“So you want me to fake sleep?” my daughter asked me. She tends to lie awake at night for hours, and I had just told her that she needed to close her eyes, be quiet, and rest until she fell asleep. My words apparently meant to her that I wanted her to pretend to sleep. My intention was to tell her to try to sleep by taking the steps toward actually sleeping. What is the difference, though, between pretending and trying?
Faking and trying often look quite similar. Both require going through the motions of something we either don’t know how to do, or have no intention of doing, well. When I’ve gotten dragged into soccer games on various youth group or missions trips I look like I’m playing because I’m running around and kicking the ball when I have to, but I’m faking it because I really don’t like soccer. When I’m stuck in a meeting I don’t want to be in I look like I’m making the effort and engaging because I’m writing stuff down (usually emails or iMessages) and occasionally nodding at a point someone makes, but I’m pretending.
On the other hand, when I took a new job which required learning new systems and skills no matter how hard I tried I still felt like I was a fake because I was doing unfamiliar actions and it felt unnatural. It didn’t matter how good the results were; my discomfort made me feel like I was just fooling people because I knew I wasn’t really adept. I remember feeling the same way trying to learn how to shoot a left handed lay up. Even when I succeeded it didn’t feel real because it was just a set of unnatural actions. (Actually I never really learned how to use my left hand in basketball, so it still feels lucky when I manage to do anything good with it.)
The difference between faking and trying isn’t in the actions for the most part; it’s in the motivation. Am I attempting to merely look like something or to actually get better at something, to mislead others or accomplish a goal? Pretending never has any goal in mind other than to fool people until one can escape the circumstance (like me on the soccer field). Trying is entirely focused on the goal of success. My daughter felt like I was telling her to pretend because she didn’t want to sleep. Her goal wasn’t to succeed at sleeping, so any sleep-like actions would only be for the purpose of fooling me.
I was asked once by a friend about what someone should do when their heart was cold toward God. I responded with the suggestion to keep putting themselves in God’s way; keep reading the Bible and trying to pray even the heart wasn’t in it. His response was “Oh, so fake it ‘til you make it?” Nope, not at all. That’s just hypocrisy. Instead, try until it pays off. If the motivation is the encounter God then its not faking even if doesn’t feel real. The motive makes it real.
Plenty of people fake it in their spiritual lives. They want to look like healthy Christians or to make it through church without anyone looking askance at them or asking a personal question. That comes from a heart of pride and deceit. Trying until it pays off is different. It comes from a heart of need and an eye on the goal of growth in holiness. Both faking and trying might feel like we are going through the motions, but the end result of one is emptiness and exposure. The result of the other is closeness with God