Taking off the Mask

 Jan Antonsson


The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

January 30, 2014

Neosho, MO 64850 

“The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name”  (Isa. 49:1).

The subject of masks as they pertain to human interaction is interesting to me, and I was reminded of it by an e-mail I received from a dear friend whom I’ll call Sarah, not her real name.  She wrote that the Ladies’ Day Program at her church is to be entitled REFLECTION:  WOMEN TAKE OFF THE MASK, and asked if I could recommend any scriptures which would pertain to the topic.  

The scripture she supplied was an excellent start:   “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart”  (I Sam. 16:7).  And if any one reading this is going to tell me they’ve never worn a mask or been around others who do it regularly, I would have to refer to  Jeremiah’s sad commentary, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?”   (Jeremiah 17:9).

This is not a treatise on the sorry state of human nature, because who could be surprised or shocked at that given what we see on the News everyday?  Rather, it’s an invitation to all of us to follow my friend’s excellent suggestion.  She wrote,

“For the past few months, my frequent prayer is “Lord, show me my real self.”   I seem to be different than others when it comes to being what I believe is my authentic self.  People will feel the same but they are too afraid to speak-up when it counts, fear of not being accepted…yikes!  I have to remember, everyone is not as out spoken as I am.  I know God alone can shine the light into the dark places of all of us. 

I’m just frustrated with people that talk, talk, talk  about love, forgiveness, as they adorn  themselves with the robe of self righteousness…but refuse to speak to or forgive others.”  End Quote.

Her comments took me back instantly to the time when I was bitterly made aware of the mask I had been wearing.  One of the elders at the church I attended conducted the Wednesday night prayer meeting.  He and his wife were having marital difficulties; enriched by a Ph.D. in Divinity and Psychology, he was big time into group dynamics, and “touchy-feely, feel-good”  meetings.  The goal was to share our inner turmoils and trials, and receive prayer, encouragement and hugs from the group, which in this case, consisted of our church members.

His wife joined him at the front of the sanctuary and together, they prayed for each other and for anyone in the audience who had a similar need.  I had gone back to the nursery to check on my daughter who was about 2 years old at the time, and when I was returning to the auditorium, I was stopped in my tracks at the elder’s request, “If you are having trouble in your marriage, come down to the front and let us pray for each other.”

My first marriage would have had to improve to reach the dreadful stage, and my husband and I were miserable, each blaming the other.  I remember standing at the rear of the auditorium, looking through the glass partition, and thinking, “There’s no way I can go down there.”  I needed to; I wanted to; but I could not.  The mask I was wearing forbade me from sharing that kind of weakness and sorrow with anyone else.  So, I stood back there with the tears rolling down my cheeks, drowning in my own failures, but unable to share them because the mask was so firmly in place, that I feared removing it would kill me.

I grew up in a very legalistic, sectarian, Fundamentalist church, which purported to care about sinners, and talked a good game of forgiveness, but the reality appeared to be that only good people need apply for membership there.  That was how I perceived it;  thus, they would have been the last place I would have shared my marital woes.  My first husband and I had moved from Neosho, where we met and married, lived in Houston, TX, for about four years, and then moved as a result of his job transfer to Thousand Oaks, CA.  

While this new congregation was much more liberal in their thinking and certainly a LOT more loving, nevertheless, you can’t undo decades of programing by an elder’s invitation to come forward and confess your great failures in the marriage arena. After the divorce, it was confirmed: I was a failure.

Looking back on it, I can see it was the beginning of God’s continuing effort to teach me to trust in Him, rather than in my own ability to take care of anything.  He was showing me what a phony I was, and how shaky the conditional version of His love on which I stood, really was.

I had learned watching others and concluding from sermons we were subjected to, that the main thing was we had to be Good Christians all the time, and if we weren’t, we were to “fake it until we made it.”  I hate that phrase unto this day because if you can’t make it (and I couldn’t so far as my marriage at the time was concerned), you are just a fake, pure and simple.

In fairness, it is not just church groups which operate this way, but many other secular groups do as well.  I have always shied away from women’s church groups because I don’t fit in.  I’m a square peg trying to fit into a round hole and it has never worked.  That’s OK.  I’m over being worried about it, but the other reason these groups make me uncomfortable is because I can never figure out what the play book calls for.  In the beginning, I always felt insecure and inferior to other women, especially church women,  who seemed to have it all together, showing me how far behind the eight ball I really was.  The reality is that others played the game and wore their masks better than I did.

Like my friend who wants God to show her who she really is, I wanted that for myself, and have come to the place in my old age, where I know who I am, and it’s OK because God loves me just the way I am.  Back in the early 70s, a book came out with the title,  I’m OK; You’re OK.  It turns out, that this title expresses the spiritual truth which delivered me from my angst and helped me get over myself.  

We are all who God made us to be.  The Psalmist wrote,  For thou didst form my inward parts; thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are thy works! Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them”  (Psalms 139:13-16).

Don’t you find it wonderful and draw strength from knowing that God knows us “right well” and loves us anyway?  Our days were numbered and written in His book before we experienced any of them.  We are NOT responsible for who we are and how we turned out.  He bears the responsibility for it all.  My beloved Lenny used to say when someone was complaining about something in their life, “It’s all God’s fault.”  That was not meant as disrespect for our Heavenly Father, but his version of  Paul’s mind blowing statement found in Rom. 11:32:  “For GOD has consigned (penned up) all men to disobedience that He may have mercy upon ALL!”  That estimation of  the spiritual or not so spiritual condition of us all really is the wind beneath my wings progressively, continuously, and always, and it is the reason that we dare to take off our masks as we bask in the “sonlight” (pun intended) of His love.  God’s unconditional love gives us the courage to take off our masks.  And, it causes us to rejoice with Paul: 

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever!”  And we all say,  AMEN!

Jan and Lenny (in spirit) Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, Mo 64850  (Snail Mail)

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