I meet with a group of men on Thursday morning. They are good guys, every one of them. Varied backgrounds, ages, and places in their Christ journey. They speak to me every week, teach me things, challenge me to do better, be better. They have become brothers. Some days we wax eloquent with deep, theological discussions. Other times we spend a lot of time talking about the Boston Red Sox and the difference in real hardwood floors and laminate. One thing is consistent though, I never go away from that group feeling judged or condemned or less than. Sometimes I am confronted. Sometimes some error in my thinking (or doing) comes to light. But it is without guilt or shame or blame. See some stuff. Point it out. Leave it in God’s hands and go on.
We all need a group like that. Don’t we? Aren’t we all a little hungry for a place where we have nothing to prove and nothing to hide? I think there is buried down in the DNA of all of us this little (or not so little) voice that is screaming out the truth about us.” I’m scared. I have doubts. I don’t get this right very often. I hate myself sometimes. I hate God sometimes. I just want to be accepted.” Have you ever heard those things? Maybe coming from inside of you? And our little voice screams them out, desperately wanting to be heard but scared to death that somebody might listen.
The fear of that becomes a shell, a mask that we hide behind. We bump into each other in the hallways, “How ya’ doin?” “Fine, Fine. I’m just fine.” We stop by the water cooler, “Everything okay in your life?” “Oh, yeah. Good. Good. It’s all good.” The muffled little voice behind our mask says, “No its not. It hurts in here.” And we clamp our hand over our inside mouth and smile, “Have a good one.” I have come to say, maybe too much, that the deep need of the human creature is to know and be known. Yet I also believe that the darkest fear of the human creature is the fear of knowing and being known. What if they really knew I struggle with this? What if they could see that I’m not what they think?
We’ll, I don’t know. What? You were expecting some profound wisdom? I don’t know what would happen if we really knew you. We might not like you. We might turn away in disgust, or gasp in disappointment. We might reject you completely and make you feel like the miserable failure you already are. Or…
Or, we might find the courage in your transparency to drop our own masks. We might say, “I am so grateful that you said that. I struggle with the very same thing.” We might throw our arms around you and say, “Welcome home. I have been there too and I thought I would never get out.” Who knows what would happen if we started telling the truth. We might connect on some level that only God has imagined for us. We might become a community of vulnerability, an open, safe, honest place where anyone could speak the truth, be real, stand naked (it’s a metaphor) before God and a group of people that love you and say, “This is who I really am and I am so glad to be able to say it.”
In Romans 8:19-21 (remember Fridays @ 8. You thought I forgot didn’t you? Oh, quit judging.) In Romans 8:19-21 Paul says that in some sense the whole world is hungry to see us do that. Now I know he is speaking eschatologically (impressed?) on some level but he is also addressing the here and now. Verse 19, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons (and daughters) of God to be revealed.” In verse 22 he talks about the hope that “all of creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The whole earth groans and waits for you and me to finally start being, well, you and me. Not some pious, preacher voice, always have the answers, and a scripture verse for every occasion ambassador for the Happy Place. No, what they want, what we want, are people who are free, who walk in the full, abundant, joyful life that Christ gives us but in a genuine, real, honest to goodness way. True Christ followers who can say, “I don’t know about the future (and that is scary) but I know who holds the future in His hands. (and that is GOOD!)
I waiver between to faces neither one of them really me. The one mask, on my good days, is smiling from ear to ear and every time you pull my string says, “Well praise God, Thank-the-llujah. Everything is hunky dory.” The other face is frozen into a frown of despair. I wring my hands. I fret and fume and hopelessly cry, “What are we going to do?” (Ever seen me there?) Neither one of those is the real me. Paul says I am free. Jesus says I have abundant life. My running shirt says I may be slow but I’m ahead…. Oh, wrong shirt. My running shirt says I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Now that is freedom.
So, here’s the deal. What about deciding to be real? What about taking off the mask and living life in the glorious freedom of the children of God, sometimes confident, sometimes afraid, sometimes on top of the world, sometimes lower than a snakes belly, but ALWAYS sure that He loves you, that He is really good, and that He is large and in charge. Woohoo! I can be free in that. I don’t have to fake it till I make it. I don’t have to toe the line, or suck it up, or put my best foot forward. But I do have the unbelievable joy of knowing that ‘my redeemer lives,” that He “loves me with an everlasting love.” And that I am His child, saved by grace, full of hope, and able to be far more than I ever dreamed possible because “Christ in me is the hope of glory.”
Sound good? It takes practice. It might be frightening at first but you’ll get the hang of it. Take a deep breath pull off your mask and say “Hi, my name’s Mike…” I suggest starting with a group of guys on Thursday morning….you’ll fit right in.