You walk into the party. The lights are low and dusky, but you can still easily see them: your fellow party-goers. They mill about, talking, laughing, and you join them. You’ve spent so much time with them that you know them by name at this point. They’re your friends. Your family. And they are all wearing their masks.
Some of the masks are beautiful. Some are strong. Some are expensive. Some are chiseled.
Just to be certain, you reach up and touch your face. Your mask is firmly in place. Good. Now the evening can begin.
We all wear masks. The question is, does yours ever come off?
And, when it does, what lies behind it?
I am fascinated by masquerade masks. I think they are wonderful and strange and mysterious. My wife and I have developed a collection of them, in fact — at least of the cheap ones you can buy in most stores around Halloween time. When you put one on, you become someone else. You become something else. But sometimes that mask can stay on a little too long.
Maybe you’ve been fashioning your mask for years. Maybe you’re not even sure who you are without it. But underneath it lies the true you. The you that God fashioned and placed on this earth.
Now, I’m not saying you walk around wearing an actual mask. But, whether through circumstance or intention, you have been creating one nonetheless. Or several, even.
You make one around your job. Then, when people ask what you do (which is another way of asking who you are), you say “I paint houses.” Or “I’m an accountant.” Often that’s as deep as we get with people. We take that job as our identities, as well as our main source of connection with another. But that doesn’t even skim the surface of who we are. For five years I was the finance guy and an administrator. But I was never really those things, deep down. I was a poet. A thinker. A philosopher. An evangelist. A theologian. A movie buff. A historian. A weirdo. A storyteller. But very few knew that, because I didn’t tell them. My job became my mask. And that’s how people identified me. This wasn’t the job’s fault: it was mine. I said it was because most of the people I interacted with were tied in with my work, but mostly it was because I wasn’t secure enough in who I really was to tell people.
Or take my father-in-law. He is widely identified as a director and tax accountant. But that’s what he does. It’s not who he is. He’s a family man. And a painter. A person with a deep, abiding care for others. A Star Trek nerd. A man with an overwhelming sense of duty, and of honor. He is much more than just a number-cruncher. Or “the boss.” But very few people know it. They might sense bits of it, but really they focus on his mask.
Sometimes how others perceive us becomes a mask. Or our affiliation (or lack thereof) with a given social group can as well. Take my wife. She is perceived as a housewife. Or a stay-at-home mom. She is not often in the “cool” circles – or if she is, it’s almost as a “token membership.” She has been looked down on because of that. But she is a leader. She is a care-giver. She is a prayer-warrior. She is a wise woman. She can be brutally, bluntly honest. She can transform a person’s week by her touch. She is a sculptor. She is kind, and she can be overwhelmed with love for you. She is more than what others have pegged her as. And so are you.
There are many other ways we can create masks. But I’m not going to go over those currently. I’m also not saying that masks are always a bad thing. Jesus had to wear one for thirty years. In fact, His mask didn’t fully come off until after He had died. Paul said, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1) Paul had an entire collection of masks, and he rotated through them depending on who he was with. But here’s the point: who he truly was, deep inside, always showed through. If you were looking, you could always see what Paul wanted, or who Jesus was.
My concern is that we become so comfortable with our masks that we start seeing ourselves in that porcelain façade. That it becomes who we are, and the depths we contain are lost. What if we reach the end of our lives, and then realize we were living a half-truth (or worse, an outright lie) for most of it? What if we never allow ourselves to be seen as who we really are?
Your mask is comforting. It is beautiful. It is mysterious. But who you really are is far better. With all your quirks, with all your loves, with all your idiosyncrasies, YOU are worth seeing. You are worth knowing.
Might I ask you to do something? Become comfortable with who you are. With who God has made you to be. And, once in a while, let the people see.
- 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Image (c) Dollar Photo Club, 2015