The title is inspired by a song from Mandisa, one of my favorite Contemporary Christian singers, "What If We Were Real?" The lyrics speak of the masks we hide behind, with the thought provoking question, what if we took off the masks and presented our true selves to the world?
I think we all hide behind masks. Some of us have more than one. For some of us, the mask is toughness to hide what is really a soft or tender soul, or to protect us from being hurt. On the other side of that spectrum is a mask of gentility, to hide a rougher person inside that we ourselves don't like very much and believe no one else would either. Most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes in our real selves. Certainly I am guilty of it. As an example: I am a smoker. I've tried to quit three times in the last year, but still I smoke. Most of the people in my church who know me, know I am a smoker. Surely they can smell it on me. I've mentioned it a few times in asking for prayer support in quitting. But do you think I will smoke in front of someone from my church? Not even. I go out of my way to hide it. I don't smoke on church grounds, and if I smoke in my car while waiting on my daughter to come out of her Youth meeting, I am constantly on watch for someone to come by so they won't see me. You'd think I was a teenager hiding it from her parents. Why? Because I feel guilty about smoking when I am around the Church and congregation. It is a simplistic example but I mean it as an illustration. How many times do we go to church wrapped in pain and guilt and fear, but put on a strong face and pretend nothing is wrong, because we are ashamed of what we perceive as our own weakness? Because we fear that our fellow brethren in Christ would raise eyebrows or pass judgement or even show pity? When we do this, we cheat ourselves. Sure there are some congregations out there that would pass judgement or wag tongues and eyebrows, and this is very sad, because it defeats those trying to walk in faith. Yet even in close knit churches where faith is strong and judgement is largely withheld, some of us still wear the mask. I speak from experience there too. When my family was facing really dark times and I found myself back in my church looking for my faith in God and an assurance that everything was going to be okay, I wore that mask. I really didn't want people to know what I was going through. I didn't want to appear weak, I didn't want people to find fault with how we had handled things. I didn't want to wear my fear on my sleeve, though I suspect it was visible more than a time or two. Even now, after I have come to know my congregation better, I still hide my pain. I've gone to church many times, really wanting to throw myself on the altar and cry my eyes out at God's feet, but I can't do it where people will see. I can't take off that mask and show what is really going on inside.
Lets step outside of the church though. How many of us hide our faith from the world? In these days a lot of us are afraid to speak of our faith, or to talk about Jesus because it has become social taboo. Maybe we are afraid our peers will think we are weak, or call us a bible-thumper as a derogatory description. In the career market, it is almost employment-seeking suicide to state that you are Christian and/or that you are involved in your church. There it becomes a mask of self-preservation in our minds. But is it really? For that career you think you want maybe, but if your career dreams require you to hide your faith behind a mask, what does that do to your faith? We have politicians who hide behind the mask of being conservative or liberal, and pundits who make their living with speculation about whats really behind those masks. Entertainers who show the popular culture icon to the world when they are really very different people in private. Those are public masks. With more private masks underneath. How many layers of masks would we need to peel away to get to see who is really underneath?
So, what if there were NO masks? Sure, there would be some pretty unpleasant images revealed. But I wonder if the resulting overall picture would be more beautiful than we could imagine. What if we weren't afraid of being ourselves? What if we weren't afraid of leaning on our faith as publicly as we do privately. What if we were not afraid to show our brokenness as well as our joy? Maybe someone with emotional disabilities wouldn't be so afraid to seek treatment. Maybe lives and souls would be saved. Maybe truth would be something honored instead of something to hide. What if we threw the masks away. What if we were real?
Here is an excerpt of the lyrics to Mandisa's "What if we were Real" and link to the lyric video to hear the song: What If We Were Real?
I'm over hiding my tears I think I'm gonna let 'em go
I'm over acting so strong When I ain't even in control
We make it so complicated But why does it have to be?
Why can't we open our hearts And let everybody see?
We keep trying To make it look so nice.
And we keep hiding What's going on inside
But what if I share my brokenness What if you share how you feel?
And what if we weren't afraid of this crazy mess? What if we were real?
We'd think a little less of ourselves We'd care about somebody else
'Cause we'd know just how they feel
Maybe we could let someone love us
Maybe we'd be a little more like Jesus
Why can't we learn to be real?