anxiety, devotional, encouragement, healing, holidays, lessons learned, midlife faith

The Mask of False Happiness

As we wrap up 2020 (who’s breathing a sigh of relief with me?), it’s a good time to reflect on our emotional health. One of the masks we women tend to don frequently is the mask of false happiness. Now, there’s nothing wrong with faking it till you make it occasionally, but we’re not meant to live that way. We’re meant to live authentically, sharing our true selves with each other in community.

When we drop a bowl on the ceramic floor, and it shatters, what do we do with it? We toss it in the trash can, of course. When the Japanese break a piece of pottery, on the other hand, they repair it with gold (do they sell that kind of superglue in WalMart?) and proclaim that the piece is even more beautiful than it was originally. Their idea is that by embracing the brokenness and flaws, the piece becomes even stronger and more stunning. This is called kintsukuroi, which means “golden repair” or kintsugi, which is “golden joinery.” Wow! 

What if we treated people like that? What if we reframed our emotional scars—instead of judging ourselves as failing at the Christian life, how about we see our scars as battle wounds of winning warriors? What if we saw those made fragile by life’s circumstances and emotional upheavals as those who needed more care—not judgment and rejection?

Then, perhaps, we would be able to take off the masks of happiness and perfection that have become so a part of ourselves that we hardly recognize ourselves without them. With the rise in mental health issues and social media comparisons, we’ve all become quite adept at putting on a happy mask. But behind the mask of “fine” lies a multitude of “not fine.” Good news: God cares for the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

What if, instead of hiding behind the mask of our fake smiles denoting a nonexistent, perfectly happy life, we put our authentic selves on display? Scary thought, I know. 

As noted by poet ee cummings, “The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.”

But here’s the thing. The emotional connections and emotional health we all long for do not lie behind the mask of perfection. They lie in wide-open authenticity. In order to be truly loved, one must be fully known. The reverse is also true; in order to truly love others, we must fully know them.

The other side of emotional health is what we believe about ourselves, which is largely based on how we talk to ourselves. So often, we talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to a struggling friend. Instead, we need to pretend the woman (or man) in the mirror is a good friend across the table at our favorite cafe. 

What we think—about others and about ourselves—matters because out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45 NKJV). 

Instead of trash talking to and about ourselves, we need to remind ourselves of what is true and right and lovely. Instead of sowing discord in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, we need to reap the fruits of the Spirit by being as gentle and patient with ourselves as we are with treasured friends.

Remember what God says about us: we are his masterpieces (Ephesians 2:10)! Not practice pieces, not discarded, broken bowls. Masterpieces to be treasured!

When we can fully embrace God’s proclamation of value and worth about others and about ourselves, then our brokenness will become beautiful, and we would no longer feel the need to hide behind the mask of perfection and false happiness. We would embrace others and ourselves with the art of kintsugi. 

Call to Action:

Pray and Reflect on the following passages in light of this week’s sermon:

  • Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)—But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”
  • Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)—For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
  • Philippians 4:8 (NLT)—And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What emotional masks have you been wearing lately and why?
  2. How can you embrace your emotions in order to become more comfortable with them and then be willing to share them (judiciously) with others?
  3. How can you make yourself a safe place for others to be their authentic selves?
  4. Make a list of your characteristics and thank God for making you the way you are—a masterpiece. 

*Note: This article was originally posted to my friend Tammy’s church blog, Beyond Sunday.

anxiety, devotional, encouragement, lessons learned, midlife faith

The Mask of Social Media Perfection: Mask Series #2

We all do it. We all post picture-perfect family gatherings, gourmet meals, and clean kitchens. 

But what lies behind the mask of perfection is the fear that our imperfections will lead to rejection.

Somehow, this social media craze has created the idea that only perfect people can be happy or that only perfect people can have friends.

But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the more we compare our imperfect lives with the perfection seen on social media, the more disenchanted we become with the blessings God has already bestowed on us. And the more we close off opportunities for true connections with other imperfect people. 

Lasting happiness doesn’t come from the one family photo when everyone’s smiling in their color-matched outfits. It comes from knowing our families are there to support us through thick and through thin. Pictures don’t capture the messy middle that’s real life, but we need to learn to find happiness in real life even when it’s not perfect. Somehow we’re afraid that if anyone saw what our families looked like and acted like behind closed doors that we’d be called out as frauds.

Sure, it’s fun to use those nifty filters to make our ordinary dinners look more delicious, but behind the mask of Insta-worthy plates lies the loneliness of a table set for one. And we would be horrified if our friends knew that on the nights we didn’t post the perfectly plated meals we ate frozen pizza, cereal, and ice cream straight out of the container. 

Somehow we’ve come to the conclusion that if our kitchens aren’t spotless, we can’t be hospitable. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Our friends need to know they’re welcome in our homes no matter how many dishes are in the sink. True friendships thrive when we know we can call a friend at 10 p.m. and ask to sleep on their couch that night. True friendships thrive when we open our doors to the neighbor for coffee even though there are toys all over the living room floor. 

The biggest lie we’ve bought into with our perfect social media posts, though, is that only perfect people can find true connections. The truth of the matter is that true connections flourish when we share our imperfections, thus inviting others to share their imperfections. 

The façade of social media fosters nothing but the danger and damage of comparison. But the openness of truthful imperfections invites what we’re all really seeking behind our masks—true connections.

So be encouraged to take off the mask of social media perfection and seek the happiness of imperfection.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

What’s one way you can find happiness in your imperfections to connect with others this week? Drop a comment below or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you!

anxiety, encouragement, grief, healing, lessons learned, midlife faith, moving on

The Mask of Busyness

Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic—masks! No, I’m not getting political or scientific, but just like we all have our reasons for wearing/not wearing cloth masks, we all have our reasons for wearing the invisible masks that hide our true selves.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been lonely lately. Sure, the whole virus thing hasn’t helped, but even before that, I was missing people. So, I thought I’d fill my evenings and weekends outside of work with busyness.

Surely if I went on enough hikes and attended enough game nights, I would find a bosom friend (think Anne of Green Gables and Diana). Surely if I attended enough Bible studies and volunteered enough, I would be more spiritual, and God would love me more, right? Surely if I ate out every other meal, I would forget that my own dining room table was set for one. 

Behind the mask of busyness lies a face of loneliness.

You guessed it. All of that busyness didn’t work. Going to all the game nights and other activities didn’t help to fill the gap left by a friend whom I no longer saw regularly. Surfing Facebook constantly didn’t fill in the gap for a lunch-time heart-to-heart talk with a close girlfriend.

Trying to be more spiritual didn’t make God love me more. He already loves me more than I can imagine. “’Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10 NIV).

Joining dating sites didn’t garner me a partner to share the ups and downs of daily life. It just emphasized the sting of rejection and loneliness—over and over again. 

Eating out all the time just made my waistline expand and my wallet shrink. And I’m still faced with the empty spot at the dining room table.

So, when I remove the mask of busyness, I’m left to face my loneliness head-on. What will I do with it? The ultimate answer to the mask of busyness is Isaiah 46:10, 

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

God is the answer for my loneliness. God is the answer for your loneliness, too. Here are five simple, practical steps to combat loneliness:

  1. Seek a closer connection with God. Being alone is the perfect time to schedule dates with the Lord to spend more time reading the Bible and praying. Look around for a Bible study to join—you’ll make some new friends in the process! Read the Psalms. David knew all about feeling alone.
  2. Write it out. Journal your thoughts to God. It is okay to feel lonely. Write about the hard stuff, but also write about the good stuff that He’s done for you in the past. Thank Him for His current provisions for you and for what He will do for you in the future.
  3. Make an effort! It’s so, so hard to reach out (so hard that I dislike that actual phrase—true story), but it is, oh, so worth it. Chances are that others around you are also wishing they had closer connections, but don’t know how to ask for them.
  4. Get involved in a ministry and/or volunteering with those less fortunate.
  5. Remember this season won’t last forever. 

God wants us to turn to Him instead of to activities to fill our emptiness. He promises to give us what we need. He is a … 

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
     is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary [lonely] in a home;
     he leads out the prisoners to prosperity (Psalm 68:5-6 ESV).

It’s time, don’t you think, to set aside our masks of busyness and seek God. He already knows us inside and out anyway (see Psalm 139). How do you mask your loneliness? Let me know, so I can pray for you!

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