepting of. And we go to great lengths to keep this guise going.
Here are some recent examples: A Delaware man faked his way into Harvard by manufacturing a perfect record of academic achievement to get into the Ivy League school. A New York City moneyman feigned a royal role with a Belgian family to con clients out of $7 million. A Texas man with no military experience deluded the Army into letting him infiltrate a reserve unit as a noncommissioned officer, a farce that placed an untrained soldier in a leadership role in wartime.
Now, these instances are grander than most but if given the right set of circumstances, aren't we capable of doing the same things? Especially if our reputation or our livelihood were on the line?
The truth is that we do variations of these things every day. We tell a white lie here. We stretch the truth of a past accomplishment there. All in the name of maintaining an illusion of what we think people want us to be and what will bring us acceptance.
But let's be honest: "faking it" is exhausting. In those quiet moments when we are alone with our thoughts, we have the overwhelming compulsion that we really do want to "leave behind this half-life," but we are afraid of what the implications will be. Instead of getting real with ourselves, we would rather stay tired and let others receive a half-version of ourselves, thus, a half-life.
What is a half-life? In science, it is a period of time it takes for a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. In life, it is what happens to us when we settle for a lesser version of ourselves.
The Biblical patriarch, Isaac, found himself embroiled in a scene of pretense once. As he was getting older and his death was imminent, he was compelled to give his blessing to his older son, Esau. This was his way of "settling his affairs;" a sort of last will and testament. In these times, a blessing meant that Esau, as Isaac's oldest son, would inherit a double portion all of his possessions. There was one problem.
Isaac's wife, Rebekah, favored Jacob, their other son, and wanted him to inherit what Esau was promised. She put an elaborate plan in place, convincing Jacob to pretend that he was Esau by wearing Jacob's clothes and placing goat skins on his hands and smooth part of his neck (you see, Esau was a hairy man). And it worked.
While Esau was out hunting game for his blessing feast, Jacob persuaded Isaac that he was his oldest son and the blessing was conferred to him. When Esau returned from his hunt, all Isaac could do was stand firm on what he had bestowed to Jacob. What began so innocently as a plan for Isaac to endow his inheritance to his oldest son, quickly turned into a web of deceit, trickery and hatred.
This is what pretending always leads to. A paltry version of what could have been.
C.S. Lewis, the late Christian apologist, once wrote of " ... the relief, the comfort, of ... getting rid of the false self, with all its 'Look at me' and 'Aren't I a good boy?' and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert." It really is a relief to live as if there was a new way to be human. To live as a shadow of who we were created to be is no life at all.
I think this is one of the reasons we love reality television. It is one of those rare forums where we truly get to peek behind the gloss and the sheen and see it all: the good, the bad, the ugly. Something happens on a visceral level when we see someone living life out loud. It calls out to us to do the same. It's like an ice-cold drink of water in a sandy wasteland.
Jesus said for us to find our life, we would have to lose it. He meant that if we want to really want to stop pretending and experience life to its utmost, we must lose it in something.
What is this "something?" I believe it means losing ourselves in, or better, finding ourselves caught up in the grand story of his grace and mercy. When we receive God's love, we are free to live with abandon because we know we are accepted beyond measure by the One whose opinion matters the most.
It's funny, isnt' it? We seem to know deep down inside that if someone could still love us after seeing our warts, that is the person who would give us permission to be ourselves. Well, you already are loved by Him, so relax, be yourself, and live the full life that you were created to live.
-(Brad Andrews is lead pastor at Mercyview)
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