How To Release The Mask Of Perfection
And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space. Psalm 51:6 CEB
“Good Morning, Donna!”
Every day that cheery-smiling phrase greeted me, effervescing from my roommate at the Bible college I attended in my mid 20s. If I didn’t reply with equal liveliness, Amber pursued me down the hall, prodding me from my normal just-woke-up-leave-me-alone grumpiness and into the sunshine of her smiling perfection. If need be, she would quote scripture to press her point. Usually something from Philippians.
At first I smiled softly and shrugged it off, but each morning Amber pressed me, and each day the more frustrated I grew on the inside. Frustrated because something inside me knew that my spirituality shouldn’t be graded by my liveliness at 7am.
I retreated to my room, pouring over my concordance to find something to counter her daily assaults. At last — I found Proverbs 27:14 and took aim at her as she was tripping down the hall the one morning. She shot out her “Good Morning!” and I returned fire, “He that blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.” Bam!
That volley hit home and shut Amber up, but not the little voice in my head. The one that insisted that maybe she was right. Maybe I should be happier, or at least appear so.
Back then, if I were honest, I’d say that I was happy — at times. When I sat under gifted teachers and learned fresh and incredible things about God’s Word. When I looked out on the first snow I’d seen in 20 years, falling softly on trees and ground in the park next door. When I met a young Catholic woman while evangelizing door to door – whose enthusiasm for God still amazes and encourages me, 30 years later.
I was unhappy, too. I was lonely and homesick. I was scared for a brother who had his first psychotic break while I was away at school. I was jealous of the girls who had boyfriends when I had none.
I was angry at whoever was stealing my food in the common room — food that comforted me when the stuff inside was too hard to bear. Stolen — even when I clearly marked it with my name and the admonition “Be sure your sin will find you out!”
But each day, I did my best to put on my mask of perceived perfection. Of course it slipped — masks always do, eventually. In the morning with Amber. As tears fell in the privacy of a walk through the park next door. In clothes that fit tighter on a girl who ate to deal with what was eating her.
The day I left college Amber’s mask more than slipped — it came crashing to the floor. She came to me in honesty, in tears.
She was the one who repeatedly ate my snacks and — she confessed — threw them up. Her bulimia gave her control over food – a control that she lost in the chaos of her life.
Amber — the poster child for the joyous Christian — was also the daughter of a man who committed suicide one day in his garage. And Amber was the one who found him.
How did I respond? Verbally, I forgave her. Physically, I hugged her.
In my heart, I focused on my anger at her thievery and deceit. I started to believe my mask of perfection was me, and the fruit was self-righteous indignation.
My immature reaction to her confession embarrasses me. I had little love to give this broken child.
I left Bible school that day, but my soul returns to visit Amber and I pray for her.
I wish I had been the loving and honest friend she needed that day. A confidant who talked about my own confusion, fears, disappointment and failures so she would know she could trust me with her pain. The friend who would let her cry into my shoulder, and love her. One who understood the joy of living in honesty before the face of God, warts and all.
Scripture tells us how God loves honesty, but often the “Church” warned me to not be too honest, because everyone else is doing a lot better than me. So I hid what was broken, and often I didn’t do a great job of hiding.
Amber and I abused scripture — using it as a tool to influence behavior, rather than an opportunity to connect with God and each other. We both missed the point, that what God values above all is truth wearing the garment of love.
Years later, the urge to hide still tempts me — and sometimes I do. I think and hope that I hide less, and that God’s honest heart captures more of mine. His love of truth triumphs over an ersatz Christianity that excuses small sins, buries big ones and denies the pain of life in a fallen world.
The point of Christianity and the gospel is not to be perfect people, so that people may be drawn to our perfection. That is surely to disappoint any who take a close look at the Church in general, and any of us in particular. God knows none of us are perfect. Why do we keep pretending?
Our calling is to be honest, loving people. People who are honest about our brokenness — and desperate need for a Savior. People who love lavishly like Jesus, and honor the truth in His Word. People who desire to please God, but freely acknowledge how imperfectly we live that out.
Truth in the most hidden places, that flows outward to the not-so-hidden ones. Only by God’s grace.