I have worn and discarded countless masks through my life, trying on different ones, depending on what part of my interior life I wanted to hide.
The disguises helped me survive in junior high locker rooms, corporate board rooms, Bible study classrooms, and new friends’ living rooms. Or so I thought.
A woman’s arms get tired holding up masks, year after year.
But sometimes, you tolerate the wearying task of wearing a mask. Because sometimes, it feels easier to hide, rather than to let the Real You show. So you muscle through, taking your assortment of masks to the carpool lane, the parent-teacher conferences, the dinner parties.
On the inside, your actual heart knows better. Your actual heart beats to be actually real, but you aren’t sure how. You assume that people want someone a little less … you.
Sometimes, it seems easier to stubbornly camouflage the blemishes, blackheads, birthmarks and blisters of life.
And sometimes? After years of half-false living, you can barely tell where your masks stop and your skin starts. And you don’t know how to find the real you again.
I’m 42 now, and I’d like to tell you that I never wear masks anymore. I have thrown most of them aside, but my default is to reach for a mask when I want to make a good first impression.
God knows that about me. So—in His relentless grace—He continues to repeat one message into my insecurity-prone heart:
“I didn’t ask you to be her. I asked you to be you.”
God’s soul-whispers have helped me ease into my own skin, my own size of jeans, my odd sense of humor, and my inability to bake anything other than brick-hard brownies.
I’ve learned that all those years of mask-wearing didn’t really get me anywhere after all. In truth, I had masked myself into being nearly unapproachable.
I knew it for sure the other day, when a familiar name popped into my email inbox. It was another Jennifer from the Midwest. She and I had known each other casually in college. She wrote to tell me that she had recently read my new book—a book for the bone-tired mask-wearers—and she wanted me to know what the book had meant to her.
That was nice, and everything, but the sentence that stopped me hard was this one:
“When I think of you in college,” Jennifer wrote, “all I remember was a girl who was so together, I was scared to be your friend.”
I sat in the lightwash of my computer screen for a long time, shaking my head with a tinge of regret over all that I’d missed in an attempt to be someone more than I was.
I had, indeed, achieved my goal of being “so together.” But all of my careful impression-management had alienated a potential friend.
I can’t go back and erase my masks, and I won’t wallow in guilt for my past mistakes. Because I can start again today, refusing the false face. And I can do the same thing tomorrow.
And even more, I can make safe zones for others to be the best versions of themselves. I can teach my daughters to live mask-free—mostly (I hope) by modeling that behavior.
We weren’t made for masks. And the bravest ones are the women who let their masks fall, before they inevitably break. The bravest ones go first, wearing their gritty real on the outside—scars and all.
In Christ, we are free to be imperfectly who we are. And the very things that we think might repel others (our bed-head hair with its own zip code, our bug-splattered windshields, and our feisty muffin tops) are the actual “flaws” that make us approachable. That make us real. That make us friends.
And behold, when we smash our masks together at the feet of Jesus, we make the most important discovery of all:
That underneath the mask isn’t your mess; it’s your marvelous.