It’s Halloween, the time in our culture when we encourage wearing costumes and masks. Of course we should be focusing on this day as Reformation day, the 495th anniversary of Martin Luther expressing his concerns about church practice that seemed inconsistent with Scripture. But I want to talk about the masks one can wear sometimes in grief. Actually, for a grieving person, a mask can be useful. Let’s say you’ve gone to the grocery store and a stranger in line tries to strike up a conversation, asking “how many children do you have?” It is one option for you to wear a mask and say you have 3 children. The reality might be that you have 3 living children and another one in heaven. That’s 4 children. But with this person in this context you don’t want to talk about the intimate pain you are living, in grief. It’s ok to put on your self protective mask for moments like this.
There are other moments in public when you want to protect yourself from additional pain from intrusive or prying comments from insensitive folks who don’t know or can’t imagine your story. So sometimes you answer “how are you?” with “fine” when that’s not exactly the whole truth. But any other answer would lead to more difficulty for you. You have my permission to avoid unnecessary pain, since there is already so much UNavoidable pain.
Sometimes a mask, pretending to be something other than what you are, is useful for self-protection or even the protection of others. Sometimes you act like you are doing ok, managing life, for the sake of your other children. They need you and they want to be able to rely on you. But you know that you are not strong enough for anyone to lean on. But the reality can be that while you are leaning on God, not standing on your own feet, they can lean on you because HE is strong enough for all of you.
There are also times when you need to be completely honest. You need and will benefit from being honest with yourself, with one trusted friend and with God. Honesty in your conversations with God (aka prayer) is necessary. You need to deliberately take off all your masks so you can ask for the help you really need. That’s how He will lead you to understand yourself and His working in your life. It’s like visiting your doctor. You have to tell him the truth about where it hurts. Otherwise how is he going to give you the right diagnosis for what ails you? Be honest with God so that both you and He know the state of your being.
Be honest with at least one dear friend who knows and loves you. This is the person you can rely on to give you good insight, useful encouragement, true hope. If you are trying to deceive this friend, how can they possibly give you the right input at the right time! Dishonesty is working against YOU at a time like this.
Be honest with yourself, then you know what to ask for, what help to seek, who to talk to. Then you will also be able to see when you are making real progress. You’ll have a true assessment of your moving forward through your grief to your new normal.
When you are protecting yourself, or someone who is relying on you through this valley of shadow, a mask can be useful and helpful. But you will only make progress through this valley when you unmask yourself in the presence of God and perhaps a friend. Deception, including self deception, will delay your healing process. It will be a road block. It will diminish what God can do for and in you.