I was up reading before the rest of the house was awake this morning. I’m reading Tullian Tchividjian’s One Way Love (and I couldn’t possibly over recommend it). He was talking about the Law and referenced Romans 2:15:
“… they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them …”
The point Tchividjian was making was that “the law is a universal human reality. Conditionality is written into the fabric of every society and relationship because it is written into the fabric of every heart and mind.”
He slowly disrobes the Western ideal and ethic and reveals it to be nothing more than a legalistic screed that could be summed up simply as “Don’t mess up. There are no second chances.” Every time we turn around we are bombarded with another image, another “role model,” another standard we will never meet. We are sold the lie that a better body, a better car, a better house, or even a better wife will finally make us feel significant. It was this little snippet that Tchividjian wrote that really got me thinking, though:
“People themselves can represent the law to us (and us to them!). For example, a particularly beautiful or successful person next to whom we can’t help but feel inadequate. Or maybe a boss whose very presence makes us feel like we’re not working hard enough, no matter how many hours we put in. They are not the law, but that is how we perceive them.”
I realized as I was reading how much I fall prey to believing lies like that.
Everyone, believers and non-believers alike, knows the problem. We know that we don’t measure up. It’s a universal awareness. We all know that we’re class A failures, that despite our very own best efforts, we barely make it off the finish line before face planting … again and again and again and again. Our deepest insecurities and fears always live in these corners of the heart. We are not good. We do not do good. We cannot.
Everything up to here is true. We have correctly diagnosed the problem. We really are that broken and helpless. But the horrific nature of the lie that we’re sold makes us believe that we’re the only one. We’re terrified of being found out, of being fully known as a failure. So we hide. We bury our true selves beneath layer after layer of pretense and posing.
We start this as kids, telling other members of our recess playground community that yeah, of course we’ve done things that we know we haven’t. We lie simply because we are completely convinced that if we were to appear weak/inexperienced/uncool in that moment, it might somehow make our mask drop and we might be discovered as the losers we know we are. As we “mature,” nothing really changes much from that initial model of social transaction. We get a little bit more sophisticated with our methods, but the heart of the exchange is the same.
We all know that the masks and lies and misdirections we hide behind are false. No matter how many long years we’ve been wearing them, inside we still know it’s a costume. But we completely lack the ability to really believe that’s true of others. We know that our facades are fake, so it should stand to reason that the one the guy I work with throws up, or the one that the lady in my moms’ group shows, or the one that my friend wears every Sunday morning to church … it should make sense that theirs are artificial constructs also.
But in those moments of conspiracy, where we’re all putting our best foot forward, full of fear that we’ll be seen and known, we agree to believe each other. In that moment, it doesn’t matter that I don’t believe my mask is real. It doesn’t even matter that, at the heart of things, I don’t really believe my friend’s mask is real. It only matters that right here, right now, he appears to believe that his mask of constructed personality and identity and worth is very real. It also matters that his mask looks better than mine.
This is what we do to each other. And I participate in it almost every Sunday morning of the world, in the one place where real vulnerability should be safe.
Faking it is not a victimless crime.