“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” – Andre Berthiaume
Last Thursday I wore a suit to work. Navy pinstripes, heals, etc. It was quite out of character for me since my daily uniform consists of khakis and pullovers. But Thursday was a sacred event, a memorial service, and dictated something better than my normal attire.
Something strange happened as soon as I put it on. I clasped my necklace, looked in the mirror, and saw someone else looking back at me. In putting on the suit, I had put on an old, familiar mask.
There was a time in my life that suits were what I wore every day. A time, for over 15 years, when every day’s success was based, largely in part, by my appearance. My “career” was in investment sales. And my successes were based upon getting people to trust me enough to give me their hard earned money. Hence the expensive suits.
But it was more than just clothes. There was a carefully crafted mask as well. The mask that told the world I was confident, very good at what I did, professional, hard working, dependable, the list goes on. But I had worked for years to create the appearance of someone that could be trusted to get the job done. This was not only for my clients, but also for my managers. The failure rate in that industry is very high. It is high stress, highly competitive and highly aggressive. If you are to succeed, you have to have a “take no prisoners” attitude.
I did well at it because that was the environment that I had grown up in as well. I was always taught to “Show no fear,” “If you are not first you are last,” and of course the golden rule, “do unto others before they can do unto you.” The sum statement for most of my life was, “You are only as valuable as what you produce.” So in everything I every did, I was a producer.
But that was only on the outside. On the inside, I had all these fears and self-doubts. I never felt safe unless I was working myself to death. I never trusted anyone past, “what I could do for them.” Because I knew that the moment I stopped producing whatever it was that I was trying to do, then I wouldn’t be valuable any more. That is a hard way to live folks. And it is incredibly lonely.
So when I began my ministry, you can imagine that all that changed, right? WRONG. Those assumptions were so ingrained, that it has taken me 10 years of pulling that mask off, piece by piece, to begin to understand the grace of God and my intrinsic value to Him.
And pulling the mask off hurts. Andre was right. When you begin to pull the mask off, you are not only removing what you have constructed, you are most likely removing things that you believe about yourself. After all, you can lie for so long that even you believe it to be true.
For example, if I truly believe that I am not safe in a job unless I am producing, then when will I take time off? Never. When will I attend to my own needs? Never. When will I make my family my first priority? Never. I can’t afford to, I will lose my job. So I live in constant fear, and work like a maniac. And I can lie to myself and say I am doing for my family. But really, I am doing it all because I couldn’t bear the rejection of being a non-performer.
And these lies don’t just apply to work. It is a very hard concept for me (still) to believe that anyone likes (much less loves) me just for me; and not for what I can give them. In my brain, that doesn’t compute. So you can imagine how hard it is to live fully into relationships with others without being guarded. And it is almost impossible to let anyone get to know the real you. There is no value in sharing your hurts or your vulnerabilities is there? We better keep those things to ourselves, lest we find ourselves alone.
My friends, I am a work in progress, and it has taken a decade for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to soften my heart. But He is still working at it – softening my heart toward myself and those around me. He is allowing me the time to get to know myself, and to be comfortable in my own skin. And that is a priceless gift. I am the lost sheep, the one separated from the 99. And He has promised to carry me on His shoulders until I am fully secure inside the flock. And why? Because He says I am worth it. He also says I am worth dying for. What a Savior!
It is my prayer for each of you this day, that you would begin to look beneath your own mask. What walls have you constructed? What parts of yourself are you hiding for fear of rejection? Behold, sweet child of God, for He knows you intimately and loves you just as you are. Try to lay that burden of a mask down, and accept the grace of God and His family – You are beloved; no changes required.
Peace my friends.
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:29