Placing the mask upon her face, she transformed before me. With just the tiger costume covering her little 5-year-old body, her demeanor remained the same. It was as if she had just put on her favorite cozy, fuzzy, winter pajamas. But, once she pulled the tiger mask down to cover her smooth, silky skin, she had changed. My daughter went from being her spunky, silly 5-year-old self, to a stalking, prancing, fierce tiger in the jungle. And, all it took was the mask. She began behaving differently from that moment on. From a distance, I couldn’t even tell she was the child I had studied so closely from the time I first laid eyes on her. Holding true to her character, she remained a tiger throughout her performance. Finally, the show was over and she escaped the cover of the tiger’s mask and head. I spotted the ear to ear grin I always see after a performance. She bounded over to us with all enthusiasm. The tiger was gone and our girl was back.
Those masks. We carry them everywhere with us. Pulling them out when a friend calls. Or, when we go to school or work. Walking into an interview. Talking to the cashier at the store.
Even, when we enter church. The place we are encouraged to sing about grace. To lay our burdens at the cross. To seek and find freedom. Yet, the mask comes on.
The other day, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Within minutes, she was sharing the most difficult part of her life with me.
“My son is addicted to drugs,” she said bluntly and her shoulders lowered. Her mask was down.
“Oh, is it bad?” I asked looking her straight in the eye.
“It’s really bad. We almost lost him a few months back,” she swallows hard. Taking a deep breath, she continues, “I really thought it was the end. It’s heroin. It’s so bad. The police picked him up last week. They don’t usually keep them, but this time they did. Now he is in jail.” The mask drops to the ground as she tells his story.
Suddenly, she startles. Looks up at me. “Wow. I must really feel safe with you. I don’t normally tell people all of this. In fact, I have hardly told anyone. When I do, they just look at me and I feel…” her face trails off, and she considers picking up the mask.
“Shame,” I finish for her.
“Yes! Shame. I feel shame. Sometimes they say things that make me feel judged. Or, they judge my son.”
“It could happen to anyone,” I say. Her mask stays down.
“Yes!” she exclaims with tears in her eyes. “When they say it’s an epidemic, they mean it. It’s everywhere.”
“But, Lisa, if you could pray for him…” her voice fades with little hope.
“Yes, I will pray for your son. And, you know what, I will pray for you, as well,” she melts with tears and a beautiful vulnerability.
The Spirit was moving me to pray right then and there in the middle of the busyness when we were interrupted. And, as quick as a flash, she replaced the mask, complete with a smile and she was off to her next errand.
I hope to see her again. I pray that she was encouraged and her load was lightened even the slightest bit by laying aside the mask, even just for a moment. I hope she’ll trust again.
I also pray that the Spirit would lead me in the way of Jesus. Not to judge or shame. But to listen with love and compassion. To show my friends and family they are safe with me.
When the hurting came to Jesus, He didn’t share a Bible verse with them. He didn’t judge. He didn’t turn them away.
Matthew 5 shows us His heart for the hurting,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.”
As Christians, we are not called to judge, shame, or condemn. But, our great commandment is to love. Read the Gospels and read the accounts of Jesus healing, forgiving, loving. Let that be fresh in your heart as you face the day today. Show someone you are safe and watch their mask fall.
Our world is so desperate to lay down the mask and receive love.