I saw the sign as I drove up to a gas station convenience store on Halloween night.
"Remove mask before entering."
Awww - why can't I have a little fun seeing if they'll sell a Dr Pepper to Chewbacca. Actually, I don't have a mask. At least one I can "remove."
But the idea of removing your mask is worth thinking about a little. Because most of us have at least one. Not a mask made of latex. It's made of pretense.
One young woman told me, "I have so many masks I wear for different people - I don't even know who the real me is anymore."
That's because of all the pressure to impress. To look good. So we've got our work mask...our friends mask...our Facebook mask...our church mask...our "date" mask...our school mask. And the "game face" we've perfected to cover up the hurt and insecurity that's stuffed inside.
I still remember Jimmy. The funniest guy in this youth group I was working with. Life of the party. Until the night I got a midnight call from him. "You're the only one worth saying goodbye to," he said. He was planning to end his own life that night.
He agreed to hold off until I could get there. In the hours that followed, Jimmy poured out all the pain that he'd hidden so well behind his laughing mask. An angry home. Failed relationships. Self-hatred. Thankfully, by the time the sun started to rise, we'd been able to talk hope. And Jimmy chose to live. But without the mask.
Good thing. His mask almost killed him.
So it may be time to take seriously that corny punchline sometimes heard at school every November 1 - "Hey, Halloween's over! Take off the mask!"
A mask can conceal dark feelings that are a ticking time bomb, about to go off. Or a love your family really needs but you find hard to express. When you don't let anyone know the real you, life is one lonely journey. Unnecessarily lonely.
I found a lot of encouragement to hang up my masks in a famous quote that I've seen on college cornerstones. It's actually from the Bible. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Get in touch with the real you. Risk being real. Don't rob your world of the one-of-a-kind person you've been created to be.
As a "must please everybody" firstborn, I know about the bondage of living to impress.
But I'm also discovering freedom from those chains. Because of the "no strings" acceptance I found from the most surprising source. The person you might least expect.
"Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart," the world's best-selling Book tells me. What a relief. No point in even trying to fool or impress the One who already knows everything in my heart. Turns out He's already made up His mind how He feels about me. He loves me.
I'm safe. To take off my mask.