the great pretender

I have a confession to make. I am the great pretender. In the north of Ireland we live in a culture where pretense is often the norm. When we ask ‘how are you?’ we expect to hear ‘fine’ or ‘good’. We don’t want to hear an honest answer because it’s messy and we get involved in the messiness of someone else’s life. We pretend everything is fine even when actually the only phrase to describe how we are feeling or doing is ‘pretty shit’. If God knows our hearts how do you think He feels when we have the gall (as I do) to even try to pretend to him that we are fine, to not admit how much we need him. It’s bad enough lying to everyone else around about how we really are. But. What happens when if you are honest it means you have to say why? And what if that why is not appropriate or helpful to disclose because there are issues to be resolved and worked through? There are attitudes to be repented of, people to be challenged, grace to be sought, lived and spoken. What are the limits of honesty? I’m done and sick of pretending, but in many ways feel I can’t be totally honest. Others are involved. What is an appropriate level of honesty? Is lying/pretending for the sake of situation yet to be resolved justifiable?

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6 thoughts on “the great pretender”

  1. This is a great post… I confess to being a great pretender as well. And I agree that it’s hard to know what level of honesty is appropriate.

    I reckon it depends on the situation. Like, if someone asks ‘How are you?’ there are cases where you’re just supposed to say ‘fine’ and you should do that – like in shops, for example. At the opposite end, there are cases where you can and should be totally honest, like with friends. But then there are the in-between cases – in church on a Sunday morning, for instance, people ask how you are and you’re not really sure that they want to know. In those cases, if I was feeling awful, I might say ‘not great’. If they really care they’ll ask for more info, if not, they’ll give you a look of sympathy and then quickly change the subject.

    But no one has an automatic right to know the details – so if I’m not comfortable saying something, then I won’t – I usually try to give a vague summary of what’s wrong, but make it clear that I don’t want to give details. If it’s not appropriate or helpful, or you’re not ready to say it, then don’t.

    I guess the aim of talking honestly about how you’re feeling is 2-fold: because sharing stuff helps (so don’t share stuff if you know it won’t help) and because it encourages other people to do the same – it encourages authenticity, and we desperately need that.

    What really bugs me is people who want to know all the details and keep pressing me for them – never really responding to what I say, but just pressing deeper and deeper, before summing it all up with a neat solution. Never do that.

  2. Nice post. I shall now proceed to think out loud in response:

    CS Lewis talks about “the virtues which are half hypocrisy or the hypocrisy which is half a virtue.” If we were totally, unguardedly honest in every situation it would make social interactions pretty uncomfortable and messy. But there’s also a good kind of discomfort and messiness.

    So I guess we need discernment in identifying what our motives are for partial dishonesty. Saving the other person embarrassment, avoiding complaining or gossiping about someone else, and not wanting to causally flaunt all our faults in public might be healthy motives. Wanting to keep up a pretence of being sorted and together, wanting to avoid the discomfort of intimacy and being known for who we are, or of being weak and asking for help, are not so healthy.

    Lewis even comments that it’s not always wrong to hide something out of shame and pretend to be better than we are. He writes this about an encounter with someone:
    “I do not think he ever suspected the truth about me. I was at no pains to display it. If this is hypocrisy, then I must conclude that hypocrisy can do a man good. To be ashamed of what you were about to say, to pretend that something you had meant seriously was only a joke – this is an ignoble part. But it is better than not be ashamed at all. And the distinction between pretending to be better than you are and beginning to be better in reality is finer than moral sleuthhounds conceive.”

    I’m still with you in general on the need to set aside pretence, but what do you make of Lewis’ thoughts…?

  3. Thanks WhyNotSmile and Jayber, there do seem to be two distinctions when it comes to the pretence…

    I guess I’ve been wrestling with the one that involves other people and other things, but yet feeling I’m almost damaging relationships with friends by withholding trust yet for good reasons, and at the same time almost wanting to explode at pretending things are fine when they maybe aren’t. I think I’ve maybe found a way of an appropriate level of honesty that stops short in this situation.

    I love Lewis’s comment about the distinction between pretending to be better and beginning to be better. I’d never thought about that before. I go to ponder…

  4. Sam I do believe you’re actually hitting on one of the most fundamental problems with our Christian culture.

    None of us want to be sobbing/raving wrecks when we are with others, but just sometimes, that is appropriate, and our own willingness to demonstrate vulnerability can be the spring board for some other suffering soul to do the same.

    Now I don’t mean to say that at every opportunity for the sake of authenticity one should bawl about our problems, worries and shortfalls. But faking it is what has made Christianity in Ireland the shallow, weak beast that it is today.

    I was accidentally honest when I joined my church, because I didn’t know it was a faux-pas to do so, and I was in such a state myself that there was no pretending. Crawling about at rock-bottom has that effect on you. 🙂 The raw honesty which I blurted out at homegroups etc. was met with astonishing grace and a lot of healing came from those encounters.

    The long-term effects of that have really been very positive. I decided, like you are deciding, that faking it doesn’t just damage me, it damages my brothers and sisters. I now feel that I can give an honest response to the question “How are you?” to anyone who is reasonably mature. However I only do details with a small(ish) number – my homegroup members, Kevin, my minister, my prayer square and a few select friends. The result is that those who know me, *actually* know me, and not a skewed version of me.

    The risk with all this, of course, is that we become narcissistic navel-gazers. But that has an aroma that can be smelled a mile off, both by ourselves and those around us, and hopefully our relationships are strong enough to pose a challenge on that one should the need ever arise.

    Sam I invite you to come and be authentic at our house anytime; we will love and respect you no matter how angry/hurt/sad/lonely/doubting/mentally ill/confused/sinful/frustrated you may be. We are called by God to be WEAK. Good news for me as I’m a living dishrag!

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