If you didn’t know, I live in an idyllic, small rural town, where there’s less hustle and bustle and more wide open spaces. And it’s not just rural, it’s fairly remote. The State of Oregon has actually designated our level of small as “frontier rural.” There are only about 650 of us calling this place home. We are nearly 90 minutes to the nearest hospital, big-box store, or shopping mall.
And yes, before you ask, we have running water and indoor plumbing and high-speed internet. It’s rural, not the Stone Age. (No really. People ask.) In fact, we are pretty techy. My husband, a wheat farmer, has tractors that can drive and steer themselves, guided by GPS satellites.
Top that. (Ha!)
But, I digress.
In all seriousness, I love it here.
Really, it’s not so different than anywhere else.
The fact is that life is just as complicated and stressful as places with a much longer list of amenities, population, and quicker pace. The things we trip over out here are only slightly different than other places and walks of life.
What’s not different is the people who are living it.
Yes – on the outside. Our town is different, smaller, unique. You look at our Main Street and it’s crisp and clean and well maintained. But like most rural towns, while some businesses are improving their store-fronts, others are barely hanging on or are up for sale. Some new buildings are being constructed, others are pretty run down. Some homes are being remodeled, others need torn down.
We look different, talk different, behave differently. But no matter where you are – main or side streets, grocery stores, coffee shops, schools, churches, banks, parks, homes – the people are the same on the inside. Each a wonderfully complex creation made in the image of the most creative Person ever.
And a lot of them are hurting. Sometimes me too.
We all have that in common, really, but most of us don’t pause long enough to acknowledge it, or dare to be open enough to share it.
No, we mask it.
Our masks are what we plaster on, like a neat storefront, to tell the world, “I’m fine.” Or sometimes it’s a casual shrug at a cruel comment that says, “You can’t hurt me.” Or the sheen of perfect social media photos that seem to say, “I’ve got it all together.” Or maybe a pace of busyness that says, “I’m important,” or “I don’t have time for people.”
It’s just another form of “I’ve got this.”
Sometimes I’m not even sure who I’m trying most to convince: the outside world or myself.
Friends, it’s a lie. We don’t got this.
Nobody does – not really. But our society says, “Don’t look down, don’t think about it. Just keep going. It’ll pass. It’s fine.” So, too afraid of what THEY will think (whoever they might be), we pull on our masks and we soldier on.
The problem is, the masks we wear only hide the hurt; they don’t heal it. And no, I don’t think time does either. At least, it hasn’t in my own life.
In time, our masks become our walls.
It’s a defense mechanism. We guard against pain, disappointment, betrayal, and the like. We hope the mask, the walls will keep us safe; spare us from the potential pain of vulnerability. But mostly they serve to keep us alone. And that’s a dangerous, life-threatening thing.
If we aren’t careful, the masks become our prison walls.
Pretty soon, they’re not only keeping people from getting in, they keep us from getting out. And this can kill you.
Because whether we like it or not, we were made for relationship.
I’ve come to believe that relationship is actually what life is all about. Our small town’s moto used to be, “it’s the people.” And really it is. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, the very heart of all God had given the people of Israel to follow and obey, he summed it up this way: Love God. Love people.
It’s an intricate web really, that relationships with people is often what leads us into relationship with God, and vise versa. It’s been like that since the beginning. God – already existing in relationship, three-in-one, brooded over the formless void like a nesting bird. And He began to create. And the pinnacle of His work, His masterpiece, made in His image, was humanity.
Us. But even then, it “wasn’t good for man to be alone,” so He expanded and created some more. And we were fruitful and multiplied and couples became families became nations.
That was the point.
But you can’t do that from behind the “safety” of a prison wall. Our masks are often our attempt to remove the risk in our relationships.
Friends, relationship – real, deep, true, lasting relationship – is not possible without risk.
You cannot really love or be loved if no one sees the real you. You cannot know others and/or be known if you do not risk letting someone see, hear, or feel what goes on in your life, your head, or your heart. We can know a lot ABOUT each other, but if we aren’t setting the masks aside and showing other what’s underneath, then… is it even real? I can know everything Wikipedia can tell me about my favorite actor, artist or musician, for example, but swapping stories with that person as you sit next to them on a plane is something completely different; something to write home about (as they used to say). Being known ABOUT is totally different than being KNOWN.
But God showed us how it’s done.
When Jesus came on the scene, He didn’t change the game. The God-Man grew up in a big family, with parents and siblings and extended family, in a small town where everybody knew His name. (Cheers!) And aside from a brief time in the desert, He spent all his time in or building relationships of varying degrees of depth and trust and complexity.
Right up to the bitter end, when all his companions fled in fear, or betrayed Him outright, and after His return – He lived and worked and played and ate and drank and prayed with those people. He taught and served with and loved them all – even knowing His heart would be broken by their brokenness. Yes, He retreated for prayer and respite alone, but always returned to the people.
That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s what we were made for.
Love God. Love People.
Let me be clear: we aren’t called to be in actual vulnerable relationship with ALL THE PEOPLE. I’m not advocating that we dive into deep vulnerability with everyone. While we are called to KNOW people and be know, to even LOVE our neighbors as ourselves – with kindness and patience and faithfulness and gentleness and common human decency – we aren’t meant to be CLOSE to all people. There are levels of relationship – some more surface stream and some more deep well. Don’t believe the lie that life is some sort of contest for who can have the most friends on your Facebook or Snapchat feed.
But you were created to be in relationship with SOME people. In the long term, the quality of your friendships is more important to your health than the quantity you may claim to have.
So find your tribe. Make them good ones.
Share some of your life, something real, with someone. Step out, in a small way, and try it. Trust is built piece by delicate piece – but we have to invest our time, our energy, our selves in the process.
Yes, sometimes trust is sometimes broken. Try again.
Because often the key to our inner healing is relationship, or happens in the context of relationship. Relationship with God, and relationship with people. You are worth investing in, and the return over time can be life changing.
It’s worth the risk.
Join the Journey
I invite you to step into your own journey, and dare to ask yourself some hard questions that just might point you towards to the road to freedom. Comment below, write them in journal, pray and ponder. But take that step, scary as it is, towards something more.
- On a blank piece of paper, draw two lines down vertically down the center creating three columns. Label the column “Masks,” the center column “Who,” and the third the column “Why.” Under “masks,” write any areas of your life you might be hiding. Then write “who” you might be hiding that area from, and continue into “why.” When you’ve finished, spend some time praying and journaling, asking God where to go from here. Who is one person you might be willing to risk a little with? Try it.
- Not convinced? Read this article by the NY Times. What strikes you? Share with someone you might be willing risk with on a deeper level.
- Or, make a list of your “friends.” Rank the relationship by how comfortable you feel being vulnerable with the person: 0 (nope) to 10 (sharing any part of life, deepest sins and secrets, greatest joys). Are there any friendships that you’d like to change the level? How might you do that? What might be holding you back?