Since our daughter Mia came to us over two years ago, there have been many changes in our lives, more than I can list. One of the changes for me personally has been that I tend to be the parent who plays “pretend” with Mia. Gina certainly plays with her a great deal (and provides the bulk of her care), but “playing pretend” seems to be one of my parental specialties.
Pretending is not always easy. I need to get into character, once I’m consulted about who she’d like to me to play for a given scenario. My roles over the past couple of years have included, but are not limited to: bear, ‘bad guy’, cowboy, scientist, hunter, spy, grumpy neighbor, long lost brother, dog, dog owner, zoo keeper, robber, uncooperative camel, etc. Mia’s imagination weaves amazing stories and I often include some sort of timing mechanism in our pretend play or I think it would go on without limit! While this is not always easy for this 48 year-old Dad, I understand that it’s part of her development and sometimes it’s fun. It is appropriate for children to pretend. For teens and adults, however, pretending is not always helpful or fun or life-giving.
In our youth group, for example, Gwen and the leaders strive mightily to create an environment where there is no need for “pretend”, where the young people who participate can be themselves and not have to be what they’re not. For teens, it’s important that there be some places where there is permission and acceptance simply to be oneself. Creating this type of environment is, in part, a way to teach participants about the acceptance and love of God.
In the world of adults, there is often pressure to act like someone they are not. It is hard to pretend that all is fine when there are problems with life, struggles in a marriage, issues with children, job insecurity, economic stress, health concerns, spiritual struggles about one’s relationship with God, or any of the other struggles that are part of human life. While we don’t need to give voice to the areas of our lives that are in turmoil or struggle with strangers or at settings that may call for a less personal type of relationship, it is imperative that we all have relationships where there is no need for pretend – where we can be our real selves, wounds and scars and all. Ideally, a parish community should be such a place.
I got to thinking about this notion of “pretend” as I was reading and praying about following Jesus. It seems as though any time Jesus meets, confronts, heals, forgives, or teaches, he invites those with whom He is interacting to be their real, authentic selves. If they’ve been pretending, he challenges them to stop. He encourages those in the Scriptures, and all of us, to be the children of God we are made to be, nothing more and nothing less. I am aware that as my daughter gets older, I’ll be called on less and less to pretend. I hope that I will limit my pretending to these fun times. I hope that in the rest of my life I will not feel a need to pretend. I pray that I will always be the child of God I am made to be – nothing more and nothing less. How about you?