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Thursday Thoughts

March 7, 2024

Thank goodness we are no longer having to wear masks as we did during "The Scourge". I often encounter a young man who continues to wear his cloth mask. This particular mask looks like it hasn't seen the inside of a washing machine....ever. He wears it all the time, even outdoors. His bangs reach the top of the mask so that only a sliver of skin is seen and one eye is sometimes visible. I wonder how he maneuvers without tripping over things. I assume that this person is painfully shy and this is how he copes with his environment.

 During this season of Lent, as we examine ourselves, I wonder if we find that we are wearing a mask. Not a physical mask, but one that keeps us from being who God intended us to be. What are some of the masks that we might hide behind? I will name a few but the goal is for us to inspect our inner being and see what mask we might need to rip away and free ourselves from a suffocating encumbrance.

 Shame and guilt are like a doubled chain around our hearts locked with a heavy-duty padlock. Feelings of unworthiness and helplessness can arrest spiritual growth. Here is a symptom: I have heard people say they will not attend church on communion Sunday because they are not worthy to take part in this holy meal. News flash! None of us are worthy, that is the point. We are offered forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus' love sacrifice for us. We can't earn our way into God's good graces. He loves us despite our guilt and shame. In Ephesians 2:4-5 we are given this reassurance: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgression- it is by grace you have been saved." Satan tells us constantly that we are not worthy. Jesus tells us that Satan is a deceiver and the father of lies according to John 8:34.

 Fear is a mask that all of us wear from time to time. It is easy to give into fear. Sometimes our bodies react to bad news with heart palpitations, blood pressure elevation or even fainting. We are numbed by fear sometimes. I know if I am driving on a high bridge or climbing a steep mountain road, it is all I can do to get my foot to press the accelerator because my body freezes. Do our hearts freeze and we succumb to fear when we think that God doesn't care about us, or we have lost him? "For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear, I will help you." Isaiah 41:13. It is easy to tell yourself or others not to fear because God has this, it is something else to experience that assurance. Keeping the mask of fear from our hearts takes practice and prayer. Spiritual growth is how we get there. We cannot find a solution on our own to our fears, we must rely on the Lord.

 We have read that pride goes before a fall, a verse taken from Proverbs 16. What does pride do to us? Pride is sneaky. Sure, we want to take pride in our work, in our appearance, in our home but when does pride cause us to sin? If we ever feel we are better than someone else, we are hiding behind a mask of pride. Pride keeps us from admitting when we are wrong. It will keep us from acknowledging someone elses accomplishments. Prideful people are skimpy with praise of others and focus more on themselves. Pride makes it very difficult to apologize to someone else because being right is the most important thing. When we are prideful we separate ourselves from God. We get the idea that we can do things on our own and don't need anyone to assist us. "First pride, then the crash-the bigger the ego, the harder the fall. It's better to live humbly among the poor than to live it up among the rich and famous." Proverbs 16:18-19 The Message

It seems our world feeds on anger. Watch the news, look at social media, or read a newspaper and you see there are many people in the world wearing a mask of anger. Even if you take a short drive somewhere, you may experience road rage or visit a restaurant and you may witness an angry outburst if an order is wrong. What is going on with people? Stress, relationship problems, grief, and financial struggles can generate anger. Self-control is one of the fruits of the spirit that takes time to cultivate. Very seldom is our anger a righteous anger but a selfish one. If it is our goal to be more like Christ, anger is a detraction from the model we have been given. "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." James 1:19-20. Much anger comes from unresolved problems that may need the help of a mental health professional. If we find ourselves or a loved one dealing with a deep anger, seek help to wholeness.

 "The devil made me do it, it's not my fault. I am the victim" says those who hide behind the mask of victimhood. We see evidence of this back in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve were in the garden. Adam ate the apple that Eve had given him. When God asked Adam about what he had done, he played the victim swearing that it was Eve's fault that he had eaten the forbidden fruit. This was the first recorded incident of gaslighting, playing the role of victim. How many of us are guilty of playing the wronged party? We are responsible for our actions. "So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God." Romans 14:12. Standing up and taking responsibility, facing whatever the consequences might be takes a brave person. Victims need validation and sympathy from others. Victims will often concoct stories to have others feel sorry for them. Be aware of those who wear the mask of victimization.

 Lent is a tough time. It may be sickening to look at ourselves with discerning, honest eyes. What mask might we be wearing? There are a myriad of masks to choose from dishonesty, impatience, arrogance, greed, cowardliness, cynicism, unhealthy choices, jealousy, and the list goes on. Do we want to sincerely rid ourselves of these dirty and disgusting masks? It is difficult to admit that we might wear such a thing but this is a time of discernment and penitence. What a sense of freedom it would be to rip off whatever masks we wear and take a deep breath of Christ's forgiveness and grace.



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