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  • Melinda K. Bowens

#BreakingTheCycle: The Defense of "The Mask"

#BreakingTheCycle: The Defense of “The Mask”

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.

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!

“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar was my most favorite poem learned in Mr. McGowan’s 11th grade English class. I loved it so much that it was also the base for my Junior Miss introduction when I was asked about my life goals during the program. Now without reciting my off-the-cuff speech from 2005, I essentially said that I wanted to help people not wear the mask anymore in life. Now clearly, I was not out here trying to heal the masses in between second block and lunch time, but God had put my heart on to something early.


Even though our masks today may not be as poetic and detailed as Paul’s words, we definitely still put words to our everyday mask. Our masks typically sound a little something like this:

Oh yeah, I’m fine.

Everything is good.

Of course, I can do that.

When we know we’re not doing fine, everything isn’t good and we can’t do (this) or that.

Now, I’m not referring to the times where we’re merely being polite with a passing stranger in the mall. Not telling our entire life to the cashier in Target is just practicing good boundaries. I’m talking about the times where the core, trusted people of our lives are trying to reach us and we’re backing away. We place ourselves in a position to where we simultaneously create distance and need community at the same time; which is honestly a place of unrest.

Can you imagine trying to physically live in two places at one time? Quite impossible (and no cloning is not an option). On a less dramatic scale, how difficult it is for us to try and be mentally in two locations at once? Still stressful. But not only is the process stressful, it is also counterproductive. No matter how balanced we think we are, one person/situation is always getting more attention that the other; while neither are getting our full attention ever. The same process is at play when we try to portray being “okay” when really we’re not.


In some twisted shift of life events for us, it somehow became unsafe, uncool and/or unpopular for us to be honest about how we’re truly doing in life. It became taboo for us to share anything other than the highlight reel of our existences. Ultimately creating this culture of “share all my good moments, hoard all my imperfections.” Now, this may not be a bad rule of thumb for Instagram, but it makes for a taxing life setup.

This idea of perceived perfection is so difficult to maintain because it was never meant to be our life arrangement in the first place. Our creator, sculptor and life designer (Psalms 139:13) knew that doing life alone was going to be a no go. So much so that He gave us a specific directive to help carry each other’s burdens and to help restore one another when we’ve fallen (Galatians 6:2, James 5:16).

If the all-knowing God of the universe says we’re going to need people to be successfully human in this lifetime and His record is undefeated in being right, then who are we to try and become His first exception to the rule? (Just so we know, we won’t ever be the exception to God’s rule. Lol!)


Chat with God (Be honest. It’s just you and Him)


When do you find yourself wearing a mask the most?


What is it about those times? Why does a mask feel appropriate in those times?


What is your one sentence prayer to God in this situation?


Please invite a friend to this series who you think would like to join this journey!

Get information about my new book here!

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