Let Down the Mask
People say “just be yourself” like it’s this simple addition problem where you can add a dose of brown hair to a dose of sanguine personality and … poof! … there you are. But it’s not that easy, is it? Maybe you too have lived in a masquerade for so long that you’ve forgotten who you are beneath all the layers of pretty, strong, and perfect masks. I showed the world the Tiffany-I-thought-was-wanted, because if I didn’t, would anyone want me?
In fact, why even bother being yourself? Isn’t your mask more likeable than you?
My Favorite Assignment
It was my favorite assignment I ever received in college. And believe me, I’ve received some pretty interesting assignments – from stargazing for hours to seeing if I could go three days without listening to any music whatsoever. But this was my favorite.
I was riveted to the TV as we watched dancers twisting and turning inside capsules of spandex fabric, as though they were trying to escape. You couldn’t see their faces or make out their body shapes; they were entirely hidden, struggling, trapped inside the spandex. I wondered who they were.
There was no resolution or discovery of freedom by the time my professor clicked off the TV. We left the dancers still trapped as she concluded the lesson. “So there you have it: Martha Graham’s choreography. Next week you’re going to come and try out some of the dance techniques we’ve studied this semester. To prepare, I want you to make a mask that expresses some part of your personality, or the person you wish you had the courage to be.” She had to raise her voice over the stuffing of papers into backpacks. “You’ll wear it while you’re dancing next week.”
“What are you going to make?” my suitemate Gloria whispered.
“Something pink and sparkly.” I had known before the assignment was out of the professor’s mouth. I also knew I would get an A, because I was a master in creating masks to wear.
What a great excuse to procrastinate on my other classes! I was making a mask. Who did I want people to see? Someone with blonde hair hiding behind a pink paper plate mask with fake diamonds falling down from it, flowers on the top of the mask, and a sparkling ribbon to tie it around my head. Obviously. Heck, I would have worn it all over campus! – if wearing masks was the thing to do.
I decided against marching into my psych class wearing the mask, since I didn’t want to know how people would psychoanalyze me, but a photo shoot to upload on facebook was the next best thing. Gloria (a sweet, semi-quiet girl) posed in her wild leopard mask while I donned my cutest heels and, of course, pink mask. Click! There I was, just as I wanted all of facebook to see me.
I spent the next class incorporating Martha Graham techniques while wearing my beautiful pretty in pink persona, thinking of last week’s dancers still struggling to be free from the spandex that was hiding who they were. Ironically, years later I found a quote by Martha Graham that made me think back to that morning. Perhaps she too had been struggling to find herself beneath the fabrics and masks of life when she said:
“We are all unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.”
May I add that something wonderful has been lost.
Why God Made You You
When you create something, you create it for a reason. Something my neighbors don’t know is that Karl Benz didn’t invent the automobile for a pretty lawn decoration; he created it so that people could get places more quickly and easily. Cars have a purpose. (Besides sitting on your lawn and looking pretty.)
Likewise, when God created you and me, He made us for a specific purpose: To know Him and make Him known. Not only did He give us that purpose, but He also gave us specific tools through which we are supposed to achieve that purpose. Perhaps the biggest tool He has given us to achieve that purpose is ourselves.
One of the biggest ways we can show others who God is, is by being the person God made us to be. He has given each of us a specific personality, passions, and features, which show the world a small piece of who He is.
It breaks my heart when I see women hiding their lovely, beautiful, intriguing selves and trying to be someone else who seems to have it all together. Suddenly high schools look like clone factories and girls aren’t living life as the people they were created to be. The world is missing out on seeing the image of God that He put into each of those young women.
The Apostle Paul said that followers of Christ make up the “body of Christ” here on earth (1 Cor. 12). Some of us are the hands, figuratively speaking, some of us are the feet, etc. In order for the body to function properly, we each have to do our own job. You can’t have the ear trying to be the eye or the foot trying to be the hand. That kind of body would demolish itself.
So it is with your appearance, personality, and passions: That is God’s gift to you. Instead of wishing we had someone else’s good looks or personality, we should thank Him for what He’s given us. He made your unique personality to show a piece of who He is to the world. If you are trying to be someone else, then the world will never see that piece of Him which He put in you. We need to stop trying to be someone else and start being ourselves (Romans 9:20-21).
As we’re talking about being yourself, remember that being yourself doesn’t mean feeling comfortable. Sometimes people say to “be true to yourself,” which usually means, “make sure you get your own way!” That’s not what being ourselves really means.
God loves you just as you are and where you are on life’s journey. That doesn’t mean He approves of where you are or is going to leave you there. He is going to love you every step of the journey and whether or not you ever come to Him, but He does not want you to stay where you are and He does not necessarily approve of where you are. There are things about you that God will shape, like making something out of playdough.
Imagine He made this certain lump of playdough and it’s blue. The playdough’s sitting on the counter saying, “This is me. I’m blue and a circle. That’s who I am.” God, on the other hand, sees the creation He wants this playdough to become, so He starts squeezing it and rolling it. The playdough’s screaming, “Stop it! You’re messing with who I am! Hello, are you listening to me? This is uncomfortable!” What the playdough doesn’t realize is that it’s becoming who it is meant to be. Eventually it is reworked into a beautiful bowl. It’s still blue and it’s still playdough, but it looks different. It’s still the same thing only reworked into the creation God meant it to be.
There are things God is shaping into your life as well. Being true to yourself doesn’t mean you never change; it means you know who God made you to be and you ask Him for a glimpse of who He is causing you to become.
How to Be Yourself
Maybe you’re in the same place I was a few years ago, thinking, “Well all this talk about just being me is great, but I have no idea where to start or how to do that!” (I wrote a song about it, called “Front.”) It took me a few years to find myself under all my masks, and the journey might take you some time as well. There is no quick formula for discovering who you are, but these are some steps I took along my journey:
I was afraid to stop dying my hair. Afraid. You would have thought people might die or the world might explode if I went back to my normal hair color. I just couldn’t go back to brown, because I didn’t think guys would notice me if my hair was brown. Blonde hair was my trademark; it pretty much defined me. Then in a daring moment in Sydney, Australia, red became my trademark hair color. But brown? Would anyone notice me then?
It wasn’t just my hair that I was faking, it was everything about me. I had to have Jenna’s sarcasm, Karyn’s sensitivity, Joanna’s waistline, Danielle’s facial structure, Ashley’s singing voice, and Krysta’s laugh. I had pieced together a patchwork quilt version of myself, made up of my friends’ qualities. But where was I in the patchwork? I couldn’t tell anymore.
One day I had a brilliant idea: I could ask the One who made me who I was! Of all people, He should know. So I brought the patchwork quilt version of me to God and asked Him to show me who I was. Through friendships with people who loved me, reading the Bible to see what He said, and spending time praying and getting to know Him, I began to see who I was and who I was not.
Here is a very short list I’ve compiled of some hints the Bible gives us as to who we were created to be:
- We are royal daughters of the King (Psalm 45:13, 1 Pet. 2:9, 1 John 2:12-14, 1 John 3:1-2)
- We are His special treasure (Deut. 7:6, Psalm 17:8, Zech. 2:8, 1 Pet. 2:9)
- We are dearly loved by God (John 15:9, Rom. 8:37-39, Eph. 2:4)
- We are created to be worshipers of God (Isaiah 43:7, 1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 4:11)
- We are messengers of God’s love to others (Matt. 28:18-20, John 13:35, Acts 13:47, Eph. 6:14-15, Rom. 10:14-15)
- We are chosen and called by name (Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:6-7, Eph. 1:11-12, Col. 3:12, 1 Pet. 2:9)
- We were created in God’s image and for His glory (Gen. 1:27, Psalm 139:13, Eph. 2:10, Col. 1:16, Rev. 4:11)
- We were created for a unique purpose and given us gifts to accomplish that purpose (Exodus 9:16, Jer. 29:11, Rom. 8:28, Rom. 9:20-21, Rom. 12:4-8, 1 Cor. 12, 2 Tim. 1:9, 2 Tim. 2:20-21)
- We were created to be different from the rest of the world (John 17:14, Rom. 12:2, 1 Thess. 5:23, James 4:4, 1 John 2:15-17, 1 John 3:1-3)
Finding who you are involves taking risks and experimenting, but there is no love more secure than the love of God. He’ll love us in our failures and successes, in our imperfections and beauty. When we realize how deeply God loves us, it gives us the security we need to let down the mask and truly be ourselves, living life as the daughters He created us to be.
I’ve gone au natural with my hair color. I had to dye it brown before letting it grow out or I would have had a huge line across my head of half blonde-half brown. It was actually Justin, my best guy friend, who put me up to it. He told me I needed to stop messing with my hair and let it go natural, because it was so pretty and all the dye was ruining it. Me, pretty, naturally?
I was scared. I mean, I came out of the bathroom at two minute intervals asking, “Mom, are you sure I should try dyeing my hair brown? Will it look okay?” Then I’d go back to standing in front of the mirror with the box of hair dye next to my face, critiquing the color. Finally I took a deep breath and put the brown hair dye in.
Psalm 139 says “I will praise Him because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Praise God for who He made you to be. Thank Him for making you to be you. Throughout all of Scripture the key is in taking our focus off ourselves and putting it back on God. Here is yet another time the psalmist took his eyes off of himself and thanked God for the creation He fashioned.
Step #3: Make up your mind: Choose to enjoy living life as you.
I no longer want that patchwork quilt version of me; I am enjoying being who I really am – brown hair and all. Now I have the confidence to be adventurous with the way I live. For example, I’ve started cracking my corny jokes when I’m around cute guys. So much for being suave and sophisticated – the other day I actually belched in front of a cute guy! Instead of repelling people from me, I have gained friends. I never knew confidence and joy like this when I was looking for beauty; my confidence would be shaken if I gained half a pound or a zit. Today those little things don’t really bother me. I am at rest with who I am – and fully enjoying life as me – and, go figure, that makes other people enjoy being around me.
Nick Vucijic is a Swedish man who travels the world, speaking to thousands of people.2 He is so happy and confident that you would never guess he is a man whose body is primarily composed of a torso. He has his little “chicken drum” feet and stumps for hands. He can hardly stand up on his own, and he struggled to learn to feed himself. No one would blame him if he felt sorry for himself. But he doesn’t.
Nick Vucijic loves life and enjoys being himself. He believes that God made him on purpose, and that he is not a mistake. He has the bigger scheme of life in mind so he can glimpse God’s higher purposes. He is an example to all of us of the way we can live, confident in God’s love for us.4 Every single one of us can enjoy being ourselves, but it involves a choice. We have to decide to be confident in God’s love for us and learn to enjoy being ourselves.
The choice is first made in our minds, where the battle for confidence is won or lost. When negative thoughts come in your head (as they will, I can guarantee it), you have a choice to make. You can let that thought run through your head so much that you come to believe it, or you can recognize the lie in it and ask God how He sees you. Memorize Scriptures (like Psalm 139:13-18) that tell you what God has to say about you; those will be your new best weapon for winning the battle in your mind. Ask a few friends to help you as you change the way you think about yourself. You have the power to choose whether or not you enjoy living life as you.
If I am to be completely honest, I would have to say that, more than anything else, it was the time spent on my knees in prayer that showed me who I was. As I developed a relationship with Jesus, and began to know who He was, He in turn showed me who I was.
C.S. Lewis says it this way in his book Mere Christianity:
The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of “little Christs,” all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented – as an author invents characters in a novel – all the different men that you and I are intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to “be myself” without Him… I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call “me” can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own… Your real, new self…will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.
Ultimately it’s not so much about finding who I am. It’s about finding who He is. If you’re focusing too intently on finding who you are, you’ll miss it. We have to focus on searching out who He is, and on the way to getting lost in Him, we’ll find ourselves.
The Old Me and the Real Me
Let me illustrate this a little better for you, to show you the difference I found…and just how very different the old, Stepford version of me is from the real me that I enjoy everyday.
The old me was quieter. I definitely wasn’t shy, but my outgoingness depended on the way I looked. On days when I felt pretty, I said hi to everyone; on days when I didn’t feel pretty, I didn’t say hi to most people. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I was super, super, super sweet. Like, seriously, you probably haven’t met anyone sweeter than who I used to be. I used to be told that all the time. But it was guilt-motivated. I felt bad about EVERYTHING and so I was sweet as sugar to try and make sure people liked me and were never mad at me. I wasn’t very good at saying “no,” and you could guilt trip me into just about anything. I definitely wasn’t assertive. The old me was your stereotypical “blonde.” Even though I truly was naive, I definitely played it up as ditzy, thinking guys would like me better. I was over-the-top girlie. I still am extremely girlie, but I played that up too, thinking guys would like me better. I didn’t talk about my dreams with guys – at least not right away. I thought they preferred someone who didn’t have a lot of dreams, so I covered those up and reserved them for people close to me. And I DEFINITELY didn’t talk about my struggles with food, body image, and other things, because I didn’t want people to see behind the mask of perfection. Speaking of perfection, if I got a less-than-perfect grade on something, it would haunt me and I would beat myself up over it. For example, I was an RA (Resident Assistant) my senior year of college. When my residents filled out their evaluations of me, every single thing was positive. The only thing in one of the negative columns was something to the extent of, “I think we should do a movie night.” To this day, that is the only thing I remember from those evaluations. It ate me up! That’s ridiculous, because having supervised RAs, I now know that those are incredible evaluations to have. But all I could think was, “I failed. I should have had that movie night I planned but then found out no one could come.” I was so focused on being perfect, that all I saw in my own life was the imperfect.
The real me – the one I enjoy being – is very different. In some ways I’m similar. I’m still girlie. I still like to do everything with excellence. I still am pretty sweet. And I still struggle with being guilt-motivated at times, or in other words doing things because I feel bad or am worried about whether or not someone will like me. But I’m MUCH different. I am extremely outgoing – both on my good days and on my bad days. I don’t think people will like me better if I look better, and honestly, I’ve just stopped caring as much what people think about me or how I look. Actually the other night I was at a bonfire and was being my crazy self, and a friend who doesn’t know me super well was there and I seriously thought I was going to scare him off and he’d never hang out with me again. But I was like, “Well, if he doesn’t like me for who I am, that’s okay.” I’m not thinking, “His loss,” or anything like that, I’m just accepting that some people will and some people won’t like the real me, and that’s perfectly fine. There are some people I like hanging out with and some I don’t enjoy being around quite as much. That’s normal. Not cause something’s wrong with them, but just cause our personalities don’t mesh. I’m still friends with them, I just don’t choose to be best friends with them. So I know there are people who will prefer not to be best friends with me. That’s okay. Moving on. Like I said, I’m still sweet…but also very assertive and much more sarcastic (with those who can handle sarcasm – particularly my guy friends). I’m very good at saying “no.” I say it quite often actually, because I’ve learned my limits and I’ve learned that the people who matter in my life will still love me if I say no. In fact, I’ve never had anyone mad at me for saying “no” to them, weirdly enough. I’m still a bit naive, but not ditzy anymore. That’s for sure. I’m not afraid to talk about my dreams, or my struggles. I feel like my life has become an open book. I’m hoping that my struggles help someone else, so I’ll share them with anyone. Now when I get an evaluation or am worried about a grade, I remind myself to focus on the positive instead of a negative. In my four years working professionally in Residential Life, I got some negative remarks on my evaluations and lots of positive ones. I took the negative ones, thought about if it was an area I could improve on. I changed things if I could. And then I left them and re-read the positive remarks. My memories of those four years are extremely positive. When I look back, the negative comments aren’t what come to mind; instead, it’s all the positive remarks: the amazing cards my RAs have made for me, the “what we love about Tiffany” posters they’ve created, the sneak attack nerf gun wars they’ve ambushed me with, and the sweet emails they’ve sent long after graduating. I don’t think back on the negative comments.
I’ve changed SO much. Who I am in some respects is the same as who I as before, since the real me was just buried beneath the surface. But who I am now is also very different. I love being me, and find so much freedom in it. Oddly enough, even though I thought guys would like the Stepford me better…well, they actually like the real me better. So do I. I’d take the real me over the Stepford me anytime.
This Is Who I Am
Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to, the person I know I am: I am a beloved daughter of the King of kings. The God of the universe called me His own. That’s who I am. I am His. My identity is wrapped up in and inseparable from God Himself. I am His daughter and I have a confidence that comes from knowing who I am in Christ. Here’s part of my list so far: In Christ I am more than a conqueror, loved completely, never alone, and a warrior-princess. The more I read the Bible, the longer that list grows.
Until we know who we are in Him, as His precious, royal, chosen people, we will never walk with the courage God intended for us. Since knowing I am His daughter, I have a boldness to live out of the personality and passions He has given me. I trust that He will take care of me, He will lead me, and He will love me. My worth doesn’t come from what I do, where I live, or who I’m dating; my worth comes from the blood that was spilled for my life at Calvary. Nothing and no one can steal that worth from me.
I am a daughter of the King, and all I want to be is His.
Foothold: Go au natural.
The next leg of the journey was for me to recognize that God made me to be me for a reason. He wanted me to live as me, rather than miss my life by always wanting to be someone else.
You are not a mistake, and you are not an accident. You are a precious, dearly-loved woman, carefully and purposefully created just the way you are. You are a miracle.
Let down the mask. Stop trying to be the person you think is wanted. Take the risk of being yourself. It’s scary, I know. Take a deep breath and decide to go “au natural” with your life, letting down the pretences and being completely and fully you. Spend time on your knees, getting to know God so you can come to know who He says you are. As you get lost in Him, through things like studying the Bible, prayer, and worship, you will begin to discover who you are. You will find confidence when you know you are a daughter of the King.
Until next time,