by Pastor Mark Shupe
When I was a child my friends and I would often play a game called “Pretend.” It always started with this question: “If you could be anyone in the world at any time, who would you want to be?” My answer to that question was always some sports figure like Babe Ruth or Stan Musial. Then we’d follow that with a good game of whiffle ball where I would pretend to be one of them, playing in the World Series. In other words, I would try to be someone other than myself.
Ever since the Coronavirus pandemic hit our country, the level of pretense has elevated to heights never seen before. The words “virtual” and “pseudo” became all too familiar as in person gatherings were replaced by Zoom meetings and educational instruction shifted to a distanced digital format. Even now, competition between professional sports teams has an audience of digitally created figures. All are substitutes for the real thing.
According to Webster’s dictionary, to pretend is “to give a false appearance; to make believe; to claim, represent or assert falsely.” Practically speaking, we are pretending when we:
- Say one thing and do another.
- Act one way when people are looking but act a completely different way when no one is around.
- Try to be like another person instead of being ok with ourself.
- Claim to be a Christian but live like a non-Christian.
The sad part is when we are committed to living a life of pretense, it leaves us feeling conflicted, empty and alone. A life of make believe is a false substitute for the real thing. It hinders our relational development with God and others.
In the Gospels, a group of religious leaders known as the Pharisees were “called out” by Jesus for their life of pretense. Because of the damage caused to self and others, the words of Jesus to this group of people are very direct: “In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy (pretense) and wickedness” – Matthew 23:28.
Followers of Christ are to be known for their genuineness. Romans 12:9 states that our “love must be sincere (genuine, real, no pretense).” In a day and age when it would be so easy to fall in line with make believe audiences, when harboring pent up grudges and anger from conflicting beliefs about masks and government restrictions seems to be the norm, we have the opportunity to relate and speak in ways that are in congruent with a heart that is in tune with the heart of God.
Pay attention to what is going on in your heart – confess and clean out what is not righteous and choose to live a life of integrity inside and out. In so doing, you will avoid becoming a modern-day Pharisee and instead, offer a life-giving spirit to those whose paths you come across.