The world has become fake.
Fake nails, fake tans, fake hardwood floors, fake personalities. Fake everything.
Plastic has taken over our lives. Americans spend millions of dollars on things that are fake. In certain ways, our lives are faker than they are real, and as social media and virtual living continues to rule our lives, the faker we are going to get.
It seems to me that this rise in fakeness correlates with our fascination with perfection. Since we have adopted the mindset that everything in our life must be perfect, we’ll add almost anything to our collections, our bodies, to achieve it.
Rare is it that we accept things purely at face value: raw, unencumbered, organic, natural. Yet, through discoveries of the harmful effects of fakery in our food, there has been a recent trend toward healthier, more organic eating and away from foods that are processed. This Eureka! moment has caused us to rethink the things we are putting into our bodies. If embracing the real and natural is best for us with respect to the food we eat, perhaps it is also true in other areas of our lives. And if it is true in other areas of our lives, perhaps it is true for us as human beings.
Perhaps we don’t need anything fake to make us better, we’ve just convinced ourselves that we do. Perhaps we’d be better off just facing the real. That, by embracing our true selves—raw, unencumbered, organic, natural—we can somehow find an inner peace that evades us in our constant pursuit to be perfect all the time.
Many of us grew up in churches with tearless altars. In these sanctuaries where everyone was gussied up and it wasn’t chic to have a problem, we looked around and saw a wide array of starched shirts and pretty dresses. We fixed our ties and powdered our noses and off we went to a place where nothing bothered us. There weren’t any problems of which to speak. There was no confessional. Besides, even if there was a problem, we wouldn’t dare let on, much less talk about it to other people (who, too, were perfect). No, letting on to our travails would be piercing that image of perfection we were trying so desperately to project. And that was all there was to the Gospel.
But behind that façade was truth. Real, ugly truth.
The truth was that all of us had serious issues with which to contend. That husband with the pressed shirt was dealing with a pornography addiction. That wife in the neat Sunday dress who scurried the kids along to Sunday school was dealing with some major self-worth issues. That child, swathed in pastels, was feeling insecure from lack of parental love.
But church isn’t the only place where we project. There has never been a time in the history of mankind where people were more accessible than right this minute. You can find almost anyone these days, and because of this, our social media profiles speak loudly. Often, the first thing a person sees of you is not you in the flesh; it’s your Facebook profile. And so we don’t put our crappy picture up. No, we put up our BEST picture (and wait for the likes to pile up). After all, most of us don’t want to project that our lives are miserable. No! We want to project all the fun we’re having!
Lake pics, bar pics, boat pics, formals, gatherings, Fourth of July, Memorial Day, pics with dogs, family members, American flags draped over our shoulders, Instagram-filtered theatrics.
We build the perfect collage.
But we know that’s not the whole truth.
The truth is that we are broken. Damaged. Flawed. IMperfect. When was the last time someone posted a picture saying, “Here’s me having a real terrible time. I mean, this was awful! But I just wanted to share!”
Behind our pretty dresses and silk ties and smiles, people are truly hurting. Deep insecurity may lie behind the Sorority pose, the shirtless profile pic with the washboard abs. We don’t post the pics of the terrible fights with our significant other, the loneliness, the heartache, the grief, the restlessness. A picture is worth a thousand words, but a thousand words often cannot explain what we’re going through.
Some feel that their only recourse is to chase perfection. And so we Band-Aid up. We souse. We escape into the sloshing glasses of the night. We hang our happiness on an evening that rises and falls like a paper tiger. We self-prescribe retail therapy and other external solutions for internal issues. We think by disguising revelry and material possessions as perfection that we can assuage our internal torment.
Why can’t we embrace the fact that we’re hurting inside and that we need someone to talk to? If something’s wrong with our car, we take it to a mechanic. If something’s wrong with our teeth, we go to the dentist. But if we have a broken spirit, we bottle it up.
I believe it is the internalizing of our hurt and the constant need to project perfection that is killing us. Men in particular. Pat Conroy once wrote, “American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men die because our faces were not watered enough.”
Americans spend millions of dollars trying to project an image that we’ve got it all together. We’ll go broke trying to project success, paying credit cards off with other credit cards. Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
So what if your car is a lemon? So what if your nose is a little bit too long? So what if your lips are a little thin? So what if you’re getting a wrinkle or two, a grey hair?
I’m not saying let yourself go and start wearing sweatpants all the time. What I am saying is that people need to see your flaws. People need to know that other people are struggling. Not in some twisted, masochistic way. But because we connect with people the best, we find the truest form of intimacy, when we share in one another’s brokenness. In a world of pitting images, Joneses versus Joneses, we need to be able to relate. We cannot help other people, nor can we be helped, if we don’t admit we’re broken ourselves.
America has become a nation that is afraid to be vulnerable, and the repercussions of this mindset are immense. We talk a lot about “phobia” in this country, but what really frightens us is that someone might pull back the curtain and discover whom we really are. So social media has become this interaction of avatars, trying to be perfect. We project our “perfect” lives and we expect perfection out of everyone else. And it is this climate that causes us to laugh at other’s calamities and in private conversations sniff and snicker and say, “I told you he/she was a fake.” Many people–ravenous for Scarlet Letters– lie in wait to disqualify others. And when IT happens, they pile on.
Perhaps it would do us all some good if we began from a standpoint that we’re all damaged goods just trying to get our lives together, to trudge perseveringly through this difficult journey called life. And that we need each other.
I have seen vitriol directed at the Christian community recently. Christians, in particular, have to live up to unattainable, impossible standards. One small slip up and your excommunicated as if a Medieval pope. Hypocrite and bigot is now a label that is handed out like candy.
NEWSFLASH TO THE WORLD: Christians aren’t perfect. We are going to make mistakes. And it’s not like we can just work our way to perfection, as if it’s some class we can take.
“Say Johnny, I need to sign up for those perfect classes next week.”
Perfectbarre. Perfect Theory. PerfectFit.
Strangely, this criticism arrives, not only from the secular community, but also from fellow Christians. Often, Christians are the most critical people of other Christians! If anything, we ought to understand the grace and mercy and-hello!-forgiveness shown to us by Jesus Christ, and we, if anybody, should be quick to extend that same grace, mercy, and forgiveness to fellow believers! When a fellow Christian falls, we ought to be the first one on the scene to lift them up! When a brother or sister makes a mistake, we ought to be the first responders!
Mature faith is an understanding our own brokenness, our need of a Savior. It’s our daily recognition of a desperate need for Him.
I’m certain that many believers need to be liberated from this constant failure to achieve perfection. Perfection is the prison by which our faith slowly dies. We hang our salvation on even the slightest mistake (for some, running a stop sign has eternal ramifications). Perhaps it would help if we understood our sin as a sanctification issue and not a salvation issue. I doubt very seriously that the God of the Universe would banish a believer from eternity because they let a curse word slip.
We aren’t perfect. We never will be. It is absolutely impossible to obey God’s word perfectly. Obeying the Bible, without error, is simply not plausible for a fallen world.
After all, if perfect obedience saves us, then there is no need for Jesus Christ. Indeed, Christian perfection is not the greatest evidence that Jesus Christ existed and lives today; rather it is because we are flawed and in need of a perfect Savior that we see the necessity of Christ. 78