I saw the sign on the door of a convenience store. On Halloween.
It said, "Please remove your mask before entering." That makes sense. Just in case a mask is meant to conceal someone who's there for more than candy.
But not all masks are for Halloween. The kind that never come off. The masks that people wear all year. They present the person I want you to think I am. And conceal parts of me I don't want you to see and that I don't want to face.
Some of those masks are really dangerous. Because they provide temporary cover for the real you. They protect us from the rejection and judging we think we might face "if they only knew." And they protect us from painful truth we'd rather not deal with.
Until what our masks hide can't be hidden anymore - and we have to face the accumulated consequences of covering up a dangerous secret.
I think we've all worn this first mask. The "I'm fine" mask. When we're anything but fine inside.
I remember hearing a story about a man who was talking with a therapist about his deepening depression. The counselor offered an unusual prescription. "There's a circus in town right now - and one of the world's most famous clowns is with them. He's very funny, and I think he could give you a little brighter perspective."
There were tears in the man's eyes as he said, "Sir...I am that clown!"
Too often, a smiling face conceals a shattered heart. A devastating betrayal. A secret shame.
But the pain we stuff doesn't go away. It just grows and metastasizes. Until one day it can't be pushed down any longer. And it erupts in a torrent of desperation or despair or rage.
Often we're really not fine at all. A marriage is dying. A loved one is dying. Life-scarring wounds from the past just keep replaying in our mind. So does our guilt, our shame for wrong things we have done.
We don't want to face it because we think it will hurt too much to drag it out of the closet and into the light. The reality is it hurts more to leave it hiding behind a mask of "I'm fine."
When our then 12-year-old son broke his arm playing football, I watched him agonize as the doctor reset that protruding broken bone. He could have avoided the pain of having it treated - just leave it broken. Which would have left him limited and crippled for the rest of his life. Just like the brokenness we hide behind our "I'm fine" mask.
Jesus didn't say, "You shall know the truth, and the truth will scare you to death." Or the truth will "really hurt." He said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free!" (John 8:32).
Free from having to decide which mask to wear today. Free to be one liberated me all the time. Free to experience what He promised to those who bring their brokenness to Him: "I am the light of the world," He said. "If you follow Me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life" (John 8:12).
The reason I can face the grief, the wounds, the failures is because Jesus is there with me to open up the dark stuff, to treat what's broken and "set it" for the rest of my life.
With a new transparency, I can help others who are trapped behind the mask of "I'm fine." Or, as we kids used to joke on the day after Halloween - "Halloween's over. Take off the mask!"
That unmasking is especially important when we realize we're wearing that other mask that's so common among us church folks. The "I'm His" mask.
We sing the Christian songs. Go to the Christian meetings. Say the Christian words. But we're missing one thing.
We wear the Christian mask which buys us the acceptance of the Jesus-followers around us. But, in reality, it ultimately is the deadliest mask in the world. In one of the most chilling passages in the Bible, Jesus said, "Not everyone who calls me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven." These folks obviously know all the right words.
They will give Jesus the resume of all the "Christian" things they've done. Then these awful words from the Savior: "But I will reply, 'I never knew you'" (Matthew 7:21-23).
Why? Because for all their Christianity, they have missed Christ. They have a Jesus religion, but not the Jesus-relationship. They have failed to touch first base - that time when a person reaches out to Jesus and tells Him they are pinning all their faith and hopes on His death for their sins on the cross. Grabbing Him like a drowning person grabs their rescuer.
This moving Jesus from your head to your heart is all the difference in where a person will spend eternity. Our "I'm His" mask may work at church. It won't work at the gates of heaven.
"I'm fine" when I'm not. "I'm His" when I'm not. Masks that cost too much. Like that Halloween sign said at the door of the store - "Remove your mask before entering."