Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why Masks Stunt Growth

    I was rereading a book I read quite a while back tonight, and some of the thoughts I read make much more sense now than they did when I first read them during the first few weeks of my journey toward grace. Then, they were a little too complex and a bit beyond me. Tonight, they were a great reminder, and I thought I would share them here since in a way, it went along with my last post.

    So, radical grace changes our thinking in two ways. 1.) It changes how we think of God. God is no longer "over there", separated from us by our sin. God is not dutifully loving us but not really liking us. God is, in fact, desirous of a relationship and passionately loving of us, with an affection that does not change, not when we're behaving rightly or wrongly. 2.) It changes how we think of ourselves. We're no longer sinners who get just enough mercy for God to overlook my sin and let me slink into heaven. Instead, we're beneficiaries of God's own righteousness. We lack nothing in the way of righteousness to make us blameless before God. We're perfect.

    But how does that affect us? Well, when we live in guilt and shame because of our old understanding of God and ourselves, we have to wear a mask so we measure up to the standard, right? We have to pretend to be righteous, or to have temptation beaten, or to pray more than we do, or any number of things. Our shame compels us to keep up appearances of being something we're not so that people will see us in the way we desire them to see us; more truly, in the way our guilt dictates we will be loved if they see us this way.

    It all comes back to our desire for comradeship and love. We are designed to want love, and our guilt tells us that our sin makes us impossible to love. So we fashion masks to cover our sin, to make us as lovely as possible, as desirable as possible, in a desperate effort to be good enough to earn love, whether it be God's or other people's. We wear our masks to cover up our faults, our sin, our feelings of never measuring up. We try to cover up our pasts, our current struggles, our temptations in the desperate fear that if people really knew what we were really like, no one would want us.

    That's the lie our guilt tells us. But what our guilt never tells us is that no matter how much a mask may be accepted and loved, the person underneath will never feel that love and acceptance, because the real us was never the one loved and accepted. Only the image we decided to put forward can be loved. Without the vulnerability of honesty, of both our light and dark sides, there can be no true friendship.

    Our guilt makes us wear our masks to cover up our dark side, but that guilt only controls us because we have not yet grasped the truth of who we are and who our Savior is. With that realization, we can place reckless confidence in who our Savior is and who we are in Him. We are righteous, perfect, whole, and blameless, on our worst day.

     Thus, the truth of who we are is not something we must hide. In fact, with our confidence in our new identities in Christ, we can be open with who we are, who we really our, both our victories and our struggles, our defeats and triumphs. There's no need to pretend, no need to cover up, no need to protect, no need to insulate. When the mask comes off, we're free to love and accept love. That's where real friendships begin.

    Real friendships begin when people become vulnerable, when the masks come off, when you know another person knows the darkest truths about you and loves you anyway. You kindle strong, deep friendships when someone else knows your darkest side, yet loves you, regardless. In fact, they want to know your struggles, even that side of you that's kept hidden behind the mask, so they can love you deeper and stronger. Real friends are the ones who pull off our masks, let the world see who we really are, who see exactly who we are, and love us anyway.

    The Cure poses a question I ran across again tonight. "What if there was a place so safe that the worst of me could be known, and I would discover that I would not be loved less, but more in the telling of it?" That, ladies and gentlemen, is what can never happen when we wear impenetrable masks that hide who we really who, that push a veneer of perfection or of togetherness to the forefront. Masks can't love or accept love. Only the vulnerable can love and be loved.

     Masks stunt our growth by choking us off from fellowship, from deep friendships. Yes, they protect us from hurt, from those who would judge us by our failures, but they also shield us from experiencing the love we were designed to experience and the relationships we were designed to foster. We were created to be real, and in Christ, we are free to be that way. Our guilt tells us to cover up; my confidence in Christ tells me to proclaim who I really am to the world so that the entire world can see Christ in me, as the One who loves me through it all.

     Real relationships are free to happen when we are free from guilt and recklessly confident in our identity in Christ, enough so that we feel free to let our guard down, first with a person, then two, then three, then a circle of people. We drops the masks and embrace the loving and being loved that comes with genuineness. I ran across another little tidbit of truth that just about knocked me down tonight while rereading The Cure.

     Speaking of a life that radically embraces our new identities in Christ and dares to live without a mask, "Once you imagine it, you can start to consider the risk and reward of it. Once you can consider it, you can begin to believe it. Once you can believe it, you can begin to risk trying it out. Once you try it out, you can begin to enjoy it. Once you can enjoy it, you will find others to join you. Once someone joins you, others will follow. And once others follow... well, you get where this is going.

     "So, here we are, daring to risk believing that His arm is around us, and He is not embarrassed or disgusted. Maybe I'm beginning to grasp the concept, for moments at a time, that I have, at this exact moment, all of God I'm ever going to get here on earth. And to enjoy it and avail it, all I have to do is trust! We feel seditious and frightened to even imagine thinking such a thing. But there it is. And now the fun begins."

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