Life Should Not Be A Masquerade Ball

I was struck yesterday by the brokenness of people. So many of us are masking our shame, tucking our sins under our outer layers of sunshiney perfection. We struggle to maintain this facade of picture-perfect Christian while we are so broken inside, we’re barely held together. Why? How did we get here?

I spoke with a mother yesterday who has two little children and is expecting her third. During the past year or so, she has slowly been falling apart. Bits of her have been chinked away by the physical demands of nursing, sleeplessness, and pregnancy and by the emotional demands of discipline, training, and loving. Her hormones have been up and down. For thirteen years she was a professional career woman, organized and efficient, in-control and highly-praised. Suddenly, she is having her third baby in three years. Her home is in disarray; her emotions are frazzled; her schedule is interrupted. She just wants to take a shower and brush her teeth!

While this mother was fighting against thoughts of running away, seriously running away and leaving her husband and children, she was plastering on her smile and pretending everything was hunky-dorey every time she left her house. Inside, she was broken, wounded, hurting, weary. But outside, she was a have-it-all-together mother of two little ones. She was involved in church and another organization. She was a leader, a volunteer. And she went about her duties with a smile on her face.

I saw her; I shared smiles with her; I commented on her pregnant glow and her adorable belly. And I was fooled. I never saw her brokenness. I never knew what pain was tucked away beneath her smile.

Why did she feel like she had to be perfect? Why did she feel like she couldn’t measure up to the rest of us?

Another mother shared her life story. My heart broke as I heard about all our gracious Father has brought her through. My heart rejoiced as she told of how He has truly brought beauty from her ashes. And, I must admit, I was shocked at her revelation. She had been through so much: unplanned pregnancies, adoptions, divorce, suicidal thoughts, addiction, poverty, heartache, heartbreak. I don’t know her well, but I had smiled and briefly spoken with her in the past. We’d played board games together and laughed. All the while, I had no idea what pain lurked beneath the surface of her life.

Last year, while I smiled and greeted her, she was struggling with alcoholism and her family was held together by the sheer grace of God. She was depressed and shame-filled and weak. And she thought she had to put on a mask, pretend to have it all together. This mom also felt like she couldn’t measure up, like she was less-than every other mother she met.

As I listened to these moms, I had this picture of all of us walking around with these beautiful full-body masks, pretending to be good, hiding our sins, pushing deep our shame. I pictured beneath these masks, written all over us were words like “unfaithfulness,” “addiction,” “abortion,” “selfishness,” “impatience,” “stubborn-ness,” “hatefulness,” and “anger.”

And then I pictured each of walking around, looking at each other’s masks and thinking, “Wow, she is so beautiful! She has everything under control. She has a fabulous marriage, well-behaved children, gorgeous clothes. I bet she has a perfect house and is a great cook. I bet she never loses it all like I do. I bet she never yells at her kids. I bet she never goes to sleep with her back turned to her husband. I bet she has never done anything half as bad as what I have done. She’s better than I am. I am less of a mother, less of a wife, less of a Christian than she is!”

And while one of us is thinking that about someone, someone else is thinking that EXACT thing about us! Because they don’t see the real me, they see the mask I meticulously put on before I leave my home.

I wondered yesterday if Mom #1 looked at Mom #2 last year and thought how together Mom #2 seemed to be, while Mom #2 looked at Mom #1 and thought how together and perfect Mom #1 seemed to be.

We are all broken. None of us are righteous. No, not one! We are all a big falling-apart mess without Jesus. Why are we so afraid to admit that to each other? Why do we carry around our brokenness tucked deep inside our layers, afraid that our brokenness makes us less-than everyone else?

I wish we could be real with each other. I wish these women didn’t feel the need to pretend. My heart is broken that they may have looked at me and felt worse about themselves. Because I know how broken I am! I know my own heart, my own sins, my own shortcomings, my own shame. I am not perfect. I do not have it all together. Without Jesus, I’m a mess.

I challenge you. Be real. Take off your mask.



Filed under Christianity, faith

16 responses to “Life Should Not Be A Masquerade Ball

  1. Whoa, you are talking directly to me! I can’t help crying as I read this.

    I feel like I have to wear the mask because that is what everyone expects. Inside, I feel like my life is falling apart or is already in pieces. Part of it is sheer weariness: I had 3 girls within 2 years 8 months’ time and I stay home with them full-time; I teach private piano lessons; play and sing at church several times a month; teach 2/3 year Sunday night church once a month; co-captain the Wednesday night PeeWee Patch Club; and will be directing a youth choir starting next Sunday. Part of it is the pressure I/others place on me to meet unrealistic expectations. I see the chaos in my house and feel overwhelmed and depressed, which is not helped any when my in-laws criticize my housekeeping skills. With the children’s demands for attention and my failures as a wife and housekeeper, I truly long to run away and forget I ever had a family. Yet I hang in there, knowing that I made life-long commitment that I WILL NOT break.

    So I escape to my blogs and try to shut out the voices pulling me apart. I know, that’s not the right way to cope, but some days it’s all I can do not to fall apart. I have tried (inadequately) to explain my feelings to my husband, but he does not understand, and I feel like I am drowning in an ocean, frantically calling for help without anyone heeding my cries.

    Loneliness, weariness, depression, feelings of inadequacy, self-pity, anger, resentment: I deal with all those emotions on a near-daily basis.

    How’s that for taking off my mask? πŸ™‚ I wonder how many people look at me and think I have it all together? If they only knew! Thanks for writing this.

  2. Oh, Revka! I hear you, and I’m proud of you!

    I challenge you to prayerfully reconsider some of your commitments, ask God to help you find time to take care of yourself every day (hiding in the bathroom with a devotion book and a cup of coffee?), choose 1 thing (only 1) your husband could do to most help you and ask him to do that 1 thing (and I’m pretty sure cleaning the entire house won’t count as 1 thing ), and find 1 person in real life you can talk to about what you just said here. Program that person’s phone number into your speed dial. You never know — you might be just what she needs! A real friend, unafraid to take off the mask!

  3. I struggle with this too, and was relieved in a way to have given my testimony last year. It helped make me vulnerable and also helped others to see that I really don’t have life together, even if I do try to paint that mask on sometimes. My expectations for myself are very high, and I have struggled with feeling like a failure by not meeting those expecations. My testimony actually brought Mom #2 in your blog and I together as friends. It helped her to know that she wasn’t the only one that had gone through some of the same stuff that she had gone through.

    But anyways, I still lose it with the boys, I currently want to sell one to the zoo, Idon’t know how to react when my husband has hurt me deeply with his words (my instincts are to retreat and to not let him get close to me so that way I cannot be hurt again), my house looks like a war zone, when I yearn to have a place for everything and everything in its place (and to have it be clean like my Grandma Major’s house)…the one comforting thing is knowing that God loves me and that I am of immeasurable worth to Him, even when I am not living up to the expectations I have placed upon myself.

  4. Thank you again for such a beautiful and spot on post. For the last 6-8 weeks I have been at a place where I am disquieted and out of sorts. Trying to be honest and real about that with people has been hard. Not only do I fight the urge to put on a mask and hide, but there is an expectation from others who want me to smile, want to cheer me up, or don’t enjoy my company when I am not in an outward focused mood. I am typically an encourager and a listener so when I am not at a place to perform those functions and support others they can often feel neglected by me or my brokenness and need can make them very aware of their own brokenness and it makes them uncomfortable.

    Thank you for reminding me to be real and challenging me to show who I really am. I too wish we could be real with each other and truly accept people for where they are at (positive or overwhelmed and broken). Thank you for being honest about how broken you are. You are so right that you are not perfect and are a mess without Jesus….we all are, and have such an incredible need for him and for each other. Your words are an encouragement to me.

    Revka, thank you for taking off your mask. You may not have it all together, but your words and honesty are very beautiful to me!

  5. Thank you, Jen and Sherie, for your encouraging words. Jen, your advice sounds great, and I believe I will try it. I’ll let you know how things progress. πŸ™‚

  6. Moe

    I was just looking at the clock and wondering if I had enough time to post something when I ended up reading your blog. This is topic I was just thinking about.

    You’re right, life shouldn’t be a masquerade ball; it doesn’t help anyone, and it hurts everyone.

    I think it’s the most heartbreaking in the Church, because of all places that should be where people are truly safe to take of thier masks and be real. After coming to own the fact that we’re all hopelessly lost without Christ, we stand before a holy God without anyway of bridging the gap, it seems like we should be the most loving people on the planet, not feeling the need to hide behide masks.

    I loved your point about the two moms looking at each other and seeing what they wanted to be, but thought they were failing to be simply because they couldn’t see what was truly going on.


  7. So very, very true, Jenn. So true.

    Revka – hon – you don’t need to be perfect. You don’t have to please everyone else. You don’t have to heap your plate so full.

    Jenn’s advice is good. Simply ask God what HE wants you to do. It might surprise you. Does He want you to do everything at church? Maybe…I don’t know…I’m not in your shoes. But sometimes we do those things out of guilt, out of needing the affirmation of others, than out of a sheer love of doing them. I look at all of the things you have listed, and know there is no way I could handle them all with 3 little children.

    Thanks for being real – for taking away that mask. I’ll be praying for you!

  8. Holly, thank you as well. You have no idea what an encouragement you are to me through your blog and your comments at different times. I appreciate your prayers.

    I have been pondering my commitments and have realized (again) why I end up over-booking myself. I am a people pleaser. I find it very hard to say no when someone asks me to do something. Because it is hard for me to say no, I am thankful for the times my dear husband has told me that I cannot do some proposed activity. He really does try to protect me, even from myself. πŸ™‚

    While I enjoy everything I am doing, I have realized that I am overburdened and consequently am not giving my best anywhere. Praise the Lord that my Wednesday night commitment ends in May! At this point, I don’t think I’ll “re-enlist” in the fall. While I will miss that activity, my family definitely needs me as a wife/mama more.

    Jenn, you are right about my needing to have a real-life friend with whom to honestly share my life. Having lived here just over a year, I’m just now beginning to actually get to know people, and I think I may have found such a friend. Praise the Lord!

  9. Alison

    I’ll just comment quickly, since 2 people talked about their messy houses. I, too, worry constantly about the state of disarray in my house. I have two little ones under 4. I swept and mopped the tile floors this morning and there’s already mud and grass tracked in from their playing outside with the hose!
    I do part time farm inspections and recently had the opportunity to go to a small 5 acre grapefruit farm. The house was at the center of the grove and that’s where I interviewed the farmer. He was an older gentleman who sprinkled the conversation with stories of his recently deceased wife, her long bout with illness, and his grown children and quickly growing grandchildren.
    Before we went to tour the grove I asked to use the restroom. He told me where it was and I proceeded out the modest kitchen into a surprisingly large house with a spectacular view! I was shocked at how beautiful and orderly and CLEAN everything was. All the knickknacks were in their place, the quilt was perfectly laid on the back of the couch, and there was nothing-not a crumb not a toy-to be found on the floor or ground into the carpet. The bathroom was the same way. No toddler books strewn about, no toys in the shower or wash off crayon markings on the tile, no old diapers stuffed in the wastebasket.
    After I finished my business, I returned and commented on how lovely his house was and how orderly. I lamented how messy mine always is with 2 kids. He sighed and said: ‘Well it’s just me here now. I only use my office, the bedroom, and the kitchen. It’s not messy because I’m alone.’ He proceeded to show me portraits on the walls and a beautiful framed set containing a baby picture of his wife, her christening dress, and a lock of her baby hair.
    It struck me that this is a season in our lives. Sooner than we realize OUR houses will be perfect-perfect and empty. Our children will be grown, our grandchildren will visit once or twice a week if we’re lucky, and our houses will be exactly how we envision they should be NOW.
    I have been blessed to live in neighborhoods where there are lots of children. For several years I wouldn’t let mothers or children in because I was ashamed at how my house looked. Afraid it wouldn’t meet their standards. What a shame! The kids love it because ALL the toys are right there on the living room floor for them to play with. Most moms I invite in say ‘Don’t feel bad my house looks the same way!’ In my 4 short years of mothering I’ve known one mom who kept a totally spotless house. And she laughs and readily admits she’s always been that way and her mom keeps a spotless house too. I’ve concluded it’s in the genes and I don’t have that gene! And she’s ok with that.
    Don’t be so hard on yourself. Invite the kids in-you already have mud on your floor and doritos ground into the carpet. Invite mom in-clean the coffee pot that hasn’t been washed in 2 months and make a plate of oreo’s or animal crackers for you two to snack on. And then talk. Open yourself up. Tell her your struggles as a mother, talk about your feelings of inadequacy when you read parenting books, if you feel led to-tell her about the struggles in your marriage. I moved to a new town a year ago and am getting ready to move again and I’ve made some dear friends and learned so much about our struggles as mothers because I’ve been open and honest with other women.
    I love you all even though I don’t know you. We are all connected through the Lord God almighty and our bond as women and mothers. Don’t be afraid-the Lord has great things planned for us.

  10. Thank you, Kelsey and Holly and Alison and Revka and Crystal and Sherie. Your comments are a blessing to me. And I’m certain they are a blessing to the many people who have read and not commented. πŸ™‚

    None of us are perfect. That’s why we need Jesus so much!

  11. Wow, Jenn, what a beautiful, meaningful, well-written post. Thank you for offering a place where women can be real. You have a true gift.

  12. Thanks, Marcia. πŸ™‚ Hope you’ll come back.

  13. malu

    Hi! So beautiful! Heard of Natalie Grant’s song “The Real Me”? It touches me every time I heard of it just the same that I read what you’ve post…Most of the time I must admit that I have to pretend that I’m okay when I am not…Too bad really.But thank God I am now realizing it’s effect and for now I just want to be in the presence of the Lord for me to become whole and not broken…

  14. Thank you, malu, for your comments.

  15. Pingback: My Blog Neighborhood « Shanan Trail

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