Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Remove the Mask: Why Won't We Be Transparent?

My sophomore year of college, I had the privilege of attending the graduate speech recital of my freshman speech teacher. She is someone that I look up to and greatly respect, and when I look back at all my favorite classes and teachers, she stands out in many respects. She didn't just teach freshmen--she touched lives. At her recital, she tackled the idea of transparency. Mostly the idea of why we aren't transparent. And she shared a lot of personal stuff. To an audience of 700 people, some of whom were friends, but many of whom were total strangers. She got a standing ovation (which doesn't happen at recitals here), and people walked out changed. I still occasionally hear people talking about it, and it's been 2 years. It changed me and the way I think. I've pondered transparency off and on for the past 2 years. It's a tricky idea. I mean, the idea of sharing stuff with people and knowing when you're being transparent and when you're just complaining. Being honest without sharing too much or finding the right person who will really care about you and pray for you can be hard. Finding a balance can be hard. Unfortunately, we don't even try most of the time.

I don't know if you go to a CHristian school. I do--a Christian university. I'm assuming you go to a church with fellow believers. In our Christian environments, we say "Be transparent. Be real. Talk to people. Share. We care. We love you. We won't judge you."

We create an atmosphere that says "If you tell me you're struggling, I'll look down on you. I'll probably share it as a 'prayer request' with 3 or 4 people, and we'll talk about you. You aren't allowed to have problems or struggles, and if you do, tell Jesus, but don't tell us."

At her recital, my former teacher shared the poem "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The first 2 stanzas are as follows:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask. 

Did anyone ask you, "How are you doing?" today? I got asked that. What was your response? "Fine, thanks!" "I'm doing well." "Hanging in there, keeping busy, but you know, God is good so it's all good."

Really? Are you really doing ok? All the time? Every time you answer that question with a "fine", are you really doing "fine"? I'm not always. It's our go-to answer.

It's a lie.

We teach children, "Thou shalt not lie". It's the 9th commandment. When did lying about how we are doing become ok? When did hiding what's going on become not only ok, but really expected?

Why do you wear a mask? Why do I wear a mask? Well, here's my excuse (the one I use most often).
"If people don't know, they can't judge or hurt me. If I get close to people, they may expect something I can'd do, and I'll let them down."

What does your mask look like? There are a lot of different ones, and we all personalize our mask to fit what we need. They all look a little different, which is part of the reason I think it is so hard to recognize someone else's for what it really is--a disguise hiding what's really going on in their life. I tend to be one of those people who always has to have it together. I'm that annoying person no one else in the class likes, because I turn stuff in 2 weeks early. I have to be on top of stuff and always prepared. I am always ready to go, and hate surprises or changes in my plans. I'm also a very hyperactive, sarcastic person. When I don't know what I'm doing, or if I'm in a new situation and am nervous, I hide it by being weird and obnoxious (in a good way, I'm sure). People don't know the difference between my "life is good and I've had Mountain Dew" hyper and my "I'm stressing out and worried about what is happening" hyper. When I'm not in control of a situation, I get either really hyper or weird or shy. Both of them are a mask. I wear them to protect myself.

What mask do you wear? What masks do you put on to cover what you are really thinking, feeling, or struggling with?

It can be hard to peel off our mask. I think it is harder to be the one being open and sharing than the person to whom we are talking. When we are transparent, we are vulnerable. That is a scary place to be. I don't want to go there, so I put on a mask. I hide it and no one knows. We have on  so many layers of masks, I don't know if we are really able to be honest with ourselves. We have a hard time even getting real with God. We've convinced ourselves that the mask needs to be there.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

To each other?

Why are we not willing to share? To get real? To be honest? Transparent?

May I suggest that we have been lied too? Has Satan whispered any of these in your ear (or screamed them in your face)?

No one would believe you if you told them that you _________?
You say you're a Christian, and you struggle with ______? Really?
God won't keep forgive you.
People look up to you, you know. They watch you. If they know you are dealing with _______, your testimony will be ruined.
Everyone deals with that. It's not a big deal.
You're in leadership. You teach Sunday School. You can't have struggles like that.
No one cares.
People come to help. They need you to be strong for them. They aren't able to help you, because they need you to help them. 

These are lies, friends. Satan knows that if he can get us to live an isolated life, we won't have access to the full potential of power found in the body of Christ. Once we start getting honest with each other and really working together, the church and Christians could do amazing things for God. We could change the world in huge ways. Satan doesn't want that. So he seeks to keep us isolated.

I want to build iron-sharpening-iron relationships.

I want my friends and i to have a closeness that allows us to be real with each other. That's going to take work. Being transparent ends 2 people--the person being transparent, and the person listening. And both of these people need to be willing to take both roles. 

Be transparent. In small areas--like "I am so exhausted, I'm struggling with staying awake to do my devotions. Will you pray for me and keep me accountable?" "I'm struggling with my thoughts towards a particular person."

Be transparent. In big areas--like "I don't know if God exists, and if He does, I don't know if he really cares about me personally." "I don't know if I even am in the right religion. I don't know if I'm believing the right things, and I don't want to miss out because I was taught wrong."

Be willing to listen. Look around at work, school, church, or wherever you are. Watch people. There are people everywhere who are hurting, but have a mask on and aren't willing to admit it. Take time to show them you care. Pray for them. And don't be discouraged if they won't open up to you right away. Removing a mask takes time. It takes knowing that someone honestly cares about you. And if you are going to ask someone to be transparent, be willing to be transparent yourself. 

Watch out for the people who are "rocks". You know who I mean--those people who have it all together all the time. They are usually the people that get asked for help or advice. Sometimes, they are the people who really need help and prayer the most. Those are the people we forget about, because they seem to be so put-together. Everyone needs someone who will come along and say, "I'm praying for you."

Paul Dunbar wrote a final stanza for his poem, "We Wear the Mask".

We smile, but O great Christ, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

I want to be part of the generation that changes the world. But (and here's me being transparent), I can't do it alone. I need friends to help me out, support me, and point me to Jesus. We aren't called to go the Christian life solo. God has given us each other. Serve Him together.

If you need something, anything, even someone to talk to, please find someone. A friend, a person at church, a teacher, pastor, anyone. Don't live life hurt and alone because you can't trust anyone. If you can't find someone, email me. Message me. Comment below. That's why God created me. To serve Him, and minister to the body of Christ.

Remove the mask.

Practice transparency. 

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