I’m tired of playing charades. Of pretending things are fine when they aren’t. Or of acting like someone different than I really am.
When I was in middle school, my English teacher assigned us the challenge of writing a family history. Seemed reasonable. But not to my mom. She wore a cloak of shame because of our family background. The truth she feared coming out? That my dad’s family was of Polish origin. Gasp!
Together, we wove a noble tale of English ancestry. And I still remember the guilt I felt about the teacher’s accolades that accompanied the A+ grade: “This is a treasure for your family archives!”
As an adolescent, I didn’t understand why having a Polish background was something to hide. But I knew that it was not acceptable. The message was “if they (whoever ‘they’ was) knew the truth, they’d reject you.”
My mom had been raised with a father who mocked every ethnic group other than his own, and she was afraid that in the socially conscious world of the Navy, the truth about my dad’s heritage would be the kiss of death to his career. (If you wondering, the assignment of a new name at Ellis Island had provided cover for the genealogy.)
“You can’t have women friends. They’ll try to steal your husband.” Another of my mom’s pearls of wisdom. If I heard that message once, I heard it a thousand times.
The idea was seared in my mother’s mind because she had seen it play out in her own life. As a high school student growing up in the midst of the Depression, her own dad abandoned their family to pursue an affair with a family friend. That kind of emotional and financial earthquake can understandably cause lifelong scars.
What was the driving force behind my mom’s pretenses? Fear. Fear of rejection, fear of judgment, fear of abandonment. And so much of that fear instilled by her own father’s words and actions.
Sadly, each falsehood, each moment of pretending, was like putting another brick on a wall of isolation. My mom’s world became smaller and smaller with each passing year. What a tragic way to spend 90 years.
My mom was devoted to being a good mother. But her irrational thinking, a result of her own childhood trauma, had distorted her perspective.
That tendency to pretend, to have a false front, was ingrained. I inherited a deep seated insecurity that if I was truthful about who I was, about my background and my mistakes, I would be rejected.
And over the years, I made more than a few choices worthy of shame. Those provided more reasons to hide and to build my own wall of protection.
The first time I read the verse “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), it stopped me in my tracks. Really? No condemnation? I’d been raised to believe that hiding the truth was the only way to survive.
The words Jesus spoke to the woman being stoned for adultery were more proof of God’s unconditional love. Jesus challenged her accusers: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” After those condemning the woman had left, Jesus continued: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:7-11)
Jesus doesn’t condone bad behavior. But he also doesn’t condemn the person. Despite mistakes, false starts and failures, His love is constant. There’s no need to hide the truth from Jesus.
Grasping that truth transformed my life. What freedom it provided to no longer retreat in shame but to realize that God loved the real and imperfect version of me and that He was willing to forgive my mistakes. It was mind-boggling to know that He could even use my mistakes to help others. Talk about recycling!
True transformation requires being real. Being real with God, real with ourselves and real with others.
Wisdom is also required. Not everyone is “safe,” and not everyone needs to know the details of our lives. But by being appropriately transparent, we give others permission to do the same. It’s like opening a window and welcoming a fresh breeze of healing.
My prayer for each of us is twofold: first, that we will fully embrace the unconditional love and forgiveness that Jesus Christ offers and secondly, that we will live our lives unmasked, allowing others to know us as we truly are. Our authenticity gives others permission to be vulnerable. It’s one of the most beautiful ripple effects of being real.
How about you? Do you find yourself pretending – either to yourself or to others – about who you really are? Do you feel blanketed in shame? Or are you walking in freedom?
If you’re struggling with any of that, I’d love to talk. Just email me: email@example.com And maybe it’s time for you to come on over for some kielbasa with my girlfriends!
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