How to See the Need Behind the Mask

Earlier this year, “Church Clothes” was released by country artist Kelleigh Bannen. The song follows a couple who attend a Sunday morning worship service and act like everything about their marriage is as perfect and put together as the very clothes they are wearing. But, in reality, their marriage is on the rocks:

You drive, I look out the window
It’s not right but nobody said so
We walk in and head to the same pew
And hold hands, just like we’re supposed to
But last night you slept on the sofa
And these days I don’t even know ya
We fight but nobody knows
When we’re wearing our church clothes

We stand up, we sing a hymn
We say a prayer for other friends
We’re turning to the book of John
And I’m thinking how I can’t go on

But we smile and we give it our Sunday best
If we’re lost, couldn’t tell by the way we’re dressed

You drive, I look out the window
It’s not right but nobody said so
We walk in, I head to the bedroom
But you don’t, you do what you want to
Like last week when you packed a suitcase
And came close to getting your own place
Oh, that’s the stuff nobody knows
When we’re wearing our church clothes

The couple in this song are masters of disguise when it comes to hiding their dysfunction. How many times, in a crowded room, are we drawn to the people who either look like us or simply look like they have it all together?

The key word here is “look.” It is easy to make the outward appear acceptable to others or to put on a mask. Over the last several years, culture and social media have made it even more convenient and easy for us to interchange these masks. As women – even as Christian women –  isn’t it easy or tempting for us to do this daily?

Masking the Heart

We may put on a mask for a few conversations, an interview, in our marriage, on social media, or even for Sunday morning service – but God weighs the heart and knows our motives (Prov 21:2). God peels back our many layers and sees through our mask and outward appearance. Like most of us, Samuel got hung up on appearances. However, God took the time to remind Samuel that inner qualities, especially our identity in Him, mean far more than outward appearances. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Masking in the Church

Just like in this song, many things in our lives can be hidden from others by putting on a mask that so many of us wear. Isn’t it interesting that this song is written in the context of a local church? This song struck a chord with me when I realized that it most likely resonated with several members that attend the church where my husband is the pastor.

Most recently, through a variety of circumstances, the masks that a few of them were wearing were removed and they were exposed. One woman (let’s call her Ashley) had been living with a man who wasn’t her husband. Yet, every Sunday, they would meet in the parking lot, put on a mask, and attend church together as a happy family. Then, there’s another woman who was walking through an impossible, sinful relationship and had gotten an abortion just the week prior to attending one of our ministry events. In this instance, she was so afraid of being a single mother and what her church and family members would think, that she went through with an abortion. She fought back tears and hid behind pain and shame as she approached the altar of God’s redeeming love and grace. These women and marriages are all around you and me.

These women are not just sitting beside me in my church, they are also sitting next to you in yours.

I had given these members a hug and smiled at their “I’m fine” response. However, we must go beyond the surface and get to their core in order to truly know them. Then, when they do finally open up and share, we should be careful not to judge or immediately condemn.

This article isn’t to point out how vulnerable and honest this song is, it is to remind you and me that this exists. Not only within the world, but in our churches and women’s ministries. They are sitting on your pew on Sunday morning, they are in your weeknight home group, and they are sitting across from you at the church potluck.

So, how do we minister to those who are wearing masks in our church?

First, ask God to give you discernment and to open your eyes to see those who are hurting around you. Some wear masks very well. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Second, allow yourself to be vulnerable and transparent when sharing and ministering to the women around you. None of us is going to have it all together this side of heaven. We can’t demand or expect people to be polished before turning their lives over to Christ – that is the beauty of salvation.

You and I need to take off our masks and share where we are and, even more importantly, where we have been and what Christ has done and is doing in our lives. By sharing where we have been, we are not glorifying our past, but instead we are bringing glory to Christ for what He has done in our lives. Our past and bad decisions cannot be reversed, but they can be redeemed.

Finally, do not waver from the Word of God. Experiences are good, but the Word of God pierces the heart and speaks to every aspect pertaining to life (Heb 4:12).