Behind the Mask

Ceenu Jebaraj   |   March 13, 2018 

I’m told that when I was little, I’d either hide behind my mother’s sari pleats or race to crouch in a storeroom by the kitchen whenever a new face showed up at the door.

I wish I could say that, as an adult, I am now perfectly confident in myself and would undoubtedly be viewed as the life of a party. Yet, the reality is that I sometimes still struggle with this innate desire to find a storeroom to run into, and it’s easy to feel like a wallflower in a gathering.

While some of these feelings simply stem from my shy and introverted nature, I can’t deny that these feelings are also fuelled by two insecurities I battle with. The debilitating insecurities of identity and self-worth. And the struggle is a daily one.

One of the most common ways in which these twin insecurities raise their ugly heads is in my people-pleasing attitude. If you need a refresher on what people-pleasers like me look like, here you go.

First, we say yes to everything and everybody even when everything in us is screaming “Noo!!!” Second, we overthink and over analyse every situation, facial expression and intonation in a way that could make a conspiracy-hatching celebrity journalist squirm. Third, we are so non-confrontational we would rather get killed by people than tell them to stop unfairly throwing us under the bus. Finally, when people validate us, we feel like we’ve won an Oscar; and when people criticise us, we feel like “Nobody loves us”. And if the criticism is particularly bad, then our feelings can move from “Nobody loves us” to “I’m so useless, what’s the point of life?”

And since people-pleasing attitudes are so all-consuming, then sooner or later, life can easily autopilot itself in performance or pretense mode.

Growing up, this unique combination was a matter of sheer frustration to me. I think the biggest struggle was a resigned hopelessness that nothing could break me free from the shackles of performance and pretense.

I’d always thought of my identity and worth in terms of having a perfect image of myself; not just in the eyes of the world, but also in my own mind. So there could be no room for flaws and mistakes. The best version of myself was something that I would be pleased to pat myself on the back for. I had to be the model daughter, a Proverbs 31 wife, an adored mother, a superwoman who managed an excellent career and found time to keep an “Instagrammable house. I simply had to put my very best out there. I couldn’t afford to drop the ball.

It was tiring and not always the full and real picture. Being vulnerable enough to let somebody see me as flawed was indigestible, and I wanted to control life so as to never let that happen. Sadly, not only was I basing my worth on a bunch of standards of external perfection, but even judging others based on a standard I couldn’t keep.

Mercifully, God has been teaching me that liberation from insecurity is not found in tiring efforts to fix or fake my identity but by living in the daily reality of a whole new identity. That through Christ, God is deeply satisfied with me. And that God is satisfied with me not because he simply ignores my mess but because Christ has met the ultimate standard of perfection on my behalf.  My pride is broken as I begin to see how futile my standards of perfection are. My confidence is built when I rest in a far greater standard of perfection.

God’s abounding grace has been drawing me close to believing and experiencing this Gospel love that takes me in just as I am and loves me in spite of who I am. It loves me for everything I desire to be but know I am not. And as that love began to get hold of my life, I realised it’s perfectly fine to stop trying so hard to fix myself. All that I needed to do was to simply believe and rest in this love of God.

I will admit that even as simple as the words sound – believe and rest -- I often find myself straining hard just to do that. All my instincts seem to constantly want to go back to ‘working my way out’ or ‘fixing myself’. However, over the last several years, here's what has been helping me to root my identity in Jesus.

  1. Repenting of my sin of pretending and putting on a performance every time I face one of those moments. It is liberating to acknowledge my sin and to ask God for forgiveness every time I base my identity and worth on something other than His perfection.
  2. Setting aside time daily and intentionally to study the Scriptures and dwell on them. My former pastor calls it a ‘love discipline’. It is really neat to see this time with God beginning to turn from a duty into a delightful experience. It has been slowly chipping away years of pride, fear and false sources of worth and revealing the approval that alone matters – Christ’s.
  3. Memorizing Scripture. I have not been very good at memorising Bible verses. In fact, I often end up paraphrasing the verse. But this is something that I am slowly trying to get back to intentionally. On several occasions, God has brought to my mind Scripture verses to specifically address and check a stray thought, heart posture or attitude.
  4. Accountability. Like I mentioned earlier, being vulnerable does not come to me easily. Fear of judgment, loss of control and lack of confidentiality have been some of the factors that have stopped me from opening up to people. One of the ways that the Gospel has been changing me is to find an accountability partner. Being accountable to other women who love the Lord, who I can be vulnerable with, and whose godly encouragement and wisdom I can heed helps me keep in step with the Lord.

I wish I could say that this struggle is a thing of the past. In fact, it is a battle that I face every day. Even as I write this post, my heart is tempted to write in such a way that I would get rave reviews and which would strike all the right notes with everyone.

Yet, mercifully and relentlessly, God’s transforming love is daily empowering me to break free from my struggle with identity by performing and pretending. The journey is slow, long and even painful, but the transformation is real. For our transformation lies not in trying harder but by believing more in a love that will transform us as we rest in the deep satisfaction of it.

 

Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

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Ceenu Jebaraj

Ceenu Susan Jebaraj is a lawyer who lives in New Delhi. She enjoys cooking, baking, reading, impromptu get-togethers and board games with friends. Most of all she loves celebrating everyday-life with her husband, daughter and twin boys who fill her days with joy and laughter.
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One comment on “Behind the Mask”

  1. Very well written. Each word resonates the daily struggles of a lot of people out there. Most of us might not even be aware of how such unnecessary stretching of our personality not only puts pressure on our minds, but also robs us of the joys that we ourselves can bring to us. Your blog is an inspiration to many a "masked" timid faces, whose heart tirelessly goes on getting hurt by the judgments and standards of others; when the only "approval" we should let our hearts be vulnerable to, is ourselves and our God. Thanks for putting all this so beautifully!

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