Because encouragement was a rare item in my early years, I learned to treasure it when it did show up. Today, I understand encouragement’s power in new ways and try to give it as well as receive it. One encouragement I’ve received along the way also contains emotional freedom. What is that not-so-little secret? We don’t have to be perfect! Whew!
I remember preparing to speak at a women’s retreat and praying, “Lord, help me show these women how to remove their masks.” Then, stung by the self-righteousness of that request, I immediately amended my prayer: “No, Lord, help me remove my mask.”
In that moment, God, with His wild sense of humor, surely said, “Okay!” and I forgot my makeup! The retreat was in the Rocky Mountains, so when I arrived at the retreat center and realized my make-up bag was still on my home bathroom counter, I pondered my choices. The retreat was deep in the mountains, so I couldn’t run across the street and buy what I needed. And I wasn’t about to ask to borrow someone else’s makeup.
As I fretted about what to do, I realized this was the answer to my prayer. So, faceless, I later stood before the group and explained my prayer as the reason for their not being able to see my eyes. Then I began to talk about some of the masks we hide behind at one time or another, including control, happiness, self-righteousness, and perfectionism.
I thought the women were being polite in their gracious response, but later, a leader wrote me about the effect my comments had on her:
“In an instant I was stripped to the bone, and I sobbed on the inside as you said, ‘Let’s take off the masks.’ My husband and I have leadership positions within the church, but everything I do has to be ‘perfect’ or I’m miserable—and miserable to live with—for weeks. I can’t let people know who I really am since I’m afraid they won’t like me. But I don’t think they like me very much anyway. Your presentation without your makeup really got my attention, especially as I realized I would have canceled the retreat before I would have done that. Now I’m asking God to show me how to take off my mask, but I hope He’s gentler with me than He was with you.”
I chuckled at her last sentence and was sorry she hadn’t signed her name. How I would love to know how the Lord answered her prayer! But I do know her freedom—and mine—began with the realization we don’t have to be perfect before the Lord can use us.