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Behind the mask

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I have been wrestling lately with what it means to be in leadership, to be a mentor, to be someone who people look to for comfort and wisdom and help, when I myself am broken. One community that I have been exploring keeps mentioning the words “availability and vulnerability.” I’ve got the availability part down quite well. I make myself available to those in need as much as I possibly can.

But the vulnerability part – I’m not sure I know what it means to be vulnerable in leadership and/or ministry.

Last night I was able to get together with a few of the lovely ladies in this community that I am exploring. I had briefly met them but didn’t really know them and they didn’t know me. They asked a lot of questions to get to know me and I tried to keep up the happy face and share the joy that I was feeling as if that is continued right now. And then one of the ladies said, “Elizabeth, I can see that you are really hurting.”

Do you know how much I wanted to deny that? How much I wanted to shout out that that is not true at all? That I am fine. I was struck with no response though. I wasn’t expecting it. And then we sat down for dinner and two ladies expressed that they were sensing that this evening was really meant for me. Oh, I squirmed in my seat and tried to get out of the hot seat. And then more questions came.

I always face a dilemma when people are getting to know me. There are questions that are so easy to anticipate but I never know how to answer them. Where are you from? Do you get to see your family often? Did you grow up Anglican? Typically homeschooling comes up and that seems to fascinate people. Often if I can get it to that topic, I can avoid answering that I don’t have contact with my family and why. To an extent. The trouble is, I share a story of this amazing family – the talent, the intelligence, the giving, the large number of siblings. My family is amazing in many many ways. I have never denied that.

But unless I can divert the conversation away from me I usually get into trouble sometime along the way. Around special occasions, particularly as people often want to know if you are going home for Christmas say. Then the details don’t match up. If I grew up in a tight knit family, why don’t I have contact? If my family is so amazing and wonderful, why do I not know what is going on in their lives? Would you homeschool your kids? My answer is probably not as the danger was inside my home, and not outside.

The dilemma comes whenever there is a question that nudges at my past. Do I keep up the story and lie, or do I tell the truth and drop a bomb?

The problem with the bomb is that I never can anticipate how it will go for those around me or even for myself. The bomb still hurts within me. And particularly over the past little while, there has been much pain. But the story that everything is fine is a darn hard story to keep up.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I am young and therefore don’t have too many worries in life or something along those lines. People tend to think that I am pretty inexperienced. Just the other day I had someone tell me that youth go through difficult things – just in case I wasn’t aware of this. I guess I wear the mask well.

There’s a handful of people who know what is going on in my life these days. Life is hard. My life is hard. I don’t tell people often and I keep up the appearance – or the mask – that all is well. And in Christ, all is well in a sense. But I am just as broken and fragile as the next. I am hurting. The mask – well, it’s just that – a mask. I strive to love and be strong for others, when inside I feel terribly alone and weak.

I was thinking today about a song by Casting Crowns as it came on my playlists. This song describes me exactly. This is me – behind the mask.

Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin’ so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they’ll soon discover
That I don’t belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything’s okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I’ll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the part again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation’s open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

Is there anyone who’s been there
Are there any hands to raise
Am I the only one who’s traded
In the altar for a stage

The performance is convincing
And we know every line by heart
Only when no one is watching
Can we really fall apart

But would it set me free
If I dared to let you see
The truth behind the person
That you imagine me to be

Would your arms be open
Or would you walk away
Would the love of Jesus
Be enough to make you stay

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  1. Barb Sanjivi
    June 30, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Elizabeth I totally relate to what you said. That song is so powerful. I understand wearing a mask. I have often wondered what would happen if I took it off. I am trying to write a comment but it is hard for me. You will understand that. Wearing a mask is not good but sometimes is necessary. I think what we both need to realize is that without the mask we are acceptable. We need to learn to accept who we are. We are great people lol.

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