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Taking Off The Mask

Friendships.

They are probably a source of both deep joy and deep heartache for many of you.

Women seem to have a bigger need for friendships than men do. And our friendships often run deeper. Men, I have noticed, like to “do things” with their friends. Women want to “know things” about each other. Sure we like to do things together too, like shopping! But we want to talk about things while we do it!

Girls are naturally drawn to each other. A little girl’s first experience with heartache may have been over a lost “best friend” rather than a “boy friend”. Friendships are valued and when they are lost, they are grieved for.

A schoolgirl does grieve just for the friendship itself, but also for the secrets shared, the trust given and the acceptance enjoyed. If betrayed, the pain runs deep. No one can cause you more harm than someone who you have trusted in deeply.

Your best friend in school knows who you have a crush on, which schoolmate you are afraid of, who you allowed to kiss you on the bus. Your best friend knows that you still keep your Barbie’s and that you listen to Barry Manilow records at home, though you deny it in public. Your best friend knows that you cried for a week when Shaun Cassidy got married. She knows that your Mom drinks and you “came this close” to letting your cousin touch you there…

Most of us can recall a situation in school when a girl friend we trusted proved to have looser lips than we expected. What did it do to you to have your secrets spilled? It cut you like a knife. And if it happened more than once, you probably started to put up some walls even then.

That is when it starts – the creation of the mask. The “you” that you are willing to let the world see.

However it started and however it was reinforced – what we want to look at is how we can take the mask off and start to be real with the people around us.

Take off the mask? Why risk it?

This is how most of us think, at least subconsciously. We don’t want to risk letting people see the bad stuff in us. If we let people see just the good stuff – if we never let them see the bad stuff – we will be accepted and will be able to enjoy good friendships with others around us.

There is a major fault to this line of thinking!

Think about it. If you are being accepted by the people around you because of the false front you present – then deep down you know that it is only the false front that is being accepted – not the real you.

The real you will remain terribly alone.

And you know it. That is why so many women who we see as “picture perfect” are in reality struggling with deep insecurities.

Do not be satisfied with lukewarm relationships. Be willing to risk vulnerability.

What do you rob yourself of when you live life behind the mask?

Christian Accountability – If I never let anyone know that I am struggling – I deny other women the opportunity to share their tests and trials with me. I deny other women the opportunity to be encouraged by my tests and trials.

Wise Advice – If I never let anyone know that I am having difficulty with something, I deny myself the possibility of good advice from mature women of God.

Prayer – If I never let anyone see the real me, what kind of prayer covering will I have?

Acceptance – If I only offer bits and pieces of me to others, where will I draw acceptance from? Yes, God accepts you, but whether we admit it or not, we need to experience acceptance from the Body of Christ also.

Let me introduce you to Jenny.

Jenny is 35 years old. She has three kids and a nice husband. She does her part at church – she works in the nursery, she bakes for the fundraisers, she’s always willing to take care of other people’s kids and can always be counted on to accept invitations to Tupperware and Home Interior Parties.

Jenny is a nice person. Everyone likes her – at least what they know of her. And that’s the way Jenny likes it. She tells her friends that everything is great and she is blessed coming and going and has no complaints.

What nobody at church knows is that Jenny suffers from painful insecurities about herself. She has struggled with bulimia and has never admitted it to anyone. Her self-image was tarnished early on in life by a mean-spirited older sister who teased her about her weight, her hair and her complexion.

In truth, she is a beautiful woman. She has one of those faces that just gets better with age – but she doesn’t believe it – no matter how many times her husband tells her so.

Her own mother died shortly after she was married and her sister moved away years ago. She confessed the bulimia to her Mother in law and asked her what she should do. Her Mom-in-law was stunned and embarrassed to hear Jenny’s problem and told her that she should just stop doing it and never tell anyone else about it.

Jenny never asks for prayer or responds to an altar call when Pastor offers one for those who are struggling. Jenny has conveniently been “out of town” for every women’s function that has ever come along.

Several times Jenny has been approached by kind women at church and invited to participate in a bible study or come to a small group – and deep down, Jenny knows that she should go. but she’s afraid. So afraid…

Why did Jenny’s Mom-in-law respond that way? Probably because she is wearing a mask of her own. Her response could be translated like this: “How dare you take your mask off?! It’s making me uncomfortable! Don’t you know that people hate weakness? People will talk! It will look bad! Just put your mask back on and we can go on pretending everything is alright!”

Jenny needs the loving acceptance of other women in her life, not the frightened advice of another mask wearer. She needs to let someone see what is inside so that they can respond to it honestly and sincerely. She needs to receive ministry and prayer that will help her to change the way that she thinks about herself and find healing.

How do we start? Before we can allow others to see inside of us – we have to accept who we are. If we are not comfortable with who we are on the inside, we will always hide behind walls. I lived 28 years without God in my life and when my eyes were spiritually opened, I was all at once: deeply ashamed but completely accepted. Deeply ashamed because I had became aware of my sin. Completely accepted because Jesus paid the price for all my wrong doing.

“This is how God showed His love among us; He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loves us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:9-11

God loved me before I ever loved Him. He is the one who initiated our relationship. God did not wait for me to clean up my act so that He could love me. He did not care that I was a rotten person with all kinds of emotional baggage and bad habits. He was not waiting for a perfect person to come along. He just accepted me right where I was at.

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:6-8

God looked down on me when I was utterly helpless! And He loved me.

If we can learn to live our life through our Father’s eyes, we will 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.

Intimacy = Into me see.

Intimacy is allowing others to see what is inside of us. Scary idea huh? Practicing intimacy with others is all about learning to be transparent. The only way that we are going to learn to be transparent ourselves is by learning to practice acceptance of others.

How do you respond to people who are being transparent? People who are letting it all hang out, with no pretenses or masks? Do you see the negatives and immediately judge them? (Do you find yourself secretly wishing that they would put a mask on? Honestly, I have thought that! Sometimes it is just easier to not see inside of other people! But that is just pure selfishness. That is not the heart of our Father in heaven.) He sees inside of all of us and loves us anyways.

The next time that someone comes along with no masks on, letting all their emotions and negative traits hang out, take some time to really check them out. Look them right in the eye. Consider everything about them that drives you crazy!

And love them.

Then go in the bathroom and look yourself in the eye. Don’t start thinking things like “Well, at least I don’t go around like that!” or “I’m not so bad compared to that.” That will ruin everything. No, look yourself straight in the eye and see the real you. See the you that messes up. See the you that screams at the kids and is impatient with others. See the you that is most definitely not perfect. Consider everything about yourself that drives you crazy!

And love yourself.

It will be a freeing experience for you. And you will be on your way to accepting yourself and others.

If you are living life behind a mask, I want to encourage you to take it off! Go to someone who you know you can trust. Maybe you need to seek out the counsel of a Pastor or Christian counselor. Yes, it is hard work. If you have been living behind a mask for a long time, you may need to work at it slowly. That’s okay! Just don’t move backwards!

Yes, we do risk betrayal. I have shared my insecurities with people who have in turn used them against me. I have shared my dreams with people and been made fun of. I have reached out in friendship only to be rejected completely. I won’t lie. It hurts.

But for the number of times that I have been hurt, I have a much longer list of the times that I have been blessed. I have made new friends with people I would never have imagined being friends with. I have been encouraged to grow spiritually as I have seen God’s faithfulness in the lives of other women and I have seen God use my testimony to give another woman hope.

The very best part of living without a mask is that I get to experience real acceptance. When I get a complement, it is the real thing. If they can see the real me and still say something nice – I’m thrilled! When you have let someone get to know you for who you really are and they accept you, you feel appreciated and edified in a way that those who live behind masks will never experience.

I don’t want to lay a guilt trip on anyone. Intimacy is not for every relationship. You do not have to lay your heart bare for everyone that you meet. That isn’t even healthy. Intimacy is different for every relationship.

I have a few very close relationships with other women. These are women who I can go to with anything and share my failures and fears without being condemned or judged. I have other friends, women who I can enjoy spending time with because we share interests or values. I value these relationships, but I would not talk to them about intimate subjects. Our friendships just do not go that deep. It doesn’t mean that I value the people any less than my closest friends; I just enjoy them on a different level. It’s not important that I am intimate with a lot of people, only that I am experiencing intimacy with some people!

Yes, relationships will come and go. I can look back over my life and tell you about several different women who have had dramatic impact on my life. And many of them are not part of my life today because life has this way of moving people around. I believe that God does this in my life to keep me from leaning to much on one person or another, so that I will keep leaning on Him! Instead of becoming insecure and afraid to invest myself into new friendships, I have come to see my friendships as a gift from God for a season of time.

You see, our very Best Friend needs to be Jesus. People make mistakes, but he never does. He will never betray a trust or make fun of us. He will always listen and give good advice. He will always build us up and never tear us down. He invites us into uninhibited intimacy with Him. He sees into our hearts and He longs for us to see into His. It is a relationship that can never be taken from us by distance or death. It is a forever love that will sustain us through everything.

If you don’t know Jesus in this way, I want to invite you to get to know Him today. The same way that I did eight years ago. It starts with a prayer.

Dear Jesus, I am not a perfect person. I mess up all the time. I know that I am not living my life the way that I am supposed to. I believe what the Bible says about me and about You. Because of my sin, I cannot get to heaven on my own. But You came to make a way for me to be saved. You lived a perfect life and died on the cross to pay for my sins and rose again and live today in heaven, interceding for me. I ask You to forgive me Jesus and cleanse my heart of everything wrong that I have done in my life. I ask You to save me and take me to heaven with You when I die. I thank You for being my Savior and I ask You to be my Lord. Please help me to live my life the way that You want me to, without masks, without always trying to protect myself. Help me to get to know You as my very Best Friend. Amen.

If you just prayed this prayer for the first time, please send us an email and we will give a big happy shout of joy to God for you! We will also send you a little booklet that will help you in your new relationship with Jesus.

Wherever you live, there are some great churches nearby and you need to go plug into one of them this Sunday (or Wednesday or whenever they meet.) Tell someone there that you prayed to accept Jesus and your Savior and you want to know everything there is to know about Him! They will be happy to help!