Act as If

I awoke this morning far earlier than I'd hoped. I really need a good night's sleep. I heard footsteps in the hall and then, I couldn't get back to sleep. I curled up with a steaming mug in a corner of the sunroom that would offer me this view.


Except it didn't. Rain pounded outside, so no sunlight poured through those windows. And the room looks very little like this right now. It's messy and disorganized and remnants of every "Let's Pretend" game in the last 72 hours are scattered about. I wasn't feeling particularly like studying scripture. I spent most of the weekend angry and disappointed. That doesn't usually bode well for mornings after. I'd left my Bible upstairs and it was so early I didn't really want to go back up and possibly disturb Mike. Still, something kept telling me that I really need some quality quiet time.

I pulled the C. S. Lewis Bible from its place in the living room. You know? The one I bought mostly because it matches the paint so well? First, I flipped to Tobit to read "the rest of the story" following the readings from daily Mass on Thursday. Um. No, I didn't. It's a Protestant Bible. No Tobit there. So I turned to Colossians, because I mostly know Colossians by heart and I just needed something familiar. And that's when pieces started to come together.

Lewis bible

I think I've shared with you previously how I received a critical email about this post. The writer suggested that sanctity wasn't about "faking it," but about embracing pain and suffering. Her point of view has come to mind frequently in the years since she wrote, probably because she's someone I whom I consider thoughtful and very well intentioned. Of course we have to embrace pain and suffering, but not to the exclusion of "acting as if." I remembered her note again and again this weekend as I engaged in an ongoing dialogue in person with someone about "faking it." 

I tried (in vain) to explain that even though sometimes we don't feel a certain way, we need to act a certain way. I suggested there was spiritual maturity in acting as if we were loving towards someone even if we didn't particularly like that person, of acting as if we were happy to be somewhere even if we'd rather be somewhere else. Sometimes, in the act of behaving as if we were loving, we actually do grow to be loving.

Embracing pain and suffering doesn't mean being all serious and dour and sackcloth and ashes all the time. I think it might mean working especially hard to find the good in something or someone and genuinely seeking to celebrate it. My companion argued vehemently that that was duplicitous and lacked authenticity. I tried (in vain) to explain that often when we behave in a gracious, accepting manner towards someone or something, we begin to feel more gracious towards that person or thing. It doesn't lower our standards or make us less "good." It might even make us more Christlike. He ate with tax collectors and allowed the prostitute to anoint Him. He was embracing and He wasn't even faking it. He actually saw the good and brought out the good. Of course, at heart, some people might be afraid that if they act so, they might actually love so. And they don't want to love. Then, it's probably a good idea to be still and ask oneslf and God why not.

It is, I think, one of the cleverest snares of the devil, to take the "good" people and have them draw circles about themselves whereupon they judge and exclude anyone they consider less "good" than themselves. The circle grows smaller and smaller until, at last, they are left standing alone, having missed countless opportunities to touch souls for Christ and having missed countless friendships God intended for them. There is pain and division and genuine sorrow in communities, and sadly, even in families.

The "good people" would do well to remember that the Church is a hospital. Christ is the Great Physician. And we are all sinners in need of healing. God uses us to bring relief to the wounded.

So, this morning, there in dear, familiar Colossians, was this C. S. Lewis quote. He's brilliant. He knew beter than to call it "faking it." He knew so well how to express this beautiful concept that isn't really faking it at all (my bad), but "putting on Christ."

    What is the good of pretending to be what you are not? Well, even on the human level, you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing. When you are not feeling particularly friendly but you know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And, in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be feeling friendlier than you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children's games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups--playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.

    Now the moment you realise "Here I am dressing up as Christ," it is extremely likely that you will see at once some way in which at that very moment the pretence could be made less of a pretence and more of a reality. You will find several things going on in your mind which would not be going on there if you were really a son of God. Well, stop them. Or you may realise that, instead of saying your prayers, you ought to be downstairs writing a letter, or helping your wife to wash-up. Well, go and do it.

    You see what is happening. The Christ himeslf, the Son of God who is man (just like you) and God (just like His Father) is actually at your side and is already at the moment beginning to turn your pretence into reality.

--from Mere Christianity as quoted in the C. S. Lewis Bible

If only sitting here long enough, pretending the sunroom was neat and tidy would make it so.