(Note: for some context for this post, please check out previous post about Mapping a Life.)
"Love takes off the mask that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” - James Baldwin
In the consumer culture map, fear plays a big role in our lives, doesn’t it?
Maybe we’re afraid of our bodies, their smell, how they look. Or we’re afraid we’re not enough, don’t have it all together, don’t have the right things, or the right job.
Or on a deeper level, maybe we’re afraid of how close we feel to falling apart – because of health issues, financial stress, parenting, our house being foreclosed on, losing a job, or our marriage coming undone.
Maybe we’re afraid we’re on the edge of losing it. And yet, we’ve got to keep pretending things are fine.
Let me say this another way: perhaps we’re afraid of truly confronting the pain in our lives.
And the fear of confronting that pain might mean we turn to the bottle, to pills, or the internet, or something else, so we can numb out, tune out, keep the pain at bay.
As the Rev. Forest Church says, “We find so many ways to armor and protect ourselves…”
And as I’ve been thinking about this, here’s what I’m realizing: fear – from the consumer culture map - makes us put on a false show of strength, of pretending to have it all together.
You know how this looks:
Q: “Are you ok?”
A: “I’m fine.”
A: “I don’t need help.”
A: “I don’t want to talk about it.”
And of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Beneath that mask of strength, of being “fine,” is grief, pain and heartbreak.
And here’s what I think the crux of the issue is: In the consumer culture map, we have been taught to be afraid of our feelings and our pain.
As the Rev. Forest Church reminds us, “Every time we express ourselves, emotionally, we lose some control.”
Beyond being afraid of our feelings, the consumer culture map tells us that the thing to be most afraid of is to lose control of our emotions, to be vulnerable, to appear weak.
This is particularly brutal for men in our culture, but it impacts all of us. Essentially, we’re instructed to be afraid of ourselves, of our feelings, of our own deepest truths.
Fear then, tells us to hide our hearts. This, as you might imagine, is not a life giving practice!
And this is where love comes in.
Love calls our hearts out of hiding. Love invites us into vulnerability, authenticity and honesty.
This feels risky, even terrifying.
As the Rev. Forest Church says, “We sense the risk… every time we share ourselves with another, every time we commit ourselves to a cause or to a task that awaits our doing…
We risk disappointment, failure, or being embarrassed or inadequate…”
But love calls us to take that risk; love invites our hearts out of the dark closet they’ve been hiding in. And paradoxically, real strength comes from risk taking, from vulnerability.
And in a faith community, we can collectively begin to orient ourselves on a new map, and take risks to live from a place called love.
The consumer culture map says, “Be afraid, bunker down, pretend things are just fine,” but when we look around and see our homeless neighbors, or bullied GLBT youth, or veterans coming home and struggling with addiction and suicide, or reflect on the pain in our own lives, we can see that things aren’t ok.
With courage, we can name these realities, and “speak the truth in love.”
Fear says, “Dress right, talk right, have the right things, have the right job, and keep it all together – keep the mask on – this will keep you safe and strong.”
Love says, “Nope, not true.” Love reminds us that we’re not asked to be perfect, or have our stuff together. We’re only asked to take off our mask, to be who we are, to see our fellow human beings as the incredible miracles they are, to see their struggles and desires as our own, and to see them as brothers and sisters.
Love, as author John O’Donahue says, invites us to “waste our heart on fear no more.”
May it be so.