I would watch as everyone donned costumes of fairies or vampires or Jedi (it seems to have been mostly Jedi the last two years) and pounded the rainy ground on October 31. They’d walk along the dark, gridded streets, collecting energy pills like a breezy outdoor Pac-Man game, and I thought those were their masks.
Before that, I’d come to church and sit amongst everything I am trying to become. Wise, selfless, surrendered believers. Countryside middle-classers. Leaders who understand how to influence people, how to get stuff done in a community. Couples in the glow of early parenthood who somehow show up to service perfectly coiffed and groomed despite the tribe hanging off their arms. Older families who have already raised their tribes into true-blue adult disciples (a more mammoth task every decade). Decent, hardworking folks who seem to be doing just fine.
And I’d think they were the unmasked. Nothing to hide, no need to hide.
And, by extension, I’d assume that I wasn’t cutting it. How could I be, since they were accomplishing so much more than I?
Then a funny thing happened: I got older. Over the course of time, I got to know these people better. And they did this amazing thing, something far harder than anything I’ve mentioned.
They started removing their masks.
Sometimes willingly in friendship and honesty, sometimes when circumstances forced the reveal, but the unmasking was real.
Turns out those placid smiles are cover-ups as surely as the makeup on them. Those leaders are exhausted, out of ideas, and hiding it well. That couple is actually in the middle of a vicious spat, with Sunday morning the forced truce. The middle-classers are paying an awful lot of taxes on their possessions and finding little real life in them. The successful parents are stunned at their success, familiar as they are with failures I cannot see, and heartbroken at releasing those kids to college. The disappointments of the Fall find each of us.
And to hide them, we don fig leaves called smiles.
Masks. Masks everywhere, the moment we leave our houses.
Holy Toledo. It’s Halloween 365 days a year.
But masks don’t fool God. Nor do they need to.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Someone once said that the definition of love is someone seeing you at your ugliest and saying, “I’ll stick with you anyway.” God does this. He has seen you at your very worst, seen you for exactly what you are, and is not going anywhere. He is entrenched and committed to working with you.
There’s another quote that keeps making the rounds on my Facebook feed, and it’s probably for good reason:
“Jesus has absolutely no interest in making you more like the person you keep comparing yourself to. He wants to make you like himself.” – Stephen Miller
That’s true. But another one of the reasons God’s not interested in turning you into the person you idolize, is because that person doesn’t actually exist. You’re seeing a mask, or a composite of the mask and the person.
And this fact is wonderful. It is a freeing mercy.
Why, you ask?
One of the best things that ever happened to me was an old friend taking off his mask. He was a real popular guy in high school, so at first I could chase the illusion that all I needed was what he had. But then he revealed his struggles – strikingly similar to mine. “What do you mean you sometimes feel like you don’t have a friend in the world? You’re the life of every party!” I squawked from my position at the opposite end of the social totem pole. He shook his head. Popularity wasn’t neutralizing the Fall for him.
I had a lot to learn about masks. And the education was liberating. Instead of seeing the world as people that either made it on their own power or didn’t, I started seeing a level playing field of grace. Talents and blessings don’t save. Every one of us is either indwelt richly by Christ, loved and empowered by him, or not.
Thank God. I’m not the only one hiding. I’m not the only one falling short.
Whoever you’re comparing yourself to, if that person has found anything that can legitimately be called life, they’ve found it in Jesus. The same Jesus who conquered death to make himself available to you. Every Christian, of any station, has equal access to the only thing that anybody needs.
Take off your mask for someone this week. Tell them about how Jesus isn’t put off by what’s beneath it. It will do them a world of good.