How do you become someone you never were to begin with?
When I walk into a church on a Sunday morning, one of the things I notice is that everyone is smiling, and everyone is dressed really nice. Everyone except for me.
I have the smiling part down, because I am naturally upbeat; I mean, I wake up that way, so it isn't hard for me to be smiling at just about any moment you will meet me. But if I walk into a church, I do so wearing some old sweatshirt, a baseball cap, and blue jeans, the very same type I work in.
But not everyone is upbeat, and as I stroll through the church, I begin to be bothered by the idea that someone here, possibly many someones, are faking it. This doesn't only happen in a church. It happens everywhere you go.
Everyone I meet is busy, and happy. They are so busy that they haven't had time to stay in touch with their friends, friends, they would admit, who make their lives more enjoyable. Did you catch the contradiction there?
If I am so busy that I don't have time to stay in touch with my friends, outside of my natural upbeat outlook, I am not going to remain "happy" for very long. If I am so busy that I am living without fulfilling a natural need; that of connecting with family and friends regularly, then it could seem impossible for me to remain happy for very long.
Recently, I had to stay away from this blog, for the most part, because I was sick, and so busy that at the end of the day, I was too tired to make connections with people who had come to mean a great deal to me. Although my demeanor was upbeat, inside, I was sinking. Worse than that, I found myself faking it.
I didn't like that one bit. I felt empty, because instead of filling up on life as it happens, I tried to create a mental picture of happiness despite bad circumstances that I couldn't uphold for very long. I had a choice. I could try to keep up the smile, and force myself to quiet the voice inside which was screaming for connection. Or, I could make changes.
Do you know how easy it seems to just maintain the status quo? I am not kidding you when I tell you that to just keep going without connecting with my friends, to keep working and keep busy and keep being too tired to write here seemed like the simplest answer. But that also meant that I would have to keep faking it, and there is something in my nature that just rebels against faking things. I can pull it off if I stay persistent, but the more I pull it off, the more rebellious I become inside; the more I desire reality. There becomes an urge to scream at the top of my lungs at the next person who asks me how I am doing, "I'm doing shitty! I don't like life right now! I'm not who I thought I was, I feel disconnected, and I don't even care that you don't have time to listen to me rave!"
In essence, I am screaming both to give attention to someone else, and receive likewise. Connectedness. This nation screams for it; the Internets success is the result of it. Without it, we fake it. Yet even on Sundays, when people "go to church", they feel the need to fake it. Instead of being real, instead of allowing themselves to be themselves, they put their makeup on and become someone they are not.
It seems easy to maintain this, it seems like the best plan, the only plan, because changing it means doing things in a way most of us never have. It means being the real me, who admittedly is very upbeat, but who gets sidetracked at times when life seems to be a hurricane of events, all of them outside of my control. It means letting loose emotionally, which is something that people are taught not to do from a very early age, especially in "church". In "church", it's time to smile and act as though the Lord has blessed you greatly. In "church", it's time to be someone you are not. Sadly, that someone we are not gets carried into daily life, and we drag him to the store, the gas station, the movies, the bar, to events and parties and every other moment we live.
There is what I would call a phenomenon taking place in America in this age. I have observed it and am shocked at its prevalence.
Did you know that over fifty percent of all adult Americans are, or have been under prescription for anxiety or depression related illness at some time in their life? I am one of the lucky ones; I have never been under that sort of prescription. Maybe this means the field of medicine has learned something about people's well-being, and the drug prescriptions are merely a way of providing a more fulfilling, normal life. I think for a few people, these prescriptions are absolutely necessary, but for the vast majority of people under these prescriptions, my observation is that they are an escape from reality; a way to trick the mind into believing that everything is okay, especially when everything is not okay. I think the drugs are a mask, or provide the means to make the masks we wear seem better somehow, more like reality.
You see, a person can't fake it for very long before his nature begins to rebel against the act he is putting on. One can carry on this deception forever, but not without grave consequences to the inner man. One can fool his friends, one can wow his contemporaries with his supposed wealth and success, and generate envy through making one's life seem better than everyone else's. Isn't that the kicker, to make things seem better, in some cases far better, than what they really are? To make our lives look attractive, so that others will believe we have it all together, that we have become what we dreamed we would when we were young? Because to admit failure, to admit that when we were young, we never dreamed of having three mortgages and two jobs, we never dreamed we would be so miserable, so lonely, so forgotten. We never once thought that life could be so hard, that our plans wouldn't work out the way we thought.
So we create the lie, that everything is okay, that we are happy, and that life is better than we imagined it could be as a child. We wear this mask because that is what is expected of us. Every so often, a few of us are fortunate enough to find just one or two people with whom we can confide the truth in. I have that one person, but so many people I know do not. For those people, the mask becomes the reality, even though the mask is nothing more than a well-written lie.
At some point, wearing that mask for so long is going to exact a price on our mental well-being. Medicine has the answer; give them a drug that will help them fake it. Many doctors prescribe these drugs without ever demanding that their patient receive psychological help. And if they do get psychological help, many of these patients are treated by people who themselves wear masks. There's not much help and advice being received from someone who doesn't know how to live with themselves to begin with. The cycle becomes more vicious.
The patients are told that there has to be a reason, or maybe a few reasons why they are so unhappy. They are told to recall memories that might have caused this depression, or this anxiety. In truth, some people do have memories that cause depression and anxiety. But over fifty percent of all adults? I doubt it.
I think the mask is to blame. I don't think that mask is created in church; it's just that church is where people polish it specially to make it look its best. I think that mask is created from everything we learn and observe in our society. If church is part of your society, then church is partly to blame.
The mask is slavery. It is slavery to an image we cannot achieve. We control our emotions, and hide our feelings, and sooner or later, the mask takes over...on the outside. Meanwhile, the inside, the inner man is dying, screaming for release and celebration. The inner man is crying for someone to care enough so that we can take off this mask and be real. Most of all, the inner man is crying for us to have the courage to be ourselves so we don't have to fake it anymore.
Why do we fake it? Because we are afraid that the real me isn't acceptable, isn't lovable, and most of all, isn't even likable. Paxil will help you feel that you are; so will Xanax. But those two drugs only create another mask, effectively hiding the real you, possibly forever.
Would you like to know the real you? Would you like to see that the real you is lovable, AND likable? Would you like to live without fear of judgment and doubt in yourself because things didn't work out the way you planned as a child? Would you like to stop looking for ways to escape a reality that just hurts too much?
I'll bet you thought I was going to say the answer is Jesus. He's not the answer, though. He provided the way to the answer, showed us how to get to where He was going, but He's not a drug that fixes masks that we have worn all of our lives. He is the Way. And I will tell you this: in my life, Jesus provided the door to the real me. After He made it clear that God is not angry with us, that each of us is acceptable just as we are, things began to clear up a bit. But to believe that God was still angry at those who didn't believe caused a desire for all sorts of mask making in me. I had to show everybody I believed, so much in fear was I over being one of those who didn't believe enough. I created a mask, and sometimes, I still wear it.
But once I realized that the fear of hell was gone, that God is not an angry, condemning God at all, the reasons I had for wearing my mask disappeared one by one. And if everyone were redeemed, if even the worst of all sinners for all time was redeemed to my Father, then what need was there anymore for fear in me? What need, literally, was there to wear a mask?
We wear masks to hide things; to hide our identity, to hide what we really look like, and to hide what we are ashamed of. But when there is no condemnation forthcoming, what need have I of shame any longer?
Once I realized how total the love of God is, I realized that freedom was within my grasp. Once I realized that God was not partial to anyone, but a lover of everyone, I realized that my mask had been hiding the real me all of my life. I had been trying to hide the real me not only from myself and others, but from God, as if He could be fooled. Upon the realization of His total love for all of us, even me, I began my life as a free man.
Jesus isn't the drug that's going to cure you. He is the way to freedom. He is just some person on the pages of a big, big book, but He is real when we realize that here was a man who never had to worry about what others thought of Him, and he especially never had to fear what His Father thought of Him. He knew the truth, and the truth sets us free.
The lie is that hell is real, that God is so petty that at some point, He just can't take us anymore, and none of us really knows when that is. The lie is that God is so small that the slightest mistake in our life angers Him. The lie is that He is only pleased when we are behaving, as if God sits on a yo yo string that is attached to our actions. The lie is that God requires us to believe in order for us to be redeemed.
I must tell you this; if my redemption rests on my faith, then I will burn in hell, because I don't have any faith. Sure, there are moments filled with the realization of how much God loves me, and how I know Jesus to be my friend and savior. But most of my time is spent doubting these days, and for those of you who know me, you also know that I have just removed a mask in saying that. Are you surprised?
There may come a day when I have a chemical imbalance, and the need for drugs to regain some balance within will be met. There is nothing wrong, so far as I can see, with curing medical conditions. But by and large, drugs like Paxil and Xanax only paint a thicker mask. If people only realized that there is now nothing to fear, and no reason to hide, I think most of the reasons for Paxil would disappear. I think every reason for us to wear masks would evaporate. I think for all of us, most our lives would be spent being just who we are, rather than trying to be someone we are not.