The building that houses my office is an old school building. Directly across the hall from my studio is an auditorium. It has a stage and is used for dance recitals, community theater and a host of other events. I noticed the other day that outside this auditorium someone had put up the comedy and tragedy masks that are often associated with acting and stage play. Seeing those masks got me to thinking about a definition I had heard for the word hypocrite and that the word meant to playact or to pretend. In other words, a hypocrite is a phony or one who wears a mask.
Most of my life I have been a hypocrite, I have been the wearer of masks.
I had a great life as a child. I grew up on a farm, had horses, dogs, cats, and loving parents who provided my needs, and yet didn’t spoil me. My parents were role models of their faith in Christ. They took me to church with them but more importantly they lived out their faith by the way they treated the people they came in contact with. They weren’t perfect, but God graced me with good folks when it came to parents. They did most things right when it came to rearing me. They planted the seed of God in me; gave me boundaries; freedom to fail (and I did that alot), and they loved me at my best and my worst.
I have rebellion in my heart and I made (and still make) a lot of mistakes. Fortunately, Mom and Dad didn’t know all the bad choices I made because most of them involved hiding the truth from them. I was pretty good at this hypocrite business, this mask wearing.
There was the “good girl mask”. The girl that got good grades, was an athlete, and was kind and generous to those outside my immediate family. Then there was the other mask I wore, the dark side mask. The young woman who was disrespectful to her parents; the girl who liked to experiment with drugs and alcohol; the girl who craved other people’s approval; the young athlete who blew her opportunities to excel as she showed the world she was dedicated to working hard at her chosen sport, while hiding an eating disorder. And there was the girl who gave away to too many young men her most intimate embrace, looking for love in all the wrong places.
I was dying on the inside, trying to please everyone on the outside by making wrong choices for the wrong reasons. I hid from the truth from others and from God, or so I thought.
During the darkest times in my life, when I thought I was the farthest from him, God knew right where I was hiding, just like he knew where Adam and Eve where hiding when they chose to separate themselves from him in the garden. God gives us the gift of choice (free will) and it comes with a hefty price tag. We humans are a self-absorbed lot, never once being forced to obey him, the human race always, yes, always, chooses to wear masks and to hide in the bushes from others and from the One who created us and loves us most of all.
Freedom. That is what we all want and it is both a blessing and a curse. Today I understand real freedom is not doing what I want to do but choosing to do what I ought to do. As a teen, I wanted to be free to make my own choices. I made some good choices, but many of my bad choices, the choices that caused me to cover myself in masks, created a larger and larger space between me and God. The result was most of the time my inner life was in the ditch, my outer self looked good, but it was just a mask. God let me do that, and while I was there He was always there with me, right beside me, reaching out saying “I will help you if you let me, and I still love you very much.” I just could not or would not hear him and I was just too stubborn to want help. The voices in my head and in this world drown out his voice. This whole time I kept seeking my own will, having no clue what His will was for me, because I had the wrong idea about who He really is.
I don’t know about you, but my experience is that most of us don’t want to ask for help. We live in a culture that views that as weakness, what a shame. What happens as a result of that flawed thinking is that we wear our “Just fine, thank you.” Masks and the whole time we are rotting on the inside. Ask anyone, “How are you?” 99% of the time the answer will be, “Fine”. “Just fine thank you very much!” The mask is glued tight to our face, yet on the inside we may be hurting and dying and our inner life is in the toilet. But by golly, maybe, just maybe, if we pretend enough that it isn’t, it will just be okay and nobody will know our secret shame that our lives are a sham, and that we feel helpless to change it.
I remember when someone would give me a compliment I would think, “Yeah, but you wouldn’t say that if you really knew me and then you wouldn’t want to be caught dead with me.” Ever think that? You wouldn’t say nice things to me if you knew I yelled at my kids when they stepped on my last nerve while we were trying to get out the door to church. We pull in to our pew with our trophy Christian masks glued on, as if to say. “look at our perfect little family, we are just fine.” I was dying on the inside while I continue to try to fix myself thinking, THEN God will love me, when I am good enough, which never works. I can never be good enough. I will always be broken in some way, and it is the blessing of admitting my brokenness that sets me free. If I don’t admit that I NEED God, I am still operating under my will and not God’s will which never, ever works.
We have a great God, who, like my folks, loves us enough to let us fail; a God who walks patiently by our side while we wear masks and we become more and more broken as we try to fix ourselves. And if we are lucky enough to finally get to end of ourselves, if we have the blessing of desperation, when we get sick and tired of the phoniness, the pretending, the mask wearing and cry out to God” I can’t do this anymore! Can I have a do over? I am willing to try it your way.” It is there that we find freedom. It is there that the scales are removed from our eyes and heart and we discover that our God is not a judgmental God waiting to punish us. But a loving God who was always with us, waiting for us to look up and let him remove our masks by accepting his gift of love and grace.
Slowly and gently he removes them. There may be pain involved letting go of the masks that kept us separated from his great love. But as he slowly removes the layers of who we are not, he replaces them with the fruits of His Spirit. These are the very things that our souls recognize and crave: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It is the revealing of the real us, who he created us to be. Then something else happens. We begin to have people who come into our life who have the courage to admit they too have broken their own lives, and who are letting God remove their masks! We discover we are not alone. Did you ever notice that in the Lord’s Prayer there are not the words me, my or I? There is our, us and we. We are meant to be in fellowship in our brokenness together.
I am a new creation in Christ. I am not who I used to be and I am incredibly grateful for that. My new life depends upon the maintaining my connection to God, and staying honest about who and what I am. If I don’t keep my eyes on Jesus Christ and stay open to knowing the heart of God the masks will return, and with them all of the misery that wearing them brings.
Be joy filled always,