By Jaime Sherman
For many years, I wore a beautiful, invisible mask that disguised the broken pieces of my heart. I slipped it on to keep others from seeing the real me, but when I hid behind the mask’s shiny exterior, I knew I was an imposter faking fine. My heart longed to be free, to never be masked again, for as I was learning, a life lived behind an invisible mask, no matter how attractive, is exhausting to maintain and ultimately extinguishes the joys of a life lived in community.
One day I slowly started peeling back the layers of the unseen mask that held me captive. I invited a few safe sisters into my story — into the messiness, the sorrows, and the joys — to pray with me through the challenges I faced. While the process wasn’t always comfortable, living unmasked became easier in the company of these sweet women.
As I reflect on what life looks like today in a world stricken by a sometimes-deadly virus, I know how easy it would be for me to revert and to hide my raw emotions under the physical masks we are now asked to wear when we cannot maintain a safe distance from others. When I don’t consistently see my friends face to face, and when I don’t ask them to pray with and for me, it seems easiest to say I’m weathering this rocky season “just fine.” But I know this pattern encourages the imposter in me, not joy and life.
As I seek to live both physically masked in the face of a virus and emotionally vulnerable with the safe sisters in my life during this strange chapter in our lives, I want to “smile with my eyes” but also allow my face mask to become wet with tears when life isn’t easy.
We each have the unique opportunity to respect governing authorities and to love the people around us by wearing physical masks — and to strip the invisible masks from our faces in order to share in the joys and the messy, emotional parts of our stories with select people in our lives. Here are four steps I take when learning to live raw and real with safe sisters:
- Make a list. I identify a few women I trust to listen, to pray, and to speak life-giving words into my brokenness. This list has changed through the seasons of my life, and that’s okay and fitting. A short list is often best, especially as one learns to entrust her heart to another person — and to hopefully hold the other’s heart, too.
- Reach out. I have to fight isolation and the fear of vulnerability to spend time with a safe sister either on the phone, during a walk, or through another physically safe activity. This means that when I reach for the physical mask, I choose to keep the invisible one at home in order to pour forth my heart. This process will rarely be easy, but it can be a beautiful thing worth the investment of time and emotions.
- Pray with and for my safe sisters. When women speak words of truth and life to the safest One of all, whether together or alone, a spiritual bond grows between them that cannot be easily broken. This may seem uncomfortable at times, but again, becoming real is never easy or without pain. But the process is worth it in the end!
- Share the joys. I have learned that a consistent habit of thankfulness for the moments of joy (not necessarily happiness) sprinkled through each day helps me weather even the hardest of circumstances. Journaling lists, decorating a wall with sticky notes of gratitude, and speaking of the good things from God to my safe sisters are just some of the ways I can acknowledge what God is doing in my life.