I loved October 31 as a kid.
It was the one day of the year when I could pretend to be someone else: a superhero, a Jedi knight, or my favorite cartoon character. By simply putting on a mask, I could look like whoever I wanted.
Unfortunately, for some of us, putting on a mask doesn’t just happen on Halloween. We do it year-round. And we're not just out to change our image; we're seeking to change our very identity to influence what others think about us.
I call this identity management: attempting to mask who we really are so that others see a different version of us that better aligns with what we want them to think about us. We want to have friction-free relationships, and these kinds of masks are perfect for the job.
Three forms of masking our identity
For some, the “mask” is their Facebook page or Instagram feed, portraying a life and lifestyle that looks good on the surface, but is far from reality. The problem emerges when you become a living version of the always-happy, only-positive social media page around close friends and relatives. The page becomes your in-person identity.
For others, it may be that the person you portray yourself to be in public. The problem is that it's radically different from the person you are at home. How tragic it can be when we become the best versions of ourselves for friends and acquaintances, but "turn it off" when we enter the home of the people we love the most.
- Still others attempt to project a trouble-free image on Sunday (“I’m fine”) to mask the struggles we face Monday through Saturday (“I’m a mess”).
Five consequences of masking our identity
Each form listed above creates a chasm between how we want others to view us and who we really are. This chasm can have serious consequences, particularly with our evangelism efforts.
When we put on a mask, we are less approachable. We mistakenly think that people will be attracted to us and our message if we appear to have our act together and don’t have any struggles or burdens.
When we pretend to be problem free, others wonder if they can even be themselves around us. People are not asking you to be perfect, but real, including being authentic about your struggles and what you have learned as you face them.
When we put on a mask, people will eventually see through it. When our actions and words don’t align with who we really are, most people will notice. This will drive people away from the Savior rather than to Him. It perpetuates the idea that Christianity is a sham.
The root cause of image management can keep you from sharing the gospel. If my fear of what you think of me rules my life, I most likely will base my decision as to whether or not to share the gospel on how I think it will be received by the person (or how I will be viewed by the person), making me less likely to share.
- Identity management robs us of spiritual power. God does not deal with falsehood. Those who worship Him must do so in Spirit and truth, and those who speak for Him should do the same. God’s strength is made evident in my weakness and struggles, not in my attempts to hide them.
Five ways to free yourself from identity management
Ask the Lord to reveal the masks you wear. If one comes to mind, also ask Him to reveal your heart motive for wearing it (pride, fear, etc.) In addition, find someone in your life who you can trust who tells you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear - and ask for their feedback and counsel.
Evaluate your words and actions. Are they motivated more by a desire to look good in the eyes of others or in the eyes of God?
Come with a heart of confession before the Lord. If you find that your fear of what people might think has taken precedence over your fear of God, it's important to acknowledge that you're actually prioritizing someone over God Himself. Confess this to the Lord, and ask Him to help you adjust your priorities.
Live for an audience of One. Many people will speak into your life in regard to how you should talk, think and act. But One voice must rise above the others. It's a daily struggle, but strive to live before an audience of One - distancing yourself from living for the approval of others and instead living to bring glory to the God of your salvation.
- Be authentic in your witness. Share your struggles when applicable as well as your triumphs. You don’t have to share everything with everyone, but be open to sharing as the Spirit leads.
Remember,God is most magnified in our weakness, honesty, and transparency. You and I are not the good news. He is!