Updated: Oct 5, 2018
"Are you willing to take off your mask?" Pastor Michelle asked, leveling her gaze at our group of thirty or so ladies. You could have heard a pin drop. "Tempting," I thought. "But no. I know this psychological ploy. You want us to go from meet and greet to bawling on each other's shoulders in the space of 48 hours. No thanks, not happening." Already leery of ladies conferences and retreats, here I was, up in the Adelaide hills of South Australia, trying to get through this thing. And we had only just started. In a loving yet challenging tone, Michelle asked the question again. "But I like my mask." I continued to argue with her in my head. "And besides—I need it, especially in situations like this, for mingling and all that." Mine was a nice, non-threatening and generally friendly mask—the Switzerland of masks. So I knew I had one. It wasn't a half-face, Phantom of the Opera style one however, but a full face mask. I didn't know it at the time, but I was emotionally and spiritually sweating, dying under mine.
What's Your Mask?
What about you—is there a "mask" that you have been wearing? The enemy loves to put masks on women, to make them feel like what what is under the mask doesn't measure up. I call this "spiritual fraud syndrome." The whole aim of this strategy is to isolate women from each other and keep them from being powerful and free together.
Ever had this happen to you? You walk away from catching up with friends. The catch up went great, you had a good time, are feeling great, and then you hear that voice— "You idiot. Why did you say that? Why don't you just keep your mouth shut next time. You're a fraud!" And you could swear that's it's your voice that you are hearing. The problem is, it IS our voice, but with a lot of coaching from the enemy over the years.
Why Do We Wear Masks?
There are many reasons we wear masks, but the foremost is self-preservation. Experience teaches us and situations seem to confirm that in order to survive, we need to keep that mask on. Maybe you're a pastor's wife who has learnt that agreeing with everyone, being the pacifist, is the key to survival. Maybe you are the wife of an evangelist like me and have learnt to be self-reliant, hesitant to ask for anyone's help, lest anyone think you are "not coping." Perhaps your mask has been to be the "nice girl"—the one who always helps and lifts others up, always out of compulsion, never free to say no. These masks always come from a place of fear—"but if I am not the pacifist there will be backlash, if I am not self-reliant, they will think I am weak, if I say no they will reject me..."
See the common thread? Masks are designed to protect and deflect and are usually rooted in the fear of man. The sad thing is, when we wear them we rob others of receiving from the purest, truest part of who God created us to be.
The Layers Start to Come Off
She was tall, with long dark hair. As she mingled effortlessly with others, she literally seemed to sparkle with wit and intelligence. And it looked like she was coming over to sit next to me. "Oh please, oh please, oh please...nooo..." I prayed silently. Too late. She sat down next to me and I was obliged to converse. It was break-time at the Gathering of the Generals Women's Gathering and we were in a restaurant, seated around a huge rustic table. To my surprise, I discovered that my stylish friend was actually very down to earth. Lisa, a pastor's wife, spoke openly about some of the challenges that she and her husband were facing in their ministry journey. "You know," she said, as we wrapped up lunch, "you're going to think I'm a weirdo, but I'm going to share this with you anyway. When we arrived at the Gathering, you walked in the room and I thought (x, y, z) about you. I thought, wow, she must be someone important. I was totally intimidated."
I nearly choked on my organic eggplant parmigiana. "Me?"
"Yes, I thought you wouldn't be interested in talking to me." Lisa said.
"You're not going to believe this." I said. "But...I thought exactly the same things you just said, when you walked in."
We grinned, suddenly feeling like a pair of superheroes who had uncovered the enemies scheme. Honesty had won.
Over the next two days, God kept working on me, using the women around me to strip off the many layers I had been hiding under. He used my bubbly room mate, Camelia, to strip off insecurities as she courageously shared some of her past with me. He also used the lovely Denice, a straight-talking pastor from Western Australia to show me how to speak with conviction, without fear.
Every time a layer peeled off I cringed, waiting for others to back off. I was absolutely astounded therefore, when they did just the opposite. Our little band grew close in those couple of days. Oh, and—to my absolute horror and utter relief—on the last day I found myself sobbing on another woman's shoulder!
I learnt in those two days that fear kills intimacy, but humility releases it.
How do I Get This Thing Off?
"Well, that's great for you." You might be thinking. "You had a supportive group of women around you and the perfect setting to be vulnerable. But what about me? How can I start to 'take off my mask?'" If this is you, don't worry—the process is different for each person. God already has a tailor-made journey to freedom lined up for you. You just need to be willing to commit. There are also some practical steps that you can start taking, right now;
1) Take out the "trash."
Repent where the Holy Spirit leads you—you might, for example, feel led to repent of the fear of man, or of pride (often the real culprit behind our attempts to look like we have it "all together"). Understand that fear of man is often actually false humility, just repackaged—it is a type of pride that makes us feel like rubbish, even as we attempt to project an airbrushed version of ourselves.
2) Baby steps.
It may not be desirable or even wise to rip off the whole "mask" at once, and it is worth noting that there are naturally people we have varying degrees of emotional intimacy with. This has nothing to do with authenticity though— there are things, for example, you would never reveal to your whole congregation but would only tell a couple of trusted friends, your "inner circle." No matter what level of trust you have with given people however, you are called to be authentic with them in different ways. To those two women in your congregation who are determined to sabotage the life out of every project God gives you, being authentic might look like taking a stand and using the authority He has given you. To those young women you mentor, God might be calling you to help set them free with your story, shared with humility and courage. Ask God what "taking the mask off" looks like in your life, in each given situation.
3) Get used to how it feels without your mask, and determine to keep it off.
If, like me, you have been accustomed to walking for years with a mask on, know that when you first take it off the experience will most likely feel terrifyingly vulnerable. You can get past this however, by understanding that you are a better person without it—and that to continue to wear it is to deny who God created you to be. Know that the enemy will try and do anything in his power to get you back under that mask, but determine to continue your journey into greater authenticity and personal healing. There will be setbacks, but don't be discouraged. Learn to identify the voice that cries "fraud" and tell it to shut up, in Jesus Name! Replace the lies you have been told about yourself with the truth of the Word of God.
4) Help others get their masks off.
You can do this by leading the way with your own transparency and by being willing to get involved other women's "worlds". Don't be satisfied with the status quo—sometimes we can embrace the superficial simply because it is comfortable and familiar, or out of habit. Be prepared to leave discussing the mundane behind in order to go deeper with others—learn to ask the right questions, led by the Holy Spirit. By doing all these things, you will create a safe space for other women to blossom.