(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Losing the Masks
By Jacqueiline Napoli
Suddenly, she stopped what she was doing, came over way too close, and riveted her eyes on me. Interesting, because up till then, she’d only belittled me and let me know what a small and insignificant person I was. But I didn’t care if she heard, so I kept talking. I was having a conversation about a pretty painful, tragic situation in my life. Suddenly to her, I’m the most interesting person in the world. This was about two years ago.
It was invigorating, and a mark of maturity, when I saw her again recently. As expected, she lit up when she saw me, drooling for nice tidbits about my imperfect life. She machine-gunned me with question after question, but this time, I was like a steel wall. “Awesome!” “Perfect!” “Amazing!” “Great!” I answered this way, even though some of the painful things hadn’t changed. What had? I learned in the space between these meetings that there are people who will take what you freely and trustingly give them, and cause you harm with it (like her). I learned to not “throw my pearls before swine, lest they trample them and turn and tear [me] to pieces” (Matthew 7:6, Berean Study Bible). Years after my counselor told me I really needed one, I finally found my “filter”. I hadn’t lied, because even in the pain, God is working it all for good, and because of that, life is actually perfect. But I didn’t give her the soft underbelly of my vulnerability. She’d surely rip it open later on if I had.
Still, the other side of the coin is, I choose to live my life mostly in vulnerability. I live transparently. I tell the truth even when it hurts. I don’t tell people I’m fine when I’m actually really hurt by them – I work it out with them. I take risks: loving, giving, opening up, feeling my feelings, investing in people on a regular basis. I don’t pretend to be perfect (unless you’re a wolf!). I admit my weaknesses and sins to other people. But where I used to be this way with everyone, now I am choosier. Even Jesus had stories he told to the masses (parables – and they were mysterious!), and secret, precious truths he reserved for his inner circle. He gave his life for all, he loved all, but he kept his treasures for those who deserved it. I want to be like that.
The word hypocrite has its origin in ancient Greece and it denotes someone playing a part, like an actor in a play. The word now signifies someone who pretends to be something they aren’t so they can have the benefits of that pretended virtue. Just like those actors wore masks, sometimes we wear masks because we are afraid that if people find out how weak and average we are, they won’t love us. We play the part of whatever we think we have to be to find love and acceptance in the world. Ironically, if we succeed, people end up loving us for someone we’re not, so the “love” is not even real! But we fear rejection so badly, we’d rather have fake, Matrix love, than to not be loved for who we truly are.
But being who we truly are is the only possible path to real intimacy. It is in our brokenness, our failures, our risks, that love, and truth can be born and flourish. Because we refuse to pretend and live out real struggles and weaknesses that we share with people who are worthy of hearing it (gentle, compassionate people who do not backstab others), we then receive love and become confidantes and safe havens to others. That is friendship. That is intimacy.