I’ve thought alot lately about how, in following Christ, it’s inevitable the masks we wear will crumble like plaster into dust. I suspect shedding masks is part of what Jesus teaches about dying to ourselves. Afterall, rebirth, new life, transformation, transfiguration can only happen when our old selves die.
Our masks might include being ‘a perfectionist’, ‘the good girl’, ‘the strong one’, ‘the savior’, or the ‘super achiever’. Other masks include pride, egotism, priviledge and self-sufficiency. Most often our masks hide deeper parts of our selves we don’t like, or parts we’ve abandoned because as children these parts weren’t accepted or nurtured in our families of origin. I’ve most often worn the mask of the ‘super achiever’ which is a role I adopted as a teenager when mom’s mental illness took root; I was the oldest daughter, so someone needed to take over. Decades later I learn it was all too much, but by then the my super achiever mask was firmly in place. Shedding this mask has been a process of years, and very painful, because what we find behind our masks often isn’t easy to face. I’ve uncovered the fear and overwhelm I never dealt with as a teen watching my mother’s demise. I’ve faced a surprising lack of confidence, along with shame riding on a black horse. I discovered voices of critical relatives, who looked like slouched over aunties with flapping sking hanging over bikinis, Bibles on their laps, judging me with frequent glances beneath bifocals. Wearing the mask is much less painful — for a while.
Author Parker Palmer reminds us: “The path to humility sometimes includes humiliation, when we are brought low, rendered powerless, stripped of pretenses and defenses, and left feeling fraudulent, empty and useless, these parts need to be embraced not orphaned. They need tender loving care.”
Harbored underneath our masks we’ll discover the ‘shadow side’ of that mask — usually the opposite of the mask. Behind my super achiever persona I harbored a deeper need for the opposite — for not doing, for under-doing, for quitting, for a slower pace. What I had really needed as a young teenager was nurturing, knowing the impossibility of the task I took on, understanding limitations, and asking for help. I found underneath my mask a vulnerable, needy child that deserved mothering, who needed to be a teenager, not a mother caring for a family.
Jesus did tell us when we’re like little children, we most know the kingdom of heaven, and St. Paul said, when we are weak we are strong. With Jesus, it’s been safe to become like a child again. This reliance on God’s supernatural love, allowed me to shed my iron-woman falsities. Shedding our masks is crucial for living as branches on the vine where our true selves can take root, where spiritual enlightenment blooms fruitfulness. No longer can we fool our wizardly selves with self-deceptive cries, “pay no attention to the (wo)man behind the curtain!” To find our true selves, or like Dorothy in Oz, to return home, we need to pull the curtain on our knee rattling wizards pretending to be what we are not.
Most of our lives we aren’t aware of the masks we wear, yet when we lead faithful lives, God’s grace, word and truth will most certainly slowly peel them off whether we like it or not. We’ll be called on inauthenticity, immoralities, impatience, greed, rage and co-dependence we’re camoflauging. Overtime, and sometimes miraculously, by the grace of God, such debase characteristics will most certainly transform into joy, peace, hope, kindness, generosity, patience and self-love. This is the pay-off to living an authentic, mask free life with God — surely less exhausting than a life masquerading.
“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.” – Job 11:7-11
In shedding my super achiever mask, I’m becoming familiar with my true self raising her red flag, with the limitations years ago I would have ignored. As midlife bids me toward deeper self-reflection, I ask myself harder questions of what I can and cannot do in my worklife that has always been ‘take on huge projects’ by myself. It makes me question how I’ll create my next documentary project differently, how I’ll ask for help, manage what I can, not as superwoman. Heading toward the last crest of my 50’s, a slower life pace biddens. I’m listening to the beat of it’s drum, rather than the hip-hop, rock n’ roll beat of the world. It calls me deeper to God’s will for me now, for continued trust in God’s guidance as I wander onto a road less traveled, maskless. No longer will my identity be the superachiever mask, but rather, the whole of me as a child of God, the weaker parts, and the strong. I’ll slowly bring the vulnerable parts of me into the sunlight, planting my wholeness into the grounding of humility and truth.
Living a faithful life isn’t always easy. Masks will fall revealing naked shame and vulnerabilities. At times it will be agonizing, lonely and painful. But masks falling means God’s working behind the scenes, behind the curtain, trimming the branches dead on our vines, letting those fall like crisp brown leaves to the ground, letting them crumble into pure soil beginnings where new life begins in our true selves.
In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. – Ephesians: 4:22-24
What mask are you needing to shed? Can you trust God is guiding you to live an authentic life of truth?