I told you it would happen.
Last month I wrote about the extravagance of the Met Gala and how you could expect to see all sorts of celebrities at this year’s event trying to outdo each other with ridiculous outfits and costumes. And boy, did they ever. (You can see the pictures here – if you dare.)
As I scanned the red carpet images from this year’s display of quirky opulence, I came across several attendees wearing some sort of covering or mask on their face. I’m not talking about COVID facemasks but rather the masquerade-ball type. Or, in some cases, like with actor Jared Leto, an actual cat costume complete with a cat head. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
As I scrolled through the pictures, pointing out the ridiculousness to my dog since he was the only one at my house, can I be honest? I felt convicted.
I was pointing out the “fakeness” of those in front of me, yet something inside started saying, “Jon, you wear a lot of masks, too.”
That’s called the Holy Spirit. It’s that small voice that lives inside everyone who follows Jesus, and sometimes – many times, actually – at the most inconvenient times it shows up and points out uncomfortable but essential truths to us.
The truth is that we all wear masks. We pretend. We fake it. We try to be someone or something we’re not. Or we hide. We’re ashamed to reveal our true selves, our true identity because we don’t think we’ll be accepted. We want to be loved for who we are, but we tell ourselves that “who we are” isn’t what others want to see.
So we dress up emotionally.
Growing up, I always wanted to fit in. I would try to mimic the popular kids, laughing at their jokes, trying to adopt their hobbies or even talking like them. I was scared that if they knew the real me, they would think I was stupid or, worse, they would see my brokenness and dysfunction. So, I hid. I put on my mask.
I catch myself doing it today, too. Have you ever felt that way? It’s almost like you're playing a part in a movie, and you're not even sure you like the character you're portraying.
As I’ve unpacked those masks and tried hard to take them off in my adult years, I’ve come to understand two important things:
The first is that there is power in being vulnerable. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that we can't build deep, meaningful relationships without vulnerability. Unfortunately, our masks keep us from being vulnerable. They keep people just far enough away that they can’t hurt us. They build walls. And you know what walls do? They create a lot of loneliness.
Social media doesn’t help with this, by the way. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok are essentially mask factories. And literally, those platforms provide “filters” that can even physically change the way we look! Think about that for a second. In a world yearning for true vulnerability, the most popular apps encourage us to put on emotional and physical masks to try and achieve unattainable perfection. Is it any wonder that feelings of loneliness are so prevalent these days? That walls are high? That we are the most connected generation ever and yet we feel disconnected?
Imagine what our relationships could be like if we let our guards down and showed people our true selves. If we let them see our fears, our dreams, and our quirks. We could build connections based on authenticity and love rather than fear and pretense. I think we all want that.
Here’s the second thing I’ve come to understand: The desire to be known – to be truly known – can only be fully fulfilled by one person. It’s Jesus.
Ironically, He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our thoughts, our hearts and our deepest desires. He knows the masks we wear and the lies we tell ourselves. And yet, he still loves us. Unconditionally. Our creator sees past our masks and knows our true selves. He knows our potential, our gifts and our purpose. He longs for us to embrace who we truly are and to walk with him.
The funny thing, though, is that we try to hide ourselves from him. We convince ourselves that we can either “perform” and get him to love us or that we can cover up who we really are. That’s what Adam and Eve did when they introduced sin into the world. They hid. But God found them. Hiding never works. Just like we need to be vulnerable and trust those around us, we need to be vulnerable and trust him.
You may be asking: If Jesus already knows me, why do I need to be vulnerable with him? Here’s the answer: Because being vulnerable isn’t for him, it’s for us. See, there’s something that happens inside of us when we are willing to take off our masks. When we can come to Jesus just as we are and expose our weaknesses and fears. When we stop hiding. That surrender opens us up to his transforming love. It puts us in a place of humility and acceptance. It allows us to heal.
Both those things – being vulnerable with others and with Jesus – can be scary. Trust me, I get it. I recently went on a couples retreat with my wife where every single man and woman took turns balling their eyes out as they got vulnerable. It wasn’t “fun.” But can I tell you something? Afterwards, I felt the greatest peace I’ve felt in years. I felt loved. I felt known by both my wife and by God. The momentary fear and trepidation gave way to overwhelming calm, and it was worth it.
So my challenge to you today is to take one step toward vulnerability with a friend and with God. In general, that looks like radical honesty. Be open. Say the thing you’re afraid to say. Do the thing you’re afraid to do. Be the person you’re afraid to be.
I’m telling you, there’s incredible freedom on the other side of the fear. And there’s a God waiting to tell you how much he loves you – the real you – as well.