It is one word, spoken by two people in a rhetorical ritual performed when the two first encounter each other, either for the first time, or following some time apart. One participant asks the rhetorical question, “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?” or even, “Sup?”
This greeting is required even though the querist has very little (if any) interest in an answer. It is a complex way of saying, “Hello.” Those engaged in this ritual do not expect the question to be responded to with anything other than “Fine” or “Not much.” Any reply beyond that constitutes a breach of etiquette, and causes an awkward hiccup in the conversation.
We witness this mini stage-play every day, and in multiple venues. Banks, coffee shops, radio call-in shows, the check-out line at the grocery store.
If ever there was a place where one could genuinely address the question, “How is it going,” or “How do you do,” it should be within the body of Christ. But, sadly, such is not always the case.
I still recall an incident from more than thirty years ago wherein a man greeting at the church door thrust forth his hand and said, “Fine. How are you?” I had not asked him anything, but he was so used to engaging in the empty routine that he offered the prescribed response without having been asked.
Our behavior is pretense at its best. We are pretending that things are other than they truly are. We are not fine. We hurt. We are lonely. We are tired. We are fearful. But we feel compelled to pretend that we are fine, lest others see through our masks and think less of us because we suffer. Sharing your pain with me does not make you weak, a whiner, or less of a man or woman.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2, ESV
As I stood in line at Safeway, waiting for my turn to be checked out, there was a young woman in line ahead of me with her daughter – I’m guessing about five years old. At some point, I leaned forward to grab something out of my cart. As I did so, the little girl ahead of me reached up, tugged on her mother’s shirt-tail, and said in a loud voice, “Momma, he don’t got no hair!”
It was a hilarious moment, because the little girl was correct. I do have a very thin layer of silver hair on the top of my head, and in the right light, it looks as though there is no hair at all. The mother, of course, wanted to disappear under the counter. She was completely embarrassed by her daughter’s candor, volume, and ignorance of anything that resembles tact.
My father, originally a redhead, was bald in his twenties. I decided at a very young age that if it happened to me, I was going to grow bald gracefully. No comb-over and no toupée.
A gentleman who is employed by a local retailer is completely bald on the top of his head. He has the standard horseshoe of hair at ear level around the bottom of his head. Rather than be hairless up top, what this man has chosen to do is to grow his hair very long in the back, and then to comb it from back to front, over the top, bringing it to a point in the middle of his forehead. With this bizarre hair-do, he looks eerily like Grandpa Munster.
There is something within me that is a little sad for this man each time I see him. Seemingly, he cannot accept his hair loss, and he has developed this pretense of coverage that not only is not there, it looks completely ridiculous. It is as though he is saying, “I’m not really bald. See? I have hair pasted to the top of my head.” He has somehow persuaded himself that none of us have noticed his missing hair. He is pretending.
Grace, Love, and Safety
Our gatherings as believers need to provide an environment devoid of pretense. We listen with sincere interest. We care deeply and genuinely with the love of Christ. We treat everyone with gentleness and respect. But the truth is, we cannot do any of those things with our masks on because we cannot get beyond the reality that it is just my mask interacting with your mask.
And let’s be really blunt about this – pretense is the brother of hypocrisy, and Jesus had some of his strongest words reserved for hypocrisy. Six times in Matthew 23, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. – Matthew 23:27-28, ESV
Commit to enduring the discomfort of being genuine. When you ask someone how they are, be sincere in asking the question. And be genuine in your own responses. If your life is great at that time, then say so, but if it is not, say so. Ask, “Can we go to that corner over there and pray through something together?”
The body of Christ must be that one place where we can strip off all the protective layers. It is an environment of grace, safety, and love. It is that place where nothing you say and nothing you do can cause me to love you less.
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. – Galatians 6:10, ESV
Victoriously in Christ!
Over to you: What would it take for you to completely trust, to drop your mask(s) entirely?