When I was in college, I discovered a poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, who was a freed slave born in 1872. He wrote a poem called, We Wear the Mask,* and the images from the first verse stay with me.
We wear the mask that grins and lies It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes -- This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, And mouth with myriad subtleties.
This “lying and grinning mask” has made me wonder about the pain and suffering the writer saw and endured during slavery. He had to know how humans suffered and how people locked pain inside to survive.
Today, we still lock the pain within. I remember times when I shoved off into a busy world with a mask to cover my brokenness. I’ve buried loss, failure, rejection, and insecurity; and pretended everything was okay. But it wasn’t. I learned that moments like these develop into sadness, sickness, sleepless nights and more.
Unfortunately, I am not the only one. We all grab masks to cover the conflict within. We want to hide our flaws so that we are not judged. We want to bury hurtful words. We want to be strong when we lose loved ones. We long to cover the pain and heartache within.
But the mask doesn’t cure. It doesn’t erase. It doesn’t make pain go away. Rather, it holds pain tightly inside us and this corrodes us within. We live with, “Torn and bleeding hearts,” while the mask continues to smile.
Jesus knows our hearts and he knows our pain. When he came to this earth, he chose the way of suffering. He experienced physical pain and a broken heart. He went through condemnation from religious leaders, the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, abuse from Roman soldiers and religious leaders, and finally torture on a wooden cross.
And if that wasn’t enough, he pierced a broken world to make a way to shatter masks and heal us. He carried our wrongdoings within his one beating heart and made a way to ultimately free us from the pain in our hearts. Instead of wearing masks that paint happiness on the outside, he made a way for real peace to remain on the inside. He gives us healing. He loves us intensely. And he gave us community so that we can love one another, encourage one another and build one another up.
We don’t have to carry the pain, the hurt, and the suffering alone. We can be free in Christ Jesus when we give our hearts to him. He sits with us in our pain, strengthens us to endure and heals our hearts. In turn, we share our story with others who suffer. We listen to others in pain. We cry with them. We pray with them. And we ask Jesus to shatter their masks and heal their hearts too.
Join the Conversation
Dear Heavenly Father, living in community is tough for us. We all have wounds and life seems to pour more pain into us. Oftentimes, suffering seems to come from nowhere and crush us on the inside but still we wear the mask, don’t we?
Please come and sit with us in our pain and suffering. Please open our hearts to your tender loving care and remove the mask. Please heal us.
Please help us to remember those who suffer. Teach us to be a conduit for your healing love to flow through us. Show us how to help others, say a kind word, or just go and sit with those who hurt. Please help us be the community that ushers in your love, your comfort and healing. Thank you so much. Together, we ask these things in Jesus’ Name, amen.
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*The whole poem can be found at poetryfoundation.org