“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure, I’m fine.”
What a small script, but I cannot even begin to count how many times this script has played over and over in every relationship of my life. Whether it involved my husband (Bingo), my children, parents, friends or coworkers, the script rarely changed no matter how many times I was asked. The emotions behind the script changed depending on the person who asked me or the situation involved. Sometimes the script was sulking with a twinge of hurt. Sometimes it was full of fearful avoidance. Other times, it was stubborn and angry. One thing remained the same; I was left the carry my burden and hide behind my mask of “I’m fine.”
There was one dear friend who would not accept “I’m fine” as an adequate response to her question of how I was doing or what was wrong. To her, the words meant anything but “I’m fine.” Instead, they revealed a “friend in need (e)ndeed” in her southern twang and she would pursue with love and concern until whatever was on my mind and in my heart poured out to her like water from the faucet. She knew people enough and knew herself enough to dig a little deeper and help remove the mask so she could see the real me.
Wearing this mask seems so natural, especially as we find ourselves living in world where so many of us are busy cramming our schedules to make the most of each and every day. We live in a world in which the wheels turn so quickly, finding time and making time for others becomes a challenge, yet it is the very thing we all need.
Why do we put on this mask and continue to wear it day after day? I think the answer lies in our unwillingness to be vulnerable.
- We fear what others will think if they see a crack in our finely controlled image.
- We shrink at the possibility of conflict, so it is just easier to sweep the issue under the rug.
- We lack the energy necessary to sort through the issue, so we ignore it.
- We are unable to use our voice.
- We refuse to trust.
- We choose to remain in our emotions of anger, sadness, etc.
Each of these reasons involves an emotion and a thought which causes us to wear the mask. Each of these emotions and thoughts send wrong signals to our heart as we choose to believe them, and we end up creating a trap for ourselves which confines us from building healthy, trusting and long lasting relationships with others.
Courage to trust others enough to admit we are not fine, and there in fact is something wrong is a definite prerequisite to removing our mask. I am not a naturally trusting person, and as I push myself to step out, I also have to do so knowing the possibility to be hurt always exists. However, inevitably, the more I trust, the more trustworthy I find people to be. Being careful not to characterize current situations by past hurts is vital in stepping out, trusting and admitting our need.
Humility to to admit the possibility that we may not be looking at our situation in the proper context or frame of mind allows us to be open and receptive to the opinions and insights of others. Adopting humility frees us from having to be in control and paves the way for vulnerability. It also gives us a key tool necessary valuing the other person in working through any potential conflict we may be fearful of. Humility breaks down our refusal to remove our mask, and our spirit becomes teachable and receptive to help and insight.
“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” Psalm 25:9
Forgiveness, although difficult to offer when wearing our mask so tightly, breaks down the walls of our heart so we can release the emotions which are hindering us from admitting our need. There is no reward in holding out for the purpose of making the other person pay, and the sooner we can release this, the smoother our path will be to working through any conflict instead of tucking it beneath our mask. When the emotions are released, we will find our voice is much easier to use and received with understanding. Motivation resides with forgiveness, and once we forgive, we are drawn to being vulnerable and admitting our need.
“Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Eph. 4:32
Through the years, as I have continually gone through the closet of my heart and worked to remove each of the masks from my inventory one at a time, I realize that none of these masks can be removed and disposed of by my efforts alone. It is the same for all of us. It takes a diligent yielding to a loving God who is not willing to leave us as we are but loves us enough to gently refine the fearful, doubting and selfish edges so when we finally throw the mask away for good, we really will be able to say, “I’m fine….(E)NDEED!