Today marks a few reasons for celebration: My son Garfield’s birthday (y’all know that’s not his real name–he has a different presidential name, though); Reformation Day (a Protestant celebration); and Halloween. As kids (and adults) don costumes and masks for parties and trick or treating, I’ve been thinking about masks of a different kind.
Earlier this year, I completed a free, online writing course called Soul Writing 101. One of the exercises involved filling in the blank to “I wear a mask when…”
I dug up the pages in my journal where I answered that phrase, and I thought I might reveal a bit of that here. In the past, I’ve found that God uses vulnerability–to shatter feelings of isolation and shame, to connect people to one another. Sometimes another’s transparency can simply make us sigh with relief, “I’m not the only one!”
So, here goes. Maybe you see some of your own masks reflected in these words.
I wear a mask when…I speak out of a knee-jerk response to the other person, hoping to fulfill that person’s expectation of me based on what I perceive that person wants to hear or see me as. I wear a mask when I let venting complaints and anger serve as an idol, to gain a sense of relief and release–this masks my legitimate needs and emotions. I wear a mask when I sit by quietly even though I have something to offer.
I wear a mask when I don’t make eye contact with a shy person because he or she makes me feel shy, too. I wear a mask of “all bad” and disdain for myself when I don’t cling to God’s truth of lavish love for me and, instead, give heed to the enemy’s whispers about my failures, ugliness. (This one is harder to write…) I wear a mask sometimes when I say, “Oh, that’s OK,” but, really, I’m not at all OK. I wear a mask when I’m lonely and sad and insecure inside but sit quietly because I’m not sure who wants to hear it or where to go with it.
In contrast, I also wrote during this course about when I’m most authentic…
I am most authentic when… I am helping or serving another person in a way that truly meets a need. When I am speaking and acting out of joy, when I am honest about what hurts and, at the same time, speaking out of the faith and hope that holds me. When I am thinking not just of myself but of others, too…When I’m thinking too much of ‘self,’ I grow self-conscious and concerned more about the impression I am making rather than the other person or the value of being in the moment. When I am honest without being bleak or despairing. When I am really listening to the other person and allowing myself time to think about how I will respond and what I’ll say-so that I can be intentional but not so that I second guess myself.
I feel authentic when I speak positively in response to a person with whom I disagree but not agreeing just to go along or to spare the other person’s comfort. I feel authentic when I am honest without apologizing for my feelings or opinions and still breathing out grace and mercy.
That grace and mercy? I need to breathe that in, too, and it’s hard to breathe with a mask on.