I have worn the mask many times. The pasted on smile, the nice Christian answers to the question “how are you doing”, raising your hands in worship even though all you want to do is run out of the building. Growing up in the church, I learned early on to keep my mask in place. It was the unspoken rule, if there was something you were struggling with, it was your job to be a good Christian, put on a smile, and push through the pain. I’ve worn that mask more times than I can count.
Why is it that even when we are going through the hardest times in our lives we feel the need to pretend to be ok, even in what should be the safest place to allow our brokenness to show? The truth is, I don’t know the answer. And it’s possible that the answer is different for different people.
However, I believe that one of the reasons is that we are uncomfortable with brokenness. We seem to have this idea that being a good Christian means that you are always happy. We know the verses about rejoicing in times of trial and we think that if we are not constantly, blissfully happy there must be something wrong with us.
But this idea that Christians shouldn’t feel pain ignores a large chunk of scripture telling us that we will feel pain. There is “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,” Ecclesiastes 3:4. Jesus, himself, told us that we would have trouble in this life. If you are hurting, if you are struggling, you are not failing at Christianity. You are simply going through life. And life can be painful.
As a child I did not experience a lot of pain. Some would even say I was sheltered. But after I graduated from high school I experienced one heartache after another. At the beginning of this string of hurts, I wore my mask of happiness so well that nobody knew the pain I was in until I finally fell apart. Coming through the trauma of a church shooting I was wrestling with PTSD, and no one knew. I was plagued with nightmares, panic attacks, and depression. I was completely miserable, but I went to church just like I was supposed to. I wore my smile, held back my tears, and pretended everything was fine.
Eventually things fell apart. I could not keep up the facade, and I lost it. I got to the place where I had no choice but to allow my brokenness to be exposed. I was mortified, but being honest about where I was, spiritually and emotionally, brought me healing. The things I had hidden needed to be brought to the surface, but it was the last thing I wanted.
We should see the church as a place of healing. It’s supposed to be a place where those who are mourning can find comfort, yet most people in churches want to hide their pain. The truth is my home church is actually very good at being a place of restoration. It wasn’t that my church could not handle my brokenness, it was that I had spent enough time around Christians to know that in my suffering, I was breaking that all-important, unspoken rule. Christians are do not like the idea of anguish. So we cover it up. We put a mask on it.
But pretending to be happy is not the answer. It simply causes your wounds to fester, and it perpetuates the idea that brokenness is somehow anti-Christian. By hiding our own pain we give others the idea that we are not supposed to feel sorrow. It’s by sharing our heartaches with each other that we dispel the lie that there is something wrong with feeling pain, and give each other the freedom to mourn and properly heal.