Several years ago I took a graduate course in organizational communication. One of our early assignments involved giving a presentation to the class, and my day came much too quickly. I had taught an undergraduate speech class at the university the semester before, so I felt extra pressure to perform well on top of the normal giving-a-speech jitters.
My professor knew I’d been nervous (to say the least!), so she was kind when I approached her after class. I asked her if I’d done okay, and she paused.
(Never a good sign, right?)
She said, “It was the most fascinating thing, watching you give your presentation.”
“Okay . . .” (Let’s face it. “Fascinating” could really go either way.)
“It was like you were wearing a mask,” she went on to explain. “But every once in a while, you’d trip up and that mask would begin to slip. You floundered around a bit and then, Whoosh! Up went the mask. I’ve never seen anything like it!“
I wish I could say the same. But I’ve seen that mask – on myself and on others – many times before.
You know what I’m talking about, right? That mask we put on whenever we feel the need to look confident, calm, happy, better?
I wear a mask to church almost every Sunday. After a morning fraught with arguments over outfits and frustrations over breakfast, we swerve into the parking lot, snapping at each other and even the other drivers vying for the closest spots. Then, as we grab Bibles and purses and jackets, we step out of our car and walk toward the doors – and the greeters.
“Hi, welcome to church! How are you today?”
“Oh, we’re great! Just great. How are you?”
I could only be less genuine if I threw in a “God bless you” for good measure.
But church isn’t the only place I wear a mask. I remember putting in notice at one job after only being there for a few months. Feeling relieved to be putting a terrible fit behind me, I was honest when my boss asked, “Were you that unhappy?”
“Oh yeah,” I chirped. “I’ve been miserable!”
She’d had no idea, and I left that meeting still thrilled to be moving on, but strangely unsettled at the realization that I was a really good faker.
And then there’s the mask I wear when talking about my new life as a stay-at-home mom. Since leaving my job six months ago, it seems like everyone wants to know how I’m liking this change. Afraid to admit the truth – that it’s hard, that it’s lonely, that I’m a tad bit bored – I almost always smile and say lightly, “Well, I’m still adjusting, but it’s good. It’s good! My daughter just loves having me to herself!”
My emotions are never far from the surface, and very few who know me have not seen me cry. Yet, even though I’m not afraid to show my feelings and I pride myself on my honesty, I hide behind a mask quite often.
Certainly, some circumstances call for professionalism, confidence or an even temper. But wearing a mask all the time can be harmful, preventing us from developing genuine relationships and denying those around us the opportunity to encourage – or be encouraged by – us. It can also be exhausting, maintaining a facade of everything’s-okay and I’m-fine-how-are-you.
Do you hide behind a mask? I’m so thankful that even when my mask is fastened on the tightest, held on by ribbons of fear and insecurity and doubt, God still sees the real me.
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.
Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Psalm 139: 1-4, 13
What mask are you hiding behind?