Masquerade! Paper faces on parade…Masquerade! Hide your face, so the world will never find you! (Phantom of the Opera)
I glanced in the mirror, then quickly looked away. There was just too much raw reality looking back at me. I grabbed my makeup brush and furiously swept powder over the canvas of my face to hide what was there. Exhaustion. Vulnerability. Self-loathing. Pain.
A little more color around the eyes, I thought, so no one will actually look into them. I then dressed carefully. It would not do to give any clues to my true frame of mind. Perhaps a few shiny baubles to detract from my face, and…viola! The perfect mask with empty eyes stared at me from my reflection.
In my last post, I confidently shared my no-guilt lifestyle and how you too can be free of the shackles of this misplaced emotion. I have written several times about silencing the voice of your inner critic. Yet, this past week or so, I have felt more guilt and listened to more lies from my inner voice than I’m comfortable admitting to. Truth is, I didn’t even realize it was happening.
When I make my children forage for dinner because I just don’t feel like cooking, I do not feel guilty. When I need to back out of a commitment because I am ill, I am perfectly at peace. When I must say no to some good endeavor because my schedule is full enough, I feel good that I know my own limits.Those are all acceptable reasons to fall short of supermom status. No guilt. No inner struggle.
But this thing is different.
I have flare ups of pain. Pain in my hands, my toes, my knees, elbows, upper back muscles…well, just about everywhere. Not all at once usually, but it travels randomly and strikes with no warning. It usually starts out as aching in several joints, lasting for days or weeks. If it is a bad bout, it will progress to include muscles and even more joints. It is quite depressing when it lasts too long.
When it is so bad that I can’t get dinner on the table I am wracked with guilt. When I must back out of an engagement because I need to go home and lie down, I am ashamed. When I must say no because the thought of saying yes to one more thing makes me want to weep in exhaustion, I am disgusted with myself.
Recently, I was at the end of my endurance, feeling sick and overwhelmed. Then, like rays of sunlight bursting through a bank of thick, dark clouds, clarity struck. I could see what I was doing to myself. I could clearly hear the voice of my inner critic whispering lies, steeping me in guilt. How could I have missed this when I have written on these things so often? Why have I allowed that inner monologue to run rampant, creating this undeserved condemnation?
I’ve been pondering why this is different. Why do I feel such guilt and revulsion just because I hurt? I suppose there are a few things. For one, I have no control over this. These bouts come and go with no discernible pattern. I find this lack of control terribly embarrassing. Or perhaps it is pride. It is only pain, right? I should be strong enough to pull myself up and deal. After all, I know that many of you are coping with far more debilitating physical issues than mine. I think though, that most of all, it is fear. Fear that you, my friends, will think I am weak. Or crazy. The doctors can’t figure out what this is. My own hours of research have yielded no good leads. My illness is no illness at all, and this shames me.
So I hide. I put on my mask every morning and I smile. I make sure my children don’t know how much I hurt because I refuse to let them grow up with only memories of a sick mommy. But I have to confess, I get so very tired of pretending sometimes.
Masquerade! Every face a different shade…Masquerade! Look around—there’s another mask behind you! (Phantom of the Opera)
I know that some of you are wearing masks too. We mask our pain, our depression, our hard life situations and pretend that all is well. I suppose that to some extent, it is natural to put on the facade. In fact, I daresay that in some ways it is a good thing. After all, if we exposed our naked emotions at all times, it would alarm and distress others as much as if we were to go streaking past them. Maybe more so! But still, I find in myself a longing for more reality in my relationships.
It’s hard to be vulnerable, isn’t it? Many of us have been burned. Betrayed or misunderstood, we become unwilling to allow others into our private pains. Yet we desperately need to have someone come alongside and help. To be like Aaron and Hur, holding up Moses’ arms until the battle is finally won.
I finally let a few close friends in on my secret. I let them know that I was at the end of ‘being okay’. And guess what? Not a single one shunned me. No one told me I was being a whiner and to put my big girl panties on. None of them told me I must be crazy. Instead, they showed me what friendship is. They covered for me when I needed to go home. They watched my kids at the park so I could nap. They prayed for me and gave me hope that maybe I’m not such a loser after all.
What if we all tried a little more honesty? Now please hear me; I am not advocating emotionally flashing or verbally vomiting on people. But what if, when asked, “How are you?” you were to honestly answer. Would the sky fall if you admitted that you need a hug, or someone to pray with you? I think not.
Our loving Creator has put us together for a purpose. We are to walk together through this sometimes ugly and messy existence. Allowing others to safely bare the scars of living gives us opportunities to speak words of hope and life. By being vulnerable ourselves, we give others the opportunity to serve us in our need. Our burdens are lightened. True connection happens. Only then can we fully share in the beautiful moments. To feel the fullness of friendship. Ultimately, the world will look on, and know by our love that our God lives.
Lord, help me to end the masquerade. Give me the courage to set aside my pride and allow your people to lift me up when my strength fails me. Let me hear only your voice, and to not bear the unfounded shame and guilt that the enemy would heap upon my heart. Give me eyes to see your precious ones who are drowning in silence, and give me your love to lavish upon them. Let us show the world how this is done. Amen.