Unveiling the Mask of Authenticity
On one of my birthdays my sister gave me a full-face rubber mask…one of those crazy things you slip over your head. She told me she’d give me ten dollars if I’d wear it into the pulpit one Sunday (my kids raised it to fifteen dollars), but I just couldn’t do it! One night I wore it to a speaking engagement. Without any explanation, I just stood up and began to speak on being authentic. There I stood pressing on, making one statement after another as the place came apart at the seams. Why? Anybody knows why! My mask canceled out everything I had to say, especially on that subject. It’s impossible to be very convincing while you wear a mask.
I finally pulled the thing off and the place settled down almost immediately. As soon as it did, everybody got the point. It’s a funny thing, when we wear literal masks, nobody is fooled. But how easy it is to wear invisible ones and fake people out by the hundreds week after week. Did you know that the word hypocrite comes from the ancient Greek plays? An actor would place a large, grinning mask in front of his face and quote his comedy lines as the audience would roar with laughter. He would then slip backstage and grab a frowning, sad, oversized mask and come back quoting tragic lines as the audience would moan and weep. Guess what was called. A hypcritos, one who wears a mask.
Wow, what a poignant story. When I first read this story from one of Charles Swindoll’s book, I became pensive. Immersed in deep thoughts, I felt God was challenging me to answer the inconvenient question “Paul, are you wearing an invisible mask? Are you like a Greek actor hyprocitos – one who wears a mask?” My initial gut reaction was “No, of course not, God – how could I? I’m a Christian.” Immediately, I was humbled by a quote that jumped out of me. The very words from Irish evangelist Gypsy Smith: “There are five gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian. And some people will never read the first four.” In other words, the message is seen before it is heard.
One insight I’ve gained as a leader is this: As your sphere of influence grows, your words and actions have an exponential ripple effect among your followers. Every saying, behavior, and interaction counts. The choice is yours. Choose either exemplary leadership or abysmal leadership.
Another implication of greater influence follows the numerous temptations, power struggles, pressures, and unexpected risks that challenge the very core of your character. These situations will either make or break you. To simply avoid these situations is naïve. As James Froude said, “You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.”
Going back to my internal question around “wearing an invisible mask,” I was compelled to admit that at times, I found I was wearing the mask of pride, mask of success, mask of kindness because I had this pre-defined image or brand of myself. God thankfully reminds me through painful experiences that “what good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit [his] soul?” My focus in retaining a self-image superseded my identity in Christ.
My theme around my blog is Salt & Light. Jesus called us salt of the earth and light of this world. “If the salt loses its saltiness…we are no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matt 5:13) As a light of this world, how can we shine through when the lamp is put under a bowl?
We are called to live a different, holy, and purposeful life. Elie Wiesel said it best:
When we die and go to heaven
our Maker is not going to say,
why didn’t you discover the
cure for such and such?
The only thing we’re going
to be asked at that precious
moment is why didn’t you
We are called to lead like Jesus. To do so requires us to unveil our duplicitous self and realize that we are born-again in Christ, given a new identity. When we live authenticity instead of do authenticity, not only will we have greater influence and credibility as salt and light, but God will glorified through who we are.
Question: What masks have you worn before? What have you done to be authentic in who you are?