“I have something to prove, don’t I? Who me? Yes. Let’s face it. If we knew every moment where a leader doubted their own course, faltered in their vision or wrestled with fear we probably wouldn’t follow them. So sometimes it’s just safer to keep pretending. Maybe you’ve felt this way too? Maybe no one will notice that the person I want to portray —that strong, courageous, capable leader—isn’t the real me.”
We tell ourselves that we need to be a lot of things. I need to be smart so that I will impress people or so that I can get a good job. I need to be strong; tears are a sign of weakness. I need to do it all myself because if I don’t it won’t get done. I need to be affirmed in order to know that I am valued. I need other people to see that I am competent. I need to be perfect; failure is not an option.
What is it that drives us to feel that what we need to be is the very thing we fear we are not?
“Levi” appeared to be the very picture of a leader: confident, self-assured, intelligent, charismatic. In fact, Levi eagerly awaited his turn to lead, but he was one person in a group of leaders. On this particular trip, Levi rose to leader-of-the-day after watching other leaders struggle to make decisions, hike miles in the wrong direction, or discover they were lost. So, when it was his turn, he knew exactly what he didn’t want to be: indecisive, wrong, or weak. He would lead boldly and well.
As the group hiked along the trail, Levi’s enthusiasm carried them along. “We’re doing great guys! I know right where we are! The destination is pretty close.” He certainly had me convinced. He shot bearings, scouted trails, and seemed to be on track…sort of. We crossed the creek and paused right above the destination where Levi stopped only briefly before continuing confidently down the trail—all the while assuring the group that he knew right where he was and that they would be at the destination in no time.
Over a mile farther, Levi halted the group and attempted to prove his destination. Unfortunately for him, when he looked at the map, the creek was flowing in the wrong direction; a mountain stood where one should not have been, and the sun was setting fast. Reality began to dawn on him, and I’ll never forget his next words: “I have no idea where we are. I don’t know how to do this; I just wanted them to think I was a good leader.” The confession was certainly unexpected. He finally admitted that he had been pretending all along because he was too afraid that the other members of his group would see him as incapable, incompetent, or weak. He had convinced himself that he needed to pretend competence because admitting a need for help would make him vulnerable and display his weakness.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, wrote, “It is the grace of the gospel which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says…You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner.” When we retreat from the battle of upholding a false self-image, from the pretense of being perfect and turn to God, fully depending on His goodness, we will find true acceptance and love. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). There is relief in acknowledging our need for God. We become free to stop pretending, free to acknowledge we can’t do everything on our own, free to admit weakness, fear, and failures. What joy to know “my salvation and my honor depend on God” (Ps. 62:7) and not myself!
What Levi did next was a courageous, counter-cultural, and vulnerable display of humility. He confessed that he had been pretending, that he needed their help and that he wanted their forgiveness.
I pray for humility that I would stop pretending, admit my need for God, and rest in His faithful acceptance of all of me—the good parts and the undesirable parts. True transformation comes when we acknowledge our need for Someone greater than ourselves to accept, redeem, and forgive the parts of us we want to pretend aren’t there. It comes when we receive “the love the Father has lavished on us” (1 Jn. 3:1). God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
We no longer need to pretend we are good. We are sufficient because God made us sufficient.