Prior to the pandemic, we all wore a mask that we proudly displayed for everyone to see.
Our masks did not have words written on them. They did not have flowers, designs, or other images that highlighted our personalities or favorite team. Nor did our masks come with instructions on how to correctly wear them (securely placed over our noses and mouth).
We securely wore our masks without much help. They gave us protection from some of the things we were concerned about: prying eyes, insecurity, and feelings of inadequacy.
We’ve all worn these proverbial masks that hide our true selves from others. They gave us protection, we thought, from people seeing our inner pain and struggles.
Our mask enabled us to project the image we wanted others to see. We desire for people to see us as strong, independent, confident, smart, and determined. We want people to believe we are made out of Teflon and that nothing wears us down. We want people to see us at our bests, which was often an image we created for others to like.
To project this safe image for others, we put on our proverbial mask to protect ourselves from allowing people to see what might be going on inside of us. We hide our pain and struggles. We cover up our disappointments. We run from our grief.
We do not allow others to see our true selves when we wear our proverbial masks.
I think this is, in part, because we believe we will face ridicule or a lack of understanding from colleagues, friends, and even family members if they see what we are truly experiencing. The anticipation of ridicule or a lack of understanding keeps us from being truly open with other people. Why do we hide an important part of our lives, which is our emotions on when things are not going well, from others?
I can only speak for myself. We each wear our proverbial masks for various reasons.
In my life, I’ve hidden my struggles because I have felt inadequate to share these experiences. What are my struggles in comparison to the struggles of others? Their pain is often, I believe, more important than my own. So, why should I say I’m hurting? How could someone hear my pain, when their struggles are more important than my own? I hid my struggles because I have felt the needs of others were more important than my own.
At the same time, especially as a pastor, if you are transparent and allow others to see your pain, in my experience, it hinders your relationship with other colleagues and the church you are called to lead. Smile and project confidence in the midst of struggles, so you can be seen as a strong leader and given a bigger appointment in the next cycle. Smile and project confidence in the midst of struggles, so your church will want to follow your leadership. We don’t want pastors who are hurting, nor do we accept our colleagues that are open with their struggles. We want to protect an image for our congregations that we are strong, even when we are hurting.
We hide our pain because we are more worried about how it might affect us.
Hiding our pain prevents us from being truly open and connected to one another. Our relationships never grow beyond a surface-level connection if we only share the good parts and never listen when someone is struggling with life. Part of being in the fellowship of believers is being transparent and open with one another. This leads us to share our joys and our pain so we can be partners in Christ through mutual love and understanding.
Relationships and connections grow when we can are open with each other about both our joys and struggles. We must not project an image that we want others to embrace. We must be our true self that is full of both joys and struggles. When we can share both our joys and struggles with someone else, we find that we do not experience the ridicule or lack of understanding that we expected. Instead, we will find that there are those who will be with us not just when things go well, but when things are difficult and overwhelming.
To experience that, though, we have to take off our proverbial masks.
*And, by the way, keep wearing your real mask on to keep people safe from COVID-19.