All of us, to some degree or another, have painted faces – we wear the masks which we choose to present to others, so that they see only that which we wish them to see, while at the same time concealing that which we do not wish to be seen. In fact, there are times, too, when we use our painted faces to hide ourselves even from ourselves.
Those masks are – like the assumptions we make about other people – superficial. They are only what is seen with the eye. And yet people are not simply that aspect which is visible – we are much, much more than this. All of us are individual human beings, every one complex and deeply layered, a mixture of all sorts of different facets. Our character greatly influences us in large part – but so too does our past, our life experience and our reaction and response to that experience.
In a sense, all of us are like living works of art, upon which the brush has not yet ceased to paint.
And throughout all of this, we are not only individual and deep and complex, but we are also infinitely loved by the One who made us. The Lord sees beneath the mask; His gaze is not fooled by the painted faces. And no matter what He sees there, still He loves us.
You formed my inmost being..
I praise You, because I am wonderfully made;
My very self You know..
This is just as well – on many occasions, we ourselves may not particularly like that which is found beneath the mask we wear. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why we place those masks so tenaciously upon ourselves. It also helps to explain why we may have such trouble liking other people – how can we be expected to do so, when we do not always love ourselves? And yet, all these others are loved by the Lord just as much as He loves us – after all, he made them, too.
When we see only the surface mask, the painted face, we fail to see the humanity, the individuality and the complexity beneath. And it is in that moment that we are tempted to judge the other person, to make assumptions about who and what they are. And it is in precisely this same way that others are tempted to judge us. Judgement is not a good thing – we are not judges of one another. And when we judge, we leave ourselves open to being judged.
A much better endeavour, then, is for us to try to reach a coping where we love ourselves – not in some blind adulation, but in the realisation that we were created good. This also means that when we see where we have moved away from that goodness, we make amends and try to regain the path from which we have strayed. This means not only asking the forgiveness of the Lord and – often – from our neighbour, but also asking His help to maintain that which is good within us and to build upon it as a sure foundation.
If we busy ourselves with this one task, we will often find that any temptation to judge another quickly leaves us – for we will realise, with the grace of God, that we are very possibly in a worse state than anyone else we might care to judge.
There is one other thing about the masks we wear; they keep the light from touching our faces and prevent the light already there from being seen. To take off the mask means to make ourselves vulnerable; and that moment of vulnerability is precisely the one in which it is good to remember how much we are loved.