Years ago, while in college, I visited the apartment of a friend whose computer wasn’t working well. She offered to cook dinner in return (which ended up being meatloaf, as I recall), and – being a college student – I accepted. When I got home, my roommate asked me if dinner was any good. I agreed that it was. Then, he asked me, “Would you say otherwise, even if it wasn’t?”
In reality, we pretend a lot. We say that we’re doing “fine”, when we are really struggling with something. We post selected photos and nice-sounding status updates online, while covering up our bad days and personal challenges. We butter up colleagues who can help us out, while harboring a dislike of them. We go into debt to give an impression of affluence that we don’t actually have, while secretly feeling stressed about the payments.
God isn’t surprised that we pretend, though. He even talked about it – through Paul the apostle – in the book of Romans:
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
Romans 12:9 NLT
I like the preceding rendering of this verse. Other translations may refer to love being “sincere” or “without hypocrisy”, but reminding us to not “just pretend” is pretty clear.
Here are some questions to evaluate whether or not you and I are really loving other people, or if we are just pretending:
- Do we ask how someone is doing, but really hope that they just say, “Fine”, so we don’t have to get involved in a problem?
- Do we just give money to address someone’s material needs, when we could actually spend time with people and minister to them, accomplishing even more?
- Do we really listen to other people, or just try to pick up some key words while multitasking on something else?
- Do we always agree with others, or do we seek to lovingly challenge and change harmful behaviors (or beliefs) in their lives that will harm them?
- Do we perceive other people as a “project” or as a “point”, trying to “get them saved” so that we can share in the credit, or do we love them like Jesus did, seeking for them the better path that He offers?
- Do we serve other people only when it is convenient, or do we sacrifice for their good when God calls us to do so?
Of course, pretending is a lot easier. With practice, one can give the appearance of being considerate and caring, without investing a lot. However, love (the real thing) often takes time and effort. Jesus may have healed some people on the spot, but He also invested years of His life in order to train His disciples. Actually loving people will take some work, but when we are aligned with the direction of the Holy Spirit, it will be worth it.
I encourage you to read all of Romans 12:9-13, and think about who in your life needs to be really loved. Who around you needs to see the genuine, selfless, compassionate love that Jesus showed to those around Him (and to us)? Then, resolve – with the help of the Holy Spirit – to not just go into an “acting mode” the next time you see or talk with that person. Privately pray for God’s instructions on how you can best show pure love, and for the strength to patiently persevere as you live that out.