In my youth, during one of my final years of trick or treating, I chose to be a ghost. Easy enough costume. I simply put a sheet over my head with two holes cut out for eyes and an oval shaped mouth created with a sharpie marker. In my imagination, this idea was whimsical and simple. But, then, I left my house. The bottom part of the white sheet draped on the floor causing a tripping hazard. Every time I moved, the sheet shifted, as did the eye holes causing an inability to see. The idealistic thoughts of me eloquently floating along with wispy fabric remained in my head as I fumbled from house to house with friends who received complements for their amazing costumes. I am reminded of Charlie Brown’s ghastly, ghostly costume which brought him loads of rocks.
Wearing costumes and masks at Halloween is a long-held tradition. For two thousand years, people have donned gear that shields eyes and impairs movement on October 31st. These days, masks on Halloween allow us to try on a new persona for one night, conceal our identity from those who know us and have fun in the process. However, remembering my ghost costume brought back the pure relief upon removing the large white sheet at the end of the evening.
This thought led me to consider the invisible masks we all have a tendency to wear. Invisible masks that we, ourselves, don’t always realize we’re wearing. Words slip into our conversation making us sound more successful than we are. A plastered smile on our face protects us from answering any tough questions about life. A put-together look gives us the appearance of being self-sufficient and in control. We nod our heads in agreement with a statement made when our heart disagrees. Gossip arises and we stay silent for fear of not being liked. Stories are told of purchases bought to impress those we are with, yet our shoulders shrug with indifference when an important issue we care deeply about arises. Invisible masks create a wonderful illusion, but like an ill-fitting costume, they are pretty exhausting after a while.
One of my favorite masks to wear is the in-control, I’ve-got-it-all-together mask. I think about Sunday mornings when it has been “one of those” kinda mornings. A morning filled with cranky kids and a frazzled me. Some Sundays, our family runs quick to get out the door and head to church. One recent morning we loaded in the car and my son, Luke, and I got into a huge argument on the way. Who argues with a seven year old? Oh, that would be me. Yet, we walk into church and on goes the smile. I’m dressed with matching clothes and done-up hair, and all is “well”. Or, so it seems.
And, I’ll be honest, I struggle with this. The masks I wear to church. The masks others wear to church. I look around at people walking through the door and I really want to ask, “Where is your struggle? Where did you find hope this week? What is going on in your life that you need help with? How do you practice gratitude? How can we pray for one another?” But, often, small talk ensues and my invisible mask remains. It reminds me of a sermon my pastor, Rod, once preached where he proposed the question, “What if you came to church wearing clothes representing how your soul is doing?” This has always stayed with me, because in some ways, I think, why aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we coming to this place of grace revealing more of who we are, revealing the concerns we have in the dark of the night?
“Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” rings in my ears; but, I replace the word peace with authenticity. If the invisible mask is to be taken off at church and beyond, first, I must risk being my authentic self. This is the self that reveals failures, struggles and fear. The self proclaiming, “I don’t have it all together and I need help.” I am slowing chipping away at my invisible masks. One avenue that has aided me is small groups in and out of church.
Small groups are grounded in relationship reminding one another we are created in the image of God, we are loved and we belong. With a gentle, open and loving facilitator, small groups can become a deep time of support and healing. In one such small group I took part in, the leader opened with such honesty and depth that it lay the groundwork for a group of honesty and depth. This type of small group allows us to bring all of who we are and find acceptance. It allows us to reveal our personal, provocative truths:
“Life is tough right now and here’s why…”
“I’m not sure about this whole faith thing…”
“My child is challenging me and I don’t know what to do… ”
“I’ve heard some people describe God like this…, but, I just don’t believe it…”
“I know our marriage may look great, but we are really struggling…”
“I don’t feel any connection to God when I pray…”
“I worry all the time…”
“I have a hard time believing some of the stories in the Bible…”
“I can’t seem to find the joy in life…”
Witnessing a courageous leader lay aside their mask and reveal themselves is powerful. Upon hearing other people’s stories, doubts, hopes and heartaches, has given me courage to say “Maybe I can share mine”. When dear friends have arrived angry, with questions and frustration, I have witnessed others tend to them with listening ears. I’ve seen what a gift it is to have those with needs in my midst, for this allows me to learn from them and take a risk to reach out. This also gives me permission to be needy at times. I take a tiny step to let others in so they can minister to me. By being the one tended to, I heal a bit and then, I am able to pass the healing to others.
Small group is not the answer to discarding our invisible masks. However, finding a community of supportive, encouraging people who don’t feed the ego, but who point to a loving, just God helps. I can’t help but consider the early church (Acts 2:42-49).
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The early church was not large, fancy buildings with amazing sound systems and plush seating. Rather, it was simply a gathering of people in homes who shared fellowship and Christ’s teachings. Together, they joyfully enjoyed food around the table and offered prayer for their lives. Individually, they used their gifts and talents to uphold their community. In collaboration, they rationed their possessions selflessly. The invitation was open to recall Christ’s way, Christ’s suffering, Christ’s resurrection and encourage each other towards a life of faith. There was nothing too snazzy about it. They were simply called to be the church to each other and invite others into this loving hope.
Yes, it’s true. I, myself, am called to be the church. When I consider myself a living, movable, temple who walks from place to place, I become the change. No longer can I complain, “Why aren’t people revealing more of who they are?” Instead, I must ask, “Why am I not revealing more of who I am?” When I begin to think of myself as the church, the focus shifts from, “What is the church doing for me?” to “How am I serving others genuinely?” In order for others to discard their masks and lay down their armor, I have to be willing to do so first.
The good news is God already sees my heart beneath all the masks I may throw on. As I continue to dwell in the presence of God’s grace and loving acceptance, I am empowered to go forth, being an unadorned me. This year, as Halloween costumes are ripped off at the end of the evening, may we all have the courage to discard an uncomfortable, ill-fitted invisible mask, being grounded in the truth of Christ’s love for us. Amen.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
– Psalm 139:1-3
Consider what rises in you as you dwell on these verses. It may be comfort, peace, discomfort, unbelief, love, gratitude, or something else. Offer a prayer to God about what you discover.
With a Trusted Friend:
With an encouraging friend, consider sharing what invisible masks you’ve seen the other wear. Discuss if you have a supportive group in your life that points you to God. Why do you think this may be helpful?
With a Child:
Give me some reasons why people may wear a mask. Have you ever worn a mask? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it?