Originally published Monday, 05 August 2013.
Last summer, our family participated in a photo scavenger hunt with other families in our church. One of the challenges was to dress up as superheros and pretend to rescue our pastor. Towels and pillowcases became capes. Old t'shirts were turned inside out and painted with names like, "Super Mommy" and "Lightning Ian." And what costume is complete without a mask?
Playing dress up and pretending to be someone else is fun. But even children know it is just pretend. They know they have not actually transformed into Superman or Batman. When play time is over, they put the costumes away and resume life as a child.
In reality, many of us play dress up every day. Some of us have worn our costumes for so long that we forget we are wearing it. Perhaps pretending to be someone else has even become such a part of us that we forget who we are underneath the mask we wear. What kind of dress up do we play? We wear false selves, disguising who we really are so that others around us will not see our imperfections, wounds, struggles or pains.
When someone asks how we are doing and we smile and say, "Fine", but inside our heart is aching, we are in fact pretending to be someone else. When we act like our life is great while our world is crumbling down around us, we are pretending. When we fear to open up to others about who we really are and instead mask our aches and pains, we are pretending.
The truth is, I am often a pretender.
I wear masks and pretend to be someone I am not. Fearing what other people may think of me, I hide what's really going on in my life. Instead of talking about my fears and doubts, I talk about the funny thing my child said, a new sale at the store, or the latest movie. Rather than admit my failures or shame, I keep them hidden behind shallow conversation and a painted on smile.
While small talk is a cultural and often a necessary part of conversation, it shouldn't always stay there. Small talk is for introductions and perhaps even for those you'll only meet once. But when it comes to friendships, at some point, conversations should go deeper. In fact, it needs to go deeper. Certainly not with every person we meet, but there should always be people in our lives with whom we are real. We need to have friends with whom we share our true, authentic selves.
Why should we be real? God gave us each other in the Body of Christ to encourage and spur one another on (Hebrews 10:24). Authentic friendship is a gift from God. We can't do life on our own. We need the support of others in the Body.
In fact, God calls us as Christians to "encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." (Hebrews 3:13) How can we do that if we don't know each others struggles? How can we do that if we pretend that everything is great? It is only when we are transparent and authentic with other believers that we can live out the call to "love one another deeply, from the heart." (1 Peter 1:22)
It's not easy though. In fact, the longer we have worn our mask, the more painful it is to take it off. Like ripping a scab off before it has healed, removing a mask often reveals raw wounds, ugly sin, and oozing emotions. And then once it is removed, we have to endure the heavy blanket of silence while we wait for the other person's response. What if they react to the ugliness? What if the messes in our lives turn our friends away? What if they don't reciprocate? What if they simply stare at our wounds and don't even acknowledge what we've done?
I have lived both with my mask on and with it off and I prefer to live without it. Just last week I was vulnerable to a friend who in turn rejected my offering. There have also been occasions where I have revealed my true self and the other person did not reciprocate. Yet the acceptance and love I have received from those who do respond and in turn remove their own masks, more than makes up for it. These real friendships have encouraged me with the gospel, walked with me through trials, and reminded me of the hope I have in Christ.
When I am tempted to wear a mask out of fear of rejection, remembering that Jesus also faced and endured rejection for my sake gives me courage. Knowing that His closest and best friends turned away from Him at the time when He needed it most, helps me to risk my own rejections. Not only that, but He endured the worst rejection and separation there is--from God the Father--so that I could be restored in right relationship with God. Because of Christ, my Heavenly Father will always accept me and never forsake me. No matter how others may respond to the truth of who I am, I know I will never be rejected by Father.
Putting on costumes and playing dress up is fun. But playing dress up with our hearts is not. We need to be real with other believers so that we can help one another move forward in holiness. We are fellow travelers on this journey. Each of us is fallen and sinful, it makes no sense to pretend otherwise. So let's stop pretending, remove our masks, and do life together--for real.
Are you ever tempted to pretend to be someone you're not?