I can still remember the Saturday night rituals at my house when I was six-years-old. My mother wound my sun-streaked ash blonde hair in what seemed like a hundred pink sponge rollers. She’d swipe her middle and pointer fingers through the sticky jar of blue Dippidy-Do, slather it on a swatch of hair, and then wind the sponge round and round. My “ouches” and winces were met with “be still” and “stop squirming.”
Why did she put me through the torture and sentence me to a fitful night’s sleep trying to find a comfortable spot to lay my head? Because the next day was Sunday and we were going to church lookin’ good. On Sundays our family drove to church, many times fighting all the way, and walked through the pristine double doors of the church with smiles and platitudes.
“How are you?” the fellow parishioners asked.
“Fine,” we mechanically replied. “And how are you?”
“Fine,” thank you.
But we were anything but fine, and I imagine that the folks on the pews beside us were anything but fine either.
My home was riddled with unhappiness. My father drank heavily, and Saturday nights were usually the worst. My mom was extremely unhappy, I was lonely and afraid, and my brother, most of the time, was just plain mad. But nobody knew. We hid it well.
What is it about church that makes us put on masks to cover up what is really going on inside? Forget the fig leaves. We’ve moved on to designer clothes, shiny cars, and smiling faces in order to attend the masquerade ball we call “church.”
Why do we do it? Is it because we don’t want to appear weak? Is it that we want to appear strong as the rock of Gibraltar even if our husband just lost his job, our son is flunking out of school, our parents are dying with cancer, and we just discovered a lump while showering that very morning?
“How are you?”
“Fine, just fine. Praise the Lord.”[tweetherder]Sometimes the church becomes our stage where we play “Let’s Pretend.” But as the audience applauds our performance, the Director’s voice grows faintly dim.[/tweetherder]
Here is a scene in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, that exemplifies what I think God longs for in the Body of Christ. The White Witch has turned many of the inhabitants of Narnia into stone statues. Then, in a valiant display of courage, Aslan, the lion Christ-like figure, pounces into the courtyard and breaths life into each of the statues…bringing them back to life. Let’s join in the party for just a moment…
The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colors; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow.
And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, braying, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.
I fear that many of our churches have turned into the stone courtyard where everyone tries to blend in and conform to the image…not of Christ…but of what others expect from church-going-folks. However, [tweetherder]Christ-follwers were never meant to be a gathering of identical statues, but of colorful, wildly wonderful individuals…real people…unmasked.[/tweetherder]
Now I know we can’t spill the beans and tell everyone who asks how we really are. Not everyone. But I am suggesting…praying really…that you will have a few people with whom you can be truly honest.
Here’s a little something a friend of mine who has Multiple Sclerosis taught me by his example. When people ask him, “How are you today?” he responds, “Thankful.” He’s not fine. Most of the time he is in pain. But oh, he is thankful. And he is honest.
Here’s my question for you today? Why do you think people put on the “I’m fine, just fine,” mask at church? And how can we encourage each other to take the mask off and live in authentic community?
One reason that God wants you to take off that churchy mask, is so that you will tell your story. Revelation 12:11 says, “They overcame him (satan) by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony (by telling their story).” No wonder the enemy wants you to keep your story hidden. He knows that God can use it mightily. Ready to start using your story to change the world? Check out my book, Your Scars Are Beautiful to God: Finding Peace and Purpose in the Hurts of Your Past, and begin the amazing journey today.
I think we put the “I’m fine” mask on because we don’t want to be judged. We live in a highly critical world. We have learned to follow what everyone else does and says. So to put ourselves out there as not being fine is more damaging to us. Rather it should be that we need to put our iniquities out there more often so that we can help each other out which would result in showing more of God’s work.
For everyone person that says they are fine, there is a lie letting the evil one in. It’s undermining God and that’s not cool.
Sites like yours help us to break out and be courageous but we need to branch out from here. I admit there are things I’ll say on here that I won’t say on other sites like facebook. simply because there are people there I don’t want medling. I do know that by doing that I paint a good facade and people think I’m doing fine. I actually had my women’s ministry director tell me once that I hold it together well. She knows all about my story so it surprised me that she had said that. If she sees the mask how good am I really doing at hiding me.
I’ll be honest, I’m not fine, I hurt, I’m frustrated, I’m scared. I’ve got a husband who is an unbeliever and is very self absorbed, a sister who is going through a really tough pregnancy and dealing with a defect in her unborn child, a brother in law who might be needing emergency back surgery only weeks to his unborn child’s due date, finances are a mess. However in all of this, I manage to look happy and altogether. I look this way for a reason. Yes to hide my ininquities but to encourage others especially my unbelieving family and friends. I want them to see that even though I have lots on my plate, I can still be happy, and love The Lord. I want God to use me as His example. I may not be a model Christian but I’ve alway enjoyed helping people feel good even in the worst moments.
Thanks Sharon for your post today. I pray it helps us come out from behind our masks.
ooop better get moving, the kids need to get up. Have a great day! God Bless all of the ladies visiting this site today. Amen.
Nancy….. your heartfelt words and honesty that you have shared with us, is so very well put. Your feelings that you have described are so very effective and greatly appreciated, Thank you. I will be praying for you and your beloved family.
dear sister praise the lord o my soul , praise the lord my beloved sister ‘IWILL SEE YOU THERE . IN JESUS MOST PRECIOUS NAME I PRAY . AMEN ! AMEN !
WITH WARM REGARDS
VEERENDHAR BORRA .REDDY
Thank you Sharon,
I am truly excited about my journey. I have been reluctant to share because most people have their own problems and don’t care to know mine. But lately I have a lot of good news to share. I will share my exciting journey with someone who needs to know how good God is. Things haven’t always been good. I’ve been through a lot! But I keep my hand in Gods hand and He has turned my life around. Praise God! Thank you for this post today!
Sharon today s words are truth filled with grace. As a pastor s wife I have grown so weary of not only my own masks but the masks of others. The example from CS Lewis was right on. Real life comes when His sweet and powerful breath of life makes us real and alive. By His grace and truth I ve buried my masks. I m praying with you that others will laythem down and walk as living testimonies of His grace filled power. Thank you. Karen p.s. I hated those pink rollers too.
I agree that we usually put on the mask because we don’t want to appear weak, or seem appear to have a lack of faith. My Grandmother (who was in much pain most of the time) exchanged greetings like this:
“Good morning Opal, how are you today?” “I’m choosing joy, and coveting prayer. And how can I be praying for you today?”
She was a wise woman of God, never phony but never burdening others with all the details of her constant pain either.
I love that!
Things are not fine and sometimes I struggle with just wanting out of life, to be done with it all. I’m a Christian so I shouldn’t feel this way, right?
There are probably no certain ways a Christian feels, we are after all human. Jesus knows our suffering. He suffered every way known to man, read Isaiah 53. It helps me to know that at least Jesus must understand our pain and I HAVE to have faith that He will see us through. I’m going through a time of sadness in my life and very disappointed that God has not answered my prayer to give me joy and a reason to live. Right now I’m just holding on (barely) to His hand and trusting in due time He will restore me.
Sadly, I think one reason we are reluctant to let people in at church is because that is the fastest way to get your struggles into the gossip mill. Oh, it shouldn’t be that way! And, usually if someone does share something really difficult or painful, most if us don’t know how to handle that I nformation or what to say to try to be of help. So our discomfort just makes the situation more awkward. Everyone needs a small number of people they can confide it. But choose carefully!
Honestly, this piece made my heart ache. I guess I’ve never considered that other people might have been going through the pain I was. Parents who didn’t love us or each other and the mask of “everything is fine” every Sunday morning. Everything wasn’t fine and it has taken me years to understand my life better. The scars will always be there, but I keep reaching for Joy and Peace that I only find in Christ. It helps. I’m blessed with a husband who loves me totally and unconditionally. He is my light and has been a shining example to me of what love can be. I am blessed.
Sharon, Thank you for your message today – I pray we can all feel comfortable to take off our masks and help and encourage one-another !
Sharon tk u for these words they always teaches me a lots concerning life thank you Sharon.
I get to tell others my story who are just like me, those bound to a life filled with guilt, shame and remorse tied together with drugs and alcohol and I’m so grateful for every opportunity! “I’m fine” no longer comes out of my mouth for I know it is a lie!
This is absolutely timely & refreshing. This is our now-need in church.
It would be alot easier to do this if people really cared about each other. I have actually tried saying “not so good today…..” And people move right on. Sadly, most of todays Christians cant be bothered with each other. Not many people want to take the time to listen to anothers troubles. So it is just easier to smile and say “fine”.
I went through extremely difficult situations with my kids: horrendous rebellion from the first born of six, to a level that I thought it would kill me. I was very honest about that, and I joked that people stayed away from me lest it be contagious. My daughter was involved with spiritually dark people and participating in the sex industry—my beautiful, first-born oldest of six, who I considered to be a gift from God. I know people thought smugly that their children would NEVER! Just after that, daughter #2 headed out of town with a boyfriend I did not really know nor trust, after graduating with honors and a scholarship to a local university. Right on the heels of that trauma, daughter #3 became pregnant. Thankfully, although her boyfriend encouraged abortion, her sisters forcefully advised her not to do so. They did remember that they were taught that abortion was not an option. They demonstrated with me at a local abortionist’s office when they were little.. (Newspaper even did a story on it.) I saw snippets of God’s grace in all of this, but believe me, church people felt for me, but I believe secretly were glad it was me and not them, and that they’d never go there with their kids. (Truth is, some of them did, and they were crying to me.) We went through the adoption of our first grandchild which was a good thing to do, but the most painful thing to watch my daughter go thru, and to be strong as her mother, when it was killing me. No grandparent wants to go through this. Yes, hallelui the baby lived, but we definitely suffered grief, and God’s grace in the midst of it. But it was still HARD. My Sunday school class was very supportive; we were very open about it. However, I did hear obnoxious/judgmental comments from Christian family and acquaintances. Other struggles happened, but the 3 boys, I felt, did not put me through the paces like the girls, and in fact, my son was a strong believer and a magnet for the other kids in youth group. The youth group was always coming to our home—what a change! The kids loved us and were so sweet! I would joke that whereas the other parents used to be grateful it was me and not them going through H-E- double hockey stick, now they wished their kids would hang out with the boys. Nice change…I relaxed. Then, my son broke down and shared that he believed he was gay. After the adoption fiasco, and the ugly things that people say, even in church, about gays, and concerned that this would be gossiped about, I have not shared this in church. I don’t want him to be hurt or us. We have a great relationship with our son; he has accepted Jesus in his heart as a child. He knows the truth. We love him where he is at. We pray for his eyes to be opened. But I don’t want people to be ugly; I can’t take it. I was also going through a horribly stressful experience with a teaching job; thought it was going to kill me. People would ask, “Hey! how are you?”, and I thought they really wanted to know. When I told them how much I was struggling in my life with the stress of my work, they never asked again. I began to miss church just to recover physically from an unimaginably stressful work week that required work on the weekend. Few called to check on me. I feel like I’m on the fringes now and burnt out on opening up and sharing the truth about my struggles. We do attend church and Sunday school, and we love our pastor and many at our church. However, I have spoken out myself about the lack of authenticity in relationships. Our church is big, and I’ve never really liked that, but it is a good church. I just believe that people are afraid to risk judgment, or worse, being ignored.
Your Post touched on such a true part of my own childhood.
Yes Saturday Nights were herendous at our home .. and Sunday Mornings worse with terrible fighting .. My dad concocted things to fight about and Mom plead to know why and what she could do to make things right .. And yes we went to church and entered the doors saying we were “Fine” too. It’s funny because Mom and us kids said we were fine out of pure shame and embarrassment of anyone finding out. But I look back and wonder how anyone couldn’t of seen it. Dad said he was fine because he was hiding.
49 Years Later Dad and Mom are still together but not because they didn’t come close to having their marriage end many times .. Mom always held things together and prayed that whatever demons dad was fighting all those years would finally be destroyed .. 15 years ago they were destroyed he is a new man .. and we are all so blessed to have witnessed his transformation ..the tough years of my childhood and youth and young womanhood .. and all those terrible Sunday Mornings were all worth it .. Underneath that tough exterior was a beautiful man that had been hiding inside his pain and expressing it in confused anger .. Once he gave up the secrets of his youth and laid them at God’s feet and expressed them to us .. it all made since and his walls came tumbling down .. Underneath that tough exterior was a truly gentle soul .. it took a while for him to crawl out of the habitual anger or wanting to start fights but with each step forward the old man feel away little piece by little piece and the true man began to appear .
Thank You Lord for all I came from because the end has been worth the beginning !
Bad Memories can sometimes become good ones ..
Thanks so much for your Post Sharon !
It’s hard to pretend but because everyone else is doing it, you do it so I won’t look crazy. It’s keeping up appearances. It’s awful. What makes it awkward is when you take off your mask and then you’re judged and hated for trying to seek deliverance.
We mask ourselves because we think if anyone really saw who we are they would not like us….. Instead we should focus on what God thinks about us.
I am sooo ready for every wonderful thing God has planned forme!!
I remember those days with pink sponge curlers and “Dippidy-Do”! Thanks for the memories, Sharon and for bringing up how a person often responds when they go to church. It wasn’t until the past few years that I actually have experienced some issues at a church that I was attending. Have moved on from that church; but it hurts when a Senior female Pastor says out loud for others to hear, “Faith, you are too shy.” Then I find out when another member from the same church called me on Father’s Day one year when I was at home, and another church member had expressed some unpleasant things as to why he didn’t want to take me along with him plus his wife to an adult’s group. It again had to do with my being quiet. When I pray about my quietness, the Lord has not taken it away. Though I am on the Honor Roll again at my current college of study, there are some people evidently who tend to believe that a quiet person is “uninteresting”. Having not been raised to look critically at others, it tends to bring pain to me; but slowly, I take it all to the Lord. It helps me when I remember Moses having problems with stuttering and his brother Aaron was chosen to be his spokesperson. Am able to give speeches in front of people at school and do well; but for some reason the people at church have said some things that hurt my soul.
Anyway, I like the responses I have read on this site today and am prayerful that the Lord will help me to be able to speak in a truthful/positive tone when others ask me how I am doing when they see me. I was taught not to tell others if I was feeling blue or ill; but as Daphna’s grandmother would say “I’m joyful and coveting prayer”, it is my yearning that one day I, too, will be able to express myself in such a joy-filled way that I will be able to lead others to Christ.
Like the truths that have been spoken here and Bonnie mentioned about people being concerned about telling others how they feel or how they are struggling – that it often turns into a gossip mill within the church. Personally, I wish others would pray more for each other and not think that God will get angry with us for praying for things that may seem small or trite in our eyes. Even if we do not agree about something that someone has asked us to pray about, I often just visualize the person and mentally walk them to the Throne of Grace, asking the Lord to touch their lives in His own Way. Isn’t it true that each of us could use God’s daily grace in our lives? To me, it sure doesn’t hurt anything to pray for the Lord’s touch on others. Oh, I know that some people may pray to hit the lottery and things of that nature; but to just pray and “Be” in the Lord’s presence seeking His hand on others probably pleases him to no end. I know, I have been very thankful to the Lord when others pray for me in their own private prayers. It is like a coating of God’s love all around me.