THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK
We are entering the time of year when stores are stocked with Halloween costumes, haunted house decorations and candies for treats. Regardless of what we feel about the observance of Halloween, we can’t hold back the smiles when we see children dressed as their favorite cartoon character or super hero. Whether it is this year’s version of Superman or the next Spongebob Squarepants knocking on the door, we know there is a child behind that mask hoping for a generous helping of candy for their effort. Halloween night is the time we expect to see people wearing masks. Masks, however, are not limited to the last night in October. There’s a different kind of mask we wear in our churches every Sunday.
These are not masks of our favorite cartoon characters but a mask which hides the real person inside of us. Natalie Grant currently has a hit song called “The Real Me” and I think it speaks truth to how some feel.
“Foolish heart looks like we're here again
Same old game of plastic smile
Don't let anybody in
Hiding my heartache, will this glass house break
How much will they take before I'm empty
Do I let it show, does anybody know?”
We do the right things. We go to church like we are “supposed” to do and punch our heavenly time card. We carry out our responsibilities in the church as faithfully as we would at our jobs during the week; however, what do we do about the hurting inside our hearts? Do we dare let anyone know? Would it matter if we did?
I can tell you at this very moment, I am tired of the same old game. I wish there was a better way to word my feelings on this but allow me just to be blunt. Church is doing nothing for me but just draining me empty. I know this is a strong statement to make but I have a feeling that many of you feel the same way but are ashamed to admit it. Church seems to be nothing more than a gathering for two hours on Sunday and then the rest of the week I am on my own. There’s got to be more than this! How long will we play the same old game of wearing the plastic smile? How much longer before we are totally empty?
Many Sundays I go to church wearing my own mask. I am good at wearing the mask because I grew up in a church organization which taught me the art well and the ability to put on an Academy Award-winning performance. It’s easy to put on the costume as a “mature Christian” while hiding the scars of spiritual warfare upon my soul. No wonder non-believers call us hypocrites. How can we pray for others when our own life is a mess? It’s easy to rattle off a religious cliché but not so easy to actually live it ourselves.
How can we win the lost when we are losing the found? We can write and preach the scripture that tells us to “forsake not the assemblying of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25) but someone reminded me that “assemblying” should mean more than gathering in a church building on Sundays for two hours. There has got to be more but I haven’t a clue how to change this mindset. I have enough trouble with me. How can we truly change the definition of “church” from a building to real relationships with people without the masks? Is it possible? I don’t have the answer. I suppose I’m just writing an editorial and putting in print what many of you are thinking.
Isn’t it true that many people attend church faithfully every Sunday but leave with the same hurts they entered the doors with? This isn’t supposed to happen! Why should it be a mystery to us that Christians are battling depression, our marriages are falling apart and our families are just as dysfunctional as non-believers.
I think the song “Stained Glass Masquerade” by the group Casting Crowns states it best:
Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small
Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they’ll soon discover
That I don’t belong
So I tuck it all away, like everything’s okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I’ll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the heart again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them
Are we happy plastic people?
Under shiny plastic steeples?
With walls around our weakness?
And smiles to hide our pain?
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade
Is there anyone who’s been there?
Are there any hands to raise?
Am I the only one who’s traded
In the altar for a stage?
The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart
But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be
Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay
What powerful, powerful lyrics that state what many of us feel today! Are we willing to admit we feel this way or are we going to continue with the plastic smiles while hurting deep within? We keep hoping for “the Brownsville-type revival” that never comes or the mighty move of the Spirit that never moves. Instead of blaming the pastor, church leaders, complaining and whining have we tried removing our masks? How did we get to this point? We need less sermons on how God can give us new cars and homes and more Spirit-led therapy sessions for our souls. None of us have made it yet. We still need each other but we act like we don’t need anyone. We bring covered dishes to church, share a meal together and call it “fellowship” but it isn’t truly fellowship. We aren’t going to let our masks down over a plate with Fried Chicken!
Do we risk taking off our masks? How do we start?
Before we can allow others to see inside of us—we have to accept who we are. To do that we have to see us how God sees us. He sees through masks and still loves us and He knows EVERYTHING. He didn’t wait for you to be perfect before accepting you.
If we could ever learn to live our life looking through God’s eyes, we will be able to accept ourselves as imperfect people. And we will learn to accept others as imperfect people too. We will be able to take off our masks and allow others to do the same. Somehow we need to find a way to be real with each other. We need to truly hurt when someone else hurts and rejoice when others rejoice. Not just in word but in spirit.
Until we do, we will continue wearing the mask of a fake smile and playing the stained glass masquerade. Church will remain just a social event on our spiritual time card. We need God and we need each other. Now is the time for us to do something about it.