I’ll be honest, I hate wearing a face mask. I’ll happily do it for others around me, and I have no problem with the government mandating it, but my personal mask drives me crazy. Every time I take a deep breath, the cloth clings to my mouth, making it feel like I’m breathing through a straw. The nose piece itches, it’s hot, and I never know what to do with it when I set it down while eating at a restaurant.
While face masks are a necessary evil in our world today, my biggest issue is that I miss seeing the face of the person in front of me. Until recently, I never realized how much I naturally search a person’s facial expressions to pick up on what’s happening inside.
And they can’t see my face either. I usually go out of my way to smile at the staff behind the checkout counter at the store, or the server at the restaurant. Having worked similar jobs, I know how much that can put them at ease. But that doesn’t work when there’s a giant cloth over my face.
My mask makes me feel hidden from them, and it feels that others are hidden from me.
Wearing Masks is Nothing New
The masks over our faces may be new, but we’ve already become experts at wearing emotional and spiritual masks. Like the physical ones, we get so used to wearing them that we forget they’re on. We use them to protect ourselves, not from disease, but from each other.
These masks may not be obvious, but we use them constantly. A coworker asks how we’re doing when we get to the office. We’re torn apart inside, but we still muster a smile and reply, “Great! You?” We post photos on Instagram that make others envy our lives, while chaos is raining down just outside the frame of the shot. We walk into church with our families, putting on smiling faces, all while hiding the fact the drive up to the building was a knock-down-drag-out fight.
We do a masterful job of hiding what’s happening beneath the surface of our lives, whether it’s at church, school, or work. We’ve turned keeping others at an arm’s length into an artform. We see authenticity and openness about our issues as signs of weakness or neediness. In the church, we even view it as a sign of spiritual immaturity. In more ways than one, this attitude is killing us.
The Issues We’re Hiding
Beneath our emotional masks, things aren’t looking so good. We may pretend our lives are fine, but we’re completely faking it. Experts have suggested that loneliness in American culture is becoming a public health emergency. Even before the pandemic, 20% of Americans said they feel lonely or socially isolated. 40% of respondents said they felt that their social relationships lacked meaning. Meanwhile, anxiety and depression are on the rise. Locally the McKinney Independent School District reported a 38% increase in new mental health cases among students between 2018 and 2019, with anxiety serving as the number one concern. According to Mental Health First Aid, roughly 43 million American adults experience some form of mental illness in any given year.
Beyond that, the healthiest marriages eventually struggle. Even the best parents face roadblocks with their kids. All of us eventually feel weighed down by our sins and everyone faces failure at one point or another.
And yet, we keep the masks up. We sit in our life groups, chat with our family members, and even share beds with our spouses without ever sharing what’s really happening under the surface, spiritually or emotionally. We pretend things are fine. We choose to gut through our struggles. We face life alone.
This Isn’t God’s Design
Make no mistake, this isn’t God’s design for our lives. We were never meant to live in isolation. Our need for community is built into our spiritual DNA. In the Garden, God recognized that it wasn’t good for man to be alone and gave him Eve. Throughout the Old and New Testaments, we see the story of God working through his people, not simply just individuals.
We are wired to do life together, but authentic intimacy can’t happen if we keep our masks up. We can’t hide and experience true community at the same time. Removing that mask takes courage. It’s a brave and difficult thing to do. It means opening up and facing that ingrained fear of rejection.
So, how do we take off our masks off? Through meaningful conversations that result in true transparency. I am grateful for the guys in my life group who have modeled this well. They’ve been open about areas where they’re failing as husbands or as dads. They choose to be vulnerable. In doing so, they’ve set the tone for our group. It has become a safe space to talk about marital difficulties, anxiety, and insecurities.
When we get over the fear of being fully known, we get to experience the joy of being fully loved. And when we choose to be vulnerable, we invite others to do the same. Not only do we get to experience personal freedom, but we serve others by offering the same.
As we live in this season of physical masks, it’s time for us to take off the emotional and spiritual ones. We need each other, now more than ever. Let us have the courage to be vulnerable and transparent so that others can do the same.