When I was in college I had a brainstorm that caused a temporary power outage in my common sense.
A bunch of us were hanging out and talking about what we could do for fun. Two of my best friends were part of the group, one of whom was born in India and raised in Bangladesh. He had taught me a little Hindi and Bengali (insults, for the most part) and sometimes we would banter back and forth. That’s what led to the brainstorm.
I suggested that the group of us go to the mall, pretending to be a security detachment for a foreign dignitary (my friend). We would all wear suits and stand in formation around our exotic visitor, while I translated for him. Our plan was to go to jewelry stores and ask to see their most expensive brooches and necklaces. It would be a hoot.
My brainstorm apparently blacked out everyone’s common sense, and we went. At our first store, my friend and I approached the counter while the security team surrounded us. Each time the salesperson showed us something, my friend would rattle off something in Hindi or Bengali, and I would ask the clerk if there wasn’t a more valuable piece he could show us.
We were all having fun, acting out our charade. That’s when we looked across the store and saw the dean of students (who terrified all of us) browsing twenty feet away! Most of the “security team” melted away into the surrounding stores, but my friend went right up and greeted him. I think the dean was pleased that his students dressed up in their good clothes to go out on the town. He probably thought one of us was buying an engagement ring for a future bride.
Our little charade was not the last time I’ve pretended to be someone I’m not. I’ve pretended to be nonchalant when I’ve been trembling with anxiety, pretended to be loving when I’ve been filled with bitterness, pretended to be holy when my heart and my actions proved that I was not. The charade has been more sophisticated, but not more honorable.
The trouble with living a fantasy is that God does not love illusions. He loves people. He can mend the sick, but he cannot mend a sham. God can save a person, no matter how damaged, but the only thing he can do with a lie is expose and denounce it.
The biblical writer warned that a person “who pours out lies will perish” – not, I think, because he has lied (there is forgiveness for that); but because he has become a lie. The progression seems to go like this: a person tells lies, then walks in lies (as the prophet Jeremiah phrased it), then believes lies, including his or her own (as the Apostle Paul wrote), then becomes a lie (Psalm 62:9).
That is the downward spiral, but there is also an upward spiral. The biblical writers call people to speak truth, walk in truth, and, in St. John’s memorable turn of phrase, to “do truth.” They never refer to people as being true, a designation reserved for God alone, but the task of becoming true is set before us.
It is a monumental task, and one that is quite beyond us because we are often unaware of, and incapable of seeing, the falseness in our own lives. We can’t become true without God’s help, and the help of the people around us.
The goal of this monumental task is to become people of truth. This is more than speaking truthfully, though that is included. It involves removing pretense, every time we become aware of it, and intentionally pursuing transparency. This will be an uncomfortable process, but the reward – the joy and freedom that comes from being who we really are – is worth whatever price we must pay.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8/14/2016