A slight turn of the lips. No, that won’t do. What if I tilt my head slightly to the right? Nope. Too posed. And my nose! It looks like an arrowhead planted in the middle of my face! Maybe if I laugh. A most unnatural attempt produces a most unnatural smile. It’s no use! I just can’t get the perfect smile to do the trick. It’s for the photo on the back of my book, Holy His: Hope for a Life and a Nation Wholly His. I want my smile to be candid, not posed, so I’m practicing in the mirror. Only the faces I’m making now no longer include a smile. I imagine the fly on our wall, laughing hysterically at the a grown woman making faces at herself in the mirror. It must be one of the world’s most well-entertained flies, I ponder, as I picture it watching a certain grown man I know strike muscle man poses in the bathroom mirror. Now that produces a natural smile! Countless undetected moments of secretly observing a child experimenting with expressions in a mirror spring up next. And I’m reminded of the faces my daughters and I captured on the computer avoiding school work one day. With a click, we could completely alter our image. And I think of the different faces we put on in our lives. The faces we wear so no one will know the real us. The faces we don so no one will know we’re hurting. Or flawed. The faces we wear to hide our shortcomings and struggles. The faces we put on in church so we think we will be accepted by all the flawless people who must not have any of the problems we have. The masks that isolate us, lie to us, and keep us right where the devil can mess with our heads.
I once heard someone say never to compare our insides to another person’s outsides. It’s a trap, and we’ll always come up wanting. Don’t we all do it, though? We wear masks, and then we compare what we see and think of ourselves – our inside, private thoughts, attitudes of the heart, habitual sins, shortcomings, secrets – to the mask someone else secures to hide the very same things in their lives. And we walk around lying to each other. Not intentionally or maliciously. We’re just not telling the whole truth. Not that every detail is everyone’s business. But hiding who we really are, what we really are like, the things with which we struggle, the things someone needs to know about so we can be held accountable, the things we need to share so others can pray for us and help us, is really withholding truth.
Maybe it’s just me, but I confess, I fall into this trap. There was a time in my life when I lived there, and it was exhausting, oppressive, lonely, and desperate. I was terrified that someone would know the truth about me, and when they did, they would no longer accept me. So I wore the mask of perfection. My home was perfect. My hair was perfect. My clothes were perfect. My face was perfect. My job performance was perfect. I could be absolutely dying inside, marriage falling apart, failing my children, depressed, insecure, and unraveling, and I would flash a posed smile and tell you everything was great. It was miserable. And if I stumble into this old skin now, it’s unbearable.
It’s another way God’s truth set me free, and still does today. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” The New Living Translation puts it like this: “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.” When I start faking it, you can be sure of several things: 1) There’s an area of my life that’s disappointing me, and it’s most likely an area of sin, 2) I don’t want you to know about it, 3) I don’t even want God to know about it, and 4) I am looking to others to accept and affirm me as okay so I don’t have to deal with it. So I put on my mask of perfection, seeking man’s recognition rather than trusting the Lord. I neglect time before the Lord in order to make my outsides lovely, when what I really need is time on my face before Him so He can make my insides lovely again. I’m worshipping the wrong god. Seeking the wrong approval. Fearing the outcome. Trying to find acceptance in what the world says brings happiness rather than trusting God to be who He says He is to me. Always. Even when I’m having a bad day. Or a bad week. Or a bad season. Trusting Him to mean it when He says He is slow to anger and quick to forgive, that His mercy endures forever, that His love for me is deep and wide, His salvation eternal, His forgiveness complete. That Christ’s righteousness credited to me is not based on my performance or lack thereof.
When we find ourselves ensnared, Lord, how do we break free? Proverbs 29:25 answers: “Whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” Place your confidence in the Lord, Shauna, be boldly secure in Him, and you will be inaccessibly high – too high for capture. That’s what it means in Hebrew. When my trust is in Him, I can’t be ensnared. I’m out of reach. I’m safe. Even from my own traps. What does this look like? I look in the mirror. An extra seven pounds changes the way my clothes fit. Thoughts of disappointment over my imperfect body begin to stir. If I’m not a perfect size four, people won’t think the same of me. The familiar pattern lurks, ready to tighten the chains. But God’s grace doesn’t let go. Doesn’t disappoint. The same grace by which I am saved through faith turns my eyes from the mirror to Him. It’s You, Lord, I want to satisfy me. Time ticks as I try on another outfit, holding out for the ideal combination that will make me look and feel good. The extra time allotted for the Lord shrinks with every change of clothes. Compulsion threatens. But God’s grace doesn’t let go. Doesn’t disappoint. His grace turns my eyes from the mirror to Him. Time with You, Lord, is more important. Whatever I wear matters not compared to what I need You to do in me today. The perfect hairdo becomes a ponytail so I can have time in the word. I allow the women at the brand new church we’re attending to pray for me when I miscarry, sobbing under their loving touch when I’d rather put on the “I’m doing fine” face and run and hide. It’s sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly in order to encourage another, when I’d really rather no one know. It’s trusting God as THE SOURCE of all I need.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with looking good, exercising to stay fit and healthy, aging gracefully, having clear skin, pretty hair, nice clothes, etc. But when I’m spending more time and energy on that than I am with the Lord, there’s a problem. When I’m hiding struggles and faking fabulous, there’s a problem. It’s time to trust in the Lord.
Trusting God comes when we love God. Loving God comes when we become acutely aware of His grace. Of our complete ineptitude. Of our inability to do one thing to put ourselves in His grace. Of His gift. Undeserved. Of the fact that He seeks us out. He saves us. He sets us free. We don’t do anything to earn it. We can’t. And it’s clear. He is trustworthy. “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:6).
Let’s be real. With God. With each other. Let’s trust Him so we can be genuine with one another. It’s a risk. No one likes to be vulnerable. But He won’t let us down. Even if another person does, He won’t.
A simple verse keeps coming to mind. “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no” (James 5:12). Be who you say you are. Be who He says you are. Be real, in Him. With Him. Because of Him. For Him. That He may be glorified.
Thank you, Lord, that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Humbled by His grace, longing to be more wholly His,