Pretending - Trying to be or being

Apr 27 / Kathi Gatlin
Do you ever feel like you need to be a particular way to fit in? Or to accomplish what is right? Or, maybe, even to fit expectations, either yours or another's? 

We live in a society that forces us to fit a mold to belong or be considered successful. But what if success isn't measured by society's standards or others' expectations? 

Then how would we measure it? That is a good question!

I'm teaching a course on how to form a spiritual direction practice, and I also have the privilege of walking alongside directors-in-training. There is nothing like learning new skills and ways of being and trying to find a way to provide for yourself while following how God is inviting you to be with others to make one feel like they need to do it right, measure up, and find answers from the world's way of being. How else will we find the answers and learn new things?

The answer to this question invites us to lean into the gift of an embodied way of living and discerning ways forward. Spiritual writers talk about this as the true self and false self. Thomas Merton was the first to coin these helpful terms. The true self is who we are designed to be, the essence of who we are, the image of God in us. The false self is who we think we must pretend to be to fit in, belong, or be complete. The funny thing is that we can pretend to be kind, but in reality, we are kind based on the image of God in us. We often feel the need to pretend to be a certain way, and in reality, we might already be. 

The gift of this understanding is that it allows us to consider two ways of being - one from the grounded presence of the true self and the other, a different feeling that comes from trying to be something. For me, it feels disconnected, maybe a little chaotic, or a sense of forcing something not real. 

How does it feel for you? 

Imagine a time when you were operating from trying to be something, whatever that was. It could be to fit in, to be considered successful, or just to be viewed as something you wanted to be seen as. Now, consider how that feels for you. What do you notice? Is there a texture, color, or image that comes to mind? Try to describe the felt sense you experience, physically or in a non-thematic way. 

Now, imagine a time when you were operating from a sense of who you are. Maybe it has a grounded sense, a connection to God and the world, or a trueness that felt right and faithful in you. I don't mean right from measuring up, but one that feels true, like a tuned instrument. What do you notice this time? Is there a texture, color, or image that comes to mind? Try, again, to describe the felt sense you experience. 

After these two experiences are complete, what do you notice about the similarities and differences? If I were with you, I would ask if it felt like something you put on while showing my hands coming down toward my shoulders. Then, I would ask if it felt like it came up organically from within you. I would show you my hands coming up from my gut and moving together upward toward my face. 

This experiential practice is a beautifully embodied way of noticing the texture, felt sense, of what you are experiencing from different ways of moving forward or being. From this posture, we can discern if we are trying to be something or if it comes organically from who we are in relationship to God, ourselves, and creation. A trueness of who we have been designed to be and how we are called to be in the world. 

My new guiding phrase is that it shouldn't feel like a rug burn - a highly descriptive phrase that allows me to sense how I do not want to live. I think many of us can relate. 

What does this have to do with spiritual direction training or forming a spiritual direction practice? The world will tell us many things, but when we operate out of the organic place of faithfulness, we will learn to live with compassion and integrity for ourselves, God, and those around us. We are then able to form the capacity to hold others' stories with the same kind of compassion and invite authenticity for others. I can't think of a more faithful way of walking alongside others. 

God always invites us to greater freedom and wholeness. Discerning our faithfulness to our call and way of being in the world allows us to experience that freedom and wholeness in more and more areas of our lives. 

I wonder how you experience the differences between trying to be and being. I invite you to spend some time, maybe on a walk in the spring sunshine, considering this way of noticing.  
Kathi Gatlin
Kathi Gatlin founded Boldly Loved to bring together her two greatest passions: spiritual formation and teaching. In this, she utilizes her M.Ed. earned through George Fox University and her M.A. in Spiritual Formation from Portland Seminary. Her greatest joy is walking alongside others, individually and in groups, in their own spiritual journey, sharing ways of understanding God anew through contemplative prayer and teaching, and to see them grow in the depth of their own understanding of who God is and who they are in relationship with God. Kathi is a spiritual director, supervisor, writer, spiritual formation group facilitator, retreat speaker, leadership mentor. For more information about Kathi, check out