We must be careful what we wish for when we ask someone to take off their mask. Are we truly prepared to see what’s behind it? Some masks are not mere reflections of social roles, but worn because the wearer knows (from experience) that many can’t handle what’s beneath.
Will we try to fix, solve, excuse, explain away, ignore, or disregard what we see? Or will we personalize the experience and make it about us? Such responses can hurt even more than simple rejection. It’s one thing to be told you’re broken or ugly — and altogether another to be completely ignored or dismissed.
And sometimes the mask is for our protection. The wearer knows that, for whatever reason, we simply can’t handle who/what they are.
I believe masks are as complex, diverse, and multi-faceted as the person who wears them. I think it’s even possible to wear one and not know it. Some roles and identities become so entrenched the wearer may come to believe that is who he/she is. The person has lived with it for so long that he/she doesn’t even recognize it as a mask and vehemently holds on to it as the definition of who they are.
I believe the very first mask can be traced back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve created figs to cover the shame they felt when their eyes were opened to their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). Man has from then on never truly been exposed again. Since then we’ve just been piling the coverings on, making them more elaborate and complex. I wonder, sometimes, if we can even tell the real thing from the fake.
Interestingly God didn’t take their masks from them. He accepted them and built different and more efficient ones for them (Genesis 3:21). And while they (Adam and Eve) were masked (and even while we are masked) He pursued and continues to pursue our hearts – inviting us to a place where we don’t need to hide behind a mask. A place where we can stand bare and naked – without judgment, condemnation or rejection. A place where we can be loved and accepted unconditionally in spite of what’s beneath the mask. God is less concerned with the outward personas that we adopt, as He is about what’s in our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7).
People need to feel safe to expose the inner workings of their heart. Safety doesn’t come from having someone excuse, minimise or ignore the parts we choose to share. It comes from acceptance.
Do we want to be a safe place for someone to take off their mask?
Then they need to see behind our mask. This requires us to be aware of the mask we are wearing.
What does our mask cover? Is it shame? A deep seated fear that we are, in fact, defective and beyond redemption? If so, then what is the antidote for that shame?
Only God can unequivocally accept what is behind our mask. But in His grace and power we can be a vessel for God’s unconditional love and acceptance.