Have you noticed how perfect people LOOK at church? How they seem to have no problems, no messiness? They’re in their nice “Sunday best” clothes with smiles on their faces, looking perfect regardless of how their week has gone.
And on the other hand have you noticed how imperfect you FEEL when you get there? Maybe you just couldn’t find the right clothes to wear or you’re reeling from an argument you just had with your spouse on the way? Or maybe your teenager has refused to get out of bed or you’ve had a terrible awful bad week?
That’s the way it is, we arrive knowing all our inside messiness and seeing only the outside perfectness of everyone else. And so we wear a mask in the hopes that it will disguise us enough that people won’t recognize how broken we really are. And the mask wearing only leads to isolation and aloneness.
I have to wonder . . . is this what God intended for us to experience in the body of Christ?
I remember vividly the Sunday when I felt the messiest. My seventeen year old son had been arrested over the weekend for shoplifting. It was one of the lowest times of my life – I felt like such a failure.
As I carefully arranged my mask and stepped into the Atrium area of our church on that Sunday after his arrest, I looked around and saw all the “perfect families” with their “perfect children”. It was all I could do to stay where I was and not run screaming from the building.
I wondered if anyone had problems like I had, whether they could see the sorrow in my eyes that I was trying to hide. Did they know I was a failure? Did they even care? What would they say if they found out? What would they think of me?
That day it felt as if I had a big scarlet letter on my chest, warning people not to get too close. It was all I could do to act like nothing was wrong and get to my car as fast as I could.
It wasn’t that my church body was insensitive or judgmental; it was my own perception and pride that would not allow me to be transparent and in turn it isolated me from those in my church family who would have encouraged and helped me carry my burden.
When we are discouraged and broken, why do we try to disguise our pain? Because we know clearly how ugly our own lives are but see only the outside of other people’s lives, which leads us to assume that they are perfect and we are not.
So why aren’t we more open and transparent? Wouldn’t that really be more attractive to people than trying to prove that we are perfect? James 5:16 (NLV) says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
God calls us to be open, vulnerable and honest about our failings and struggles because he knows that that is the place where we will find healing. When we choose to keep our failures and difficulties to ourselves we move into a place of isolation and loneliness as we forge a path on our own.
And isn’t that just what Satan wants; to keep us all in our own little fortresses “safe from the outside world” where no one can be a witness to our pain and discouragement and where we will be unable to care for and encourage someone else? He doesn’t want us to be what God intended the church body to be to one another.
On that Sunday of my son’s arrest, I ran into a dear friend after church. Knowing the brokenness she had experienced in her own life, I knew I would receive no judgment from her, which gave me the courage to set my pride aside and remove the mask I was wearing. My friend was the church for me that day; she broke down the walls of my fortress and loved me for who I was. I will always remember her encouragement when I was in a very difficult and lonely place.
So this Sunday, when you walk into your church building, remember that the people around you are not perfect, they might look like they are but they’re not. Ask God to help you to have the courage to take off your mask and be transparent and to open your eyes and allow you to be the church to someone who is hurting and in need.