Periodically Frontlines will feature a book recommended by Prison Fellowship staff as a resource for your ministry to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. In this issue we highlight TrueFaced, written by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch.
Most of us have an assortment of masks we put on when we feel the need to hide our real selves. These may include:
- The “happy” mask
- The “I’m very together” mask
- The “I don’t care” mask
- The “I’m self-sufficient” mask
- The “I’m not hurt” mask
- The “I’m the expert” mask
We might don a mask because we fear our real self won’t be accepted. Or we think people will take advantage of us if we reveal our weaknesses. Or we’ll put ourselves at risk of being ridiculed or reviled if others see who we really are.
As Christians, we are meant to live lives marked by truth—for we follow and are indwelt by the One who is Truth.
And yet, “mask-wearing is sometimes even more pronounced in Christians,” write the authors of TrueFaced (NavPress, 2003). Despite what is really going on in our lives, we often feel obligated “to make God look good by having our act together . . . So, we cover our dirty laundry and think we’re doing the right thing by ‘modeling’ to the world how well God improves the lives of Christians.”
The result, however, is that “we usually just come off as weird, stiffly religious, proud, and working way too hard.”
Even worse, wearing masks—whether we think we are protecting ourselves or protecting God—also prevents us from experiencing genuine love, trust, and freedom. “[W]e might go our entire lives missing out on what we were created for”—and that includes the fullness of our relationship with God. If we hide behind a fake self, we can’t go beyond fake relationships.
In TrueFaced, the authors help us see how our masks came about, why we cling to them—to our detriment—and how understanding God’s grace gives us the freedom to drop the masks and begin to live and love authentically. The men write with a gentleness and humility that come from having struggled with their own guises of self-protection. Finding freedom and grace, they now invite others to share the discovery.
Masks in Prison
Although TrueFaced doesn’t speak specifically to a prison audience, it’s an excellent book to use in the discipleship of prisoners and ex-prisoners. Prison life itself boosts the prevalence of masks depicting toughness, self-sufficiency, and indifference. In a simmering environment, a show of weakness or fear could indeed get a person beaten, raped, or killed. Emotional masks, like a medieval knight’s face armor, may be crucial to survival in a place that could spontaneously erupt into a war zone.
But problems arise when masks deemed necessary in one setting are carried over into other settings and relationships—family, friends, work colleagues, church community, God. Breaking the cycle of pretense can make it easier to break the cycles of unhealthy relationships and criminal behaviors.
Masks in Our Mirrors
But TrueFaced is not just a resource to use in ministry with other people. It should first of all be used as a mirror for ourselves.
Are there masks we wear that hinder us from maturing into the true person God created us to be? Masks that hinder us from being a messenger of God’s grace to others? Masks that hinder us from receiving the fullness of God’s love, and therefore hinder us from sharing that love with others? Masks that hinder us in having the kind of influence in others’ lives that God really wants us to have?
As always, it’s vital that we follow Jesus’ command to remove the plank from our own eye before we attempt to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.
We develop masks, the writers explain, to deal with the guilt that results from sin we commit, and with the hurt that results from sin committed against us. When we don’t know, or don’t follow, God’s way to resolve our guilt and hurt, we come up with our own ways of fending off those feelings.
Even as Christians, TrueFaced cautions, we may get pulled into noble-sounding but dangerously skewed ways of thinking.
At some point, they write, all of us stand at the cusp of two diverging paths: one is labeled “Pleasing God”; the other, “Trusting God.” Both sound like admirable motives. It seems that either one would be the right path to take.
But the authors note that when Pleasing God becomes our primary motivation, that path leads us to what they call the Room of Good Intentions. And in there our focus is on striving to become all that God wants us to be. We seek to be more Christ-like; we work at sinning less. But eventually, recognizing we still sin, we question if we can really ever do enough to please God. And we grow tired, more anxious, perhaps even cynical.
On the other hand, if Trusting God is our foremost motivation, this path leads to the Room of Grace. And in there we can cease striving and begin living out who God already says we are. We are new creations, with a new identity—saints! “We have already been changed,” state the authors, “and now we get to mature into who we already are.”
We still sin, but we stand with a loving God who forgives and redeems and empowers as we trust Him.
Galatians 3:5 bears this out: “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? (NIV). In other words, because of your moral striving, or because of your trust in God’s truth?
And as we trust God, we also please God.
Security in Grace
As we live in this Room of Grace, along with others in the community of believers, we are able to drop our masks—our feeble attempts at self-protection that end up depriving us of the experience of true love and freedom. We don’t need to hide the guilt of our sin because we know that He will forgive us when we turn to Him in repentance. He will not abandon us; He will not remove His love from us. We sense less of a need for self-protection because of our growing security in the Lord.
Trusting God then allows us to move toward others in love and grace, despite the risk that they may hurt us and let us down. Trusting God for the grace and forgiveness He extends to us allows us to extend grace and forgiveness to others. We can welcome others into the room of Grace.
These are just some of the insights that permeate TrueFaced and make it a life-changing read. We encourage you to add it to your library. It will help you to live more authentically and freely before God and others. And it will help you to invite prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families to leave their “false selves” by the wayside to grow into who God has created them to be.