Unmasked

I don’t get into urban areas very much at the best of times and even less in these pandemic days.  Every time I go in of late, there are more changes.  Since my last trip in, masks are now required by law for any indoor place.  Having masks being commonplace is something I never thought could happen here.  It changes my approach to a lot of things and I am sure it does the same for others.

One of the most challenging activities with a mask is trying to read people’s emotions.  I am used to conveying a lot of meaning through my facial expressions because I am not a strong conversationalist.  Now, how do I do that when only my eyes are visible?  As I came into contact with people today I found myself rethinking my approach.  Usually I smile when, for example, someone holds the door open for me.  I had to continually remind myself to voice my expressions of appreciation.

My disturbances from masks are minimal compared to some.  My dear father-in-law, who turns 100 in a few weeks, has recently entered a care home.  Any visitors are required to wear masks and also stay six feet away from him.  As I sat across from him I watched his eyes scan our faces.  It struck me that he had lost his visual cues for when people are talking.  Having only recently had his hearing deteriorate, he relies extensively on his eyesight to compensate.  When he can see our lips moving he knows to direct his attention toward us.  What is he to do in this pandemic world when we can only see him with face coverings?  He loses so much of our conversations and that is sad.

Even worse is when people put on masks of their own making to cover up who they really are.  For years I was quite adept at putting on a brave, happy face, even when my insides were crying from some very challenging life circumstances.  In all honesty, trying to maintain that mask was exhausting.  Keeping my guard up continually took its stressful toll on me.  I worried that people would find out how bad things really were.  

As I look back I wonder why that bothered me.  Why did I feel that great need to make others think that everything was alright in my world?  Pressure to be the happy family everyone expected us to be likely tops the list.  Not wanting to admit defeat or failure also played a factor.

I actually prevented people from helping me as my mask kept them from knowing that I was hurt and troubled.  How could people minister to me if I always gave the impression that everything was fine?  

Are you hiding behind a mask today?  Think long and hard about it.  Do you present a face that you think people want to see?  Do you show yourself one way with coworkers and another way with family?

While all of us tend to like to keep up appearances and use some degree of a mask, it gets to be troublesome when that mask consistently prevents others from knowing the real you.  

Then what happens when you are alone and the mask is completely off and you have to face yourself for who you really are?  Do you like what you see?

In the Book of Hebrews are these words:

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (verse 13 NIV)

It can be both scary and comforting to know that God sees beyond the masks we put in place.  The God who knit us together in our mother’s womb knows every little thing about us.  We might make the world think we are certain way, but God knows the inner truth.  He knows us to the depths of our being.  

Thankfully, because God understands us so well, He knows what we need and how to guide us.  He is there when the earthly mask comes off and we face our pain.  He is there we make the awkward attempts to be the real us.  

Some of the greatest learning in my life came when I took down the mask I had carefully placed for so many years.  It was both a frightening and exhilarating time.  I felt so vulnerable.  Would others think less of me if they knew the truth?  Would I bear blame for certain circumstances?  Would people like me if I told the truth that I wasn’t happy all the time?

Yet, with the mask laid aside, I am finally free.  I now lead a much more vibrant life because I no longer live with that fervent pretense.  Sure, I have days when I am protective and I don’t spill out everything that is going on in my life.  But in general, I focus my energies now on being Christ’s servant and God’s gracious child rather than on finding ways to cover up my true feelings and circumstances.

Think about ways that you can be true to yourself and not wear a mask.  Let the light of Christ shine through you.  You can be an incredible witness to others, probably more so in the bad times than in the good ones.  People are watching how you handle things.  When they see you vulnerable and suffering they want to know if you will be dragged down or if you will rely on the hope of Christ.  How you react to challenging circumstances presents a huge gospel witness.

Don’t let your mask interfere with your faith.  Cling to our Heavenly Father who will support you no matter if you are in the deep valleys of hurt or on the mountain tops of accomplishment.  To God you are precious and special no matter what!

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