One of C.S. Lewis’ many insights in Mere Christianity is that when we pray, “Our Father,” we are in a very real sense only pretending. We are pretending to be a true and faithful son of God, pretending to be like Jesus. As Lewis puts it,

[Y]ou are dressing up as Christ…Because, of course, the moment you realize what the words mean, you realize that you are not a son of God. You are not being like The Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father; you are a bundle of self-centered fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek.

But here’s the thing:  We must remember that this pretending has actually been commanded of us by Christ himself. God wants us to make this pretense, and He wants us to do it every day. Reflecting upon this, I believe I have stumbled across a very powerful principle, not only of how we grow in the Christian life, but also of teaching.

Two clarifications first. Lewis points out that there are in fact two kinds of pretending, one that is good and another that is bad. The bad kind of pretending is when the pretense tries to replace the real thing. It is the kind of pretending when we act as if we are something that we are not, and that’s just the end of it. The good kind of pretending is not like that at all. The good kind is when “the pretense leads up to the real thing.” So in our pretending to be like Christ when we are in fact not like Him, God is desiring that we should more and more become like Him in reality, slowly over time.

Second, this slow change over time appears to us to come by our own effort, but (again, as Lewis shows) in reality God is doing the work. He is not just doing the work of changing us to be more like His Son, but He also is pretending. He is pretending that we are not the selfish, greedy, grumbling, rebellious creatures we truly are. He is pretending that we are like His Son, that we think and desire and act as His Son does, and He does this, Lewis says, “in order to make the pretense into a reality.”

All that is context. The key point to see is that in His pretending, God thinks of us a certain way, speaks to us a certain way, acts toward us a certain way. And it is right here that we have a picture of true, transformative teaching. Teaching that matters. Teaching that changes lives. We must remember that teaching is not about information, but transformation. We are not aiming merely to pass along information, but to change lives with a view to the Kingdom.

We are to see, as a first step, that we must begin interacting with our students as if they are the thoughtful, mature, Christ-like young men and women we want them to be someday. Of course, we need not treat them like adult Christians in every sense, but you get the idea. What we cannot do is treat them exactly as they deserve. Consequences for bad behavior notwithstanding, we must hold firmly that additional consciousness of pretending that shapes the tone of everything we say and do toward our students. By our words, tone, and demeanor, we are fitting out for our students and children a garment that may now be all the wrong size, but (by God’s grace) they will fit into comfortably someday.

Two disclaimers to conclude. First, as teachers we must not forget that we are pretending (it is purposeful pretending, if you like). Our students are still broken sinners. We are not engaging in a kind of de facto humanism. Rather, we are setting the bar. Implicit in our interactions with our students should be the expectation that they are to rise up, to grow more and more into full citizenship in the Kingdom. They should hear it in our voice, see it in our demeanor, sense it in our intentions.

Second, we must not let on that we are pretending, even for a moment. This “dressing up” is a very real thing, a very important matter. It is not some elaborate joke or game. It is not a cute ploy. Young men and women do not want to be cute or coy. They want to be taken seriously. They should be taken seriously.

Think five years out, maybe even ten. Where would you like your student to be? How ought they to think, speak, behave, and relate? Capture in your mind something of that person, and begin interacting with your student as if he or she were already that person. In short, begin pretending.

Dr. Tom Vierra is Director of Academics at Wilson Hill Academy and teaches courses in The Great Conversation, Logic, and Rhetoric.