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Masks and Our Authentic Selves

Masks and Our Authentic Selves

Through the years, I have noticed that people wear psychological or spiritual masks in order to project Christian personas. In church, some hide behind dressy clothes, vegetarian meals, or tradition, ritual, and ceremony with long prayers and rigid rules. People present the very best of themselves in church and around other Christians, lest they be seen for who they are—imperfect human beings. Rather than being characterized by authenticity and recognizing a need for grace, people often come disguised in cloaks of righteous works.

I have met genuine people, of course—people who know themselves and their need for restoration and healing. But generally, many seem satisfied going through the motions of performative religiosity. 

While in private it is easier to stay honest and humble with God, once together, we all shed facets of our authentic selves, resulting in church ceremony rather than what we really need—Christian community. 

People who are not only deceptive with others, but with themselves often tend toward legalistic, rigid, and judgmental forms of religion; their god becomes rules, rather than love. They are unwilling to change or evolve because they rely on the rules to save them. If they allow themselves to consider a world outside their conservative and traditional ways, they feel like they are losing control. 

Letting go of control gives peace, I’ve found. And God doesn’t control, but with permission, teaches people and guides them.  

In Galatians 5:22-23, self-control is the last of the fruits of the spirit. The ones preceding are “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.” These fruits come from the Holy Spirit, as does self-control. If we allow God to work in us through the Holy Spirit, they become natural to us. Self-control then comes from the Holy Spirit and his love, as do the other fruits.  

On the other hand, performative self-control comes from selfishness that wants to rule rather than trust. Instead of allowing the law to point out shortcomings as Romans 3:30 outlines, following the letter of the law becomes a way of trying to exert control over salvation itself.  People treat the letter of the law as a means of saving themselves and others, in the process imposing behaviors on others. 

Submission to God releases us from the need to control. It is a matter of choice, not control. It is a matter of continually choosing God while remaining authentic—open and honest. How could God write his law in our hearts if we are living inauthentically?  

If our church worship were based on community rather than ceremony, I have wondered whether that might facilitate the transferring of God’s love to and through the members? And would it spill over into the broader community?

A friend of mine agreed that Christians tend to hide dysfunction rather than treat it with self disclosure and honesty. She had been hiding sexual abuse by her parents, that haunted her and her marriage. We began meeting in what we called the “HOW” group, an acronym for “honesty, openness, and willingness to grow,” that I had learned in Melody Bettie’s book, Codependent No More.  I had read many self-help books in an effort to repair damage from alcohol-related relationships. Becoming honest with yourself and others became a theme for me.

We used the HOW principle in a spiritual sense—needing to be open and honest to our faults and sins. Growth only comes with insight into our hidden maladjustments. How do we confess to God a sin that we are unaware of having?  How do we seek treatment when we are unaware of a problem?  

Hiding behind masks and covering up perpetuates dishonesty and stymies spiritual and emotional growth. Conservatism (and its partner legalism) tends toward preservation and sameness, but growth demands change. We only know that we are harboring greed, lust, jealousy, control, and so forth if we are open to seeing it and willing to allow God to change us through the Holy Spirit.  

First, we have to be willing. Sometimes, God brings us to the point of being forced to see shortcomings, but that is often a longer process than simply starting with honesty. I would rather have knowledge of the changes I need to make than be bashed in the head to see it, as life often will do.

Our group had a verbal agreement that we would never carry information with us when leaving. Sometimes things were shared with the group, and some private stories were shared only with one. Various issues were shared and processed, from low self-esteem to addiction and different kinds of abuse. Guilt and forgiveness often came up in discussions of emotional and spiritual growth, or lack of it.  

Sometimes group members were referred to professional counselors, while others were able to work through their difficulties by sharing and receiving support. We are all human and susceptible to every type of sin. What God wants for us is to be our honest selves.  

In 1989, Bernie Siegel wrote about his cancer patients in his book, Peace, Love and Healing. He noted the correlation between body and mind (as did Ellen White). Siegel suggested that if we are not honest with ourselves—living a false self, emotions can turn on the body. Scripture exhorts us to be honest with others. It starts with being honest with ourselves.

Having to mask is something the LGBTQ+ community has had to deal with for a very long time. Because society so often snuffs out the emotional and spiritual (if not the physical) life of people on the rainbow spectrum, they have often had to hide their identities.  

Conservative Christians, predominantly, believe they have a right to control the lives of others, especially those whom they view as “sinners” (as though they have no sins of their own). In our group, I discovered that there were two gay individuals. I had accepted that my sister was gay as well. I have listened to stories from many LGBTQ+ individuals. I have read books and articles, prayed about it numerous times, and I have known and spoken with gay people in my past. The summation is that they are no more sinning to be who they are than any heterosexual person is in being themselves.

One of the most flagrantly cruel beliefs that the Christian Right engages in is that the LGBTQ+ community should have no rights as human beings. I believe anyone who wants to exclude another from having the same rights they are privileged to have, is blind to God’s love. God’s character is love, and that love is more comprehensive than many Christians seem to understand.  

People are born into this world without certain choices. They do not have much choice in how they may look, whether they are male or female, or if they have the body of a female and a mind of a male, or vice versa.  

People do not choose the chemical makeup of their brains. God did give us the power of choice, but that is the choice to make decisions, after birth, of course. If there is no choice about the most fundamental facets of being, then how are people sinners by simply being who they are?  Many suggest they should live in denial of who they are—they should live a lie by marrying who we think they should marry, or they should be alone without a partner for their entire lives.  

I find this far too cruel.  

God wants us to have love and companionship. He meant for us to have intimate connection. We have the right to form beliefs about what God wants for our lives; we do not have the right to pass judgment, to destroy lives, or kill people’s spirit. 

The rhetoric of the Christian right has directly contributed to deaths from suicide and murders of individuals on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, by people persuaded they were acting Christian. This is hate, not Christian values.  

Romans 13:9-10 says about the law and love: “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  

If we love our neighbor as ourselves and we want our civil rights, then we give them theirs. Hate, judgment, exclusion, and seeking to deprive people of their rights is breaking the intent of the commandments.

About the author

Dottie Thompson is a devoted mother, grandmother, sister, and follower of Jesus. More from Dottie Thompson.
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