As a homeowner, I look forward to trick-or-treating every year. My husband and I carve pumpkins, grab our favorite TV show, and wait with anticipation. While I’m not a fan of Halloween, I do look forward to the doorbell ringing and greeting a cast of characters with handfuls of sweets.
Rain or shine, today we will be the ones on the sidewalk going door to door with Iron Man and Superman leading the way! And while I feel like a kid again and have eagerly packed “goodie bags” for such an occasion, the activity conjures up another mask in question.
This mask is not for kids. And it is not reserved for special occasions. In fact, it seems to be worn throughout most of the year. This mask hides flaws. It misrepresents. It is the paraphernalia of an act, one that has been performed throughout the years. This mask is worn for others. This mask is mine.
Getting me to admit my masquerade has been a long time coming. I felt the effects long before I recognized the cause. Even as these words leave my fingertips, my heart flutters a little with insecurity. But I’m going to be honest with you. Because maybe you’re like me. It all started a couple months ago with Donald Miller’s book, Scary Close (awesome read, by the way). Within the first few pages I knew I had a problem. Like the author, I have been an actor on the stage of life. Performing for others in order to receive the applause of acceptance and affirmation. I rehearse my lines so I can deliver them with ease. I disguised myself and therefore deceived myself.
Maybe you do this too. Perhaps you’re an actor on your own stage, performing for the people in your life in order to get something in return: significance, love, acceptance, forgiveness, recognition, fame, fortune, the list goes on and on. Somewhere along the line we’ve all learned that we aren’t enough. That there is something wrong with us. So we overcompensate. We carefully craft a mask to wear that we know will be pleasing to others. As Miller says, we all have an ace card that, when all else fails, we know we can play with success.
It got me thinking. What is my ace card? And what’s yours? What mask have I worn over the years that has yielded positive results? That has given me the affirmation I always wanted? And then it came to me. While yours may be intelligence, humor, money, or service, mine is being “Good Enough”. Ironic, isn’t it? I want to be accepted, therefore I strive to make myself acceptable. I believe the lie that I must perform in order to be loved. I must please for people to treat me well. Only then will I be considered “ok” and “good enough”.
This way of living has taken its toll. It’s draining to try to be what everybody needs. It’s tiresome to look like you have it all together. It’s mentally taxing to pour a massive amount of energy into meeting the expectations of others. Because expectations change. It’s like trying to hit the mark of a moving target. It creates all sorts of stress, tension, paranoia, worry, anxiety, and fear. Fear of others, fear of rejection, fear of being alone, fear of being an outcast. So I strive. I perform. I sing and dance. Every day.
What an exhausting way to live. Even worse, what a lonely way to live. For how can you really have any deep, meaningful relationships if they are always rehearsed? If you cover your mistakes? If you try to hide your flaws? How will anyone ever relate? How will you ever be known?
This is the problem with the mask. We create our own drama and thus become our own antagonist. There is always a demand to meet, an expectation to fulfill, a flaw to be perfected. And though we perform our hearts out we will still feel alone, depressed, misunderstood, and unloved. Because we never reveal ourselves fully and thus remain unknown.
So what if we decided to stop pretending? What if we took off our mask? What if we let our guards down and let others in? What if we invested deeply in those around us? What if we decided to let people see the real us, ugly warts and all? What would happen then?
This was my crossroads a month ago. These were the questions that burned in my mind. The fear of rejection, isolation, and vulnerability is enough to keep you from ever taking off the mask. But here’s the truth: the mask you have so carefully crafted to protect yourself from others (and what they think of you) is actually what is hindering you from others and the meaningful relationships you desire.
So I did it. I was weary of performing on the stage I had created. I didn’t want to live behind the mask any longer. So I took it off. I stepped down from the stage. And I couldn’t believe the relief that followed. I felt free. I suddenly had more energy to pour into other things. But what shocked me the most was the acceptance I received when I stopped trying to be accepted. Instead of rejection, I received an embrace. The more honest I was about my flaws, the more grace I received. My experience was a complete reversal of what I had expected.
So remove your mask this year. Take the risk. Step off your stage. Stop performing and start being honest and open with others. It will deepen your relationships and change your life.