I’ve heard the chapel speakers and pastors and youth leaders talk about how we all wear masks. I’ve heard the analogy of how we wear masks to fit into the crowd and be who we think other people want us to be. I’ve heard it. It’s a great analogy. I’ve been an English teacher – I know a great analogy when I hear one.
I’ve contemplated whether or not I have worn a mask. I’ve internally acknowledged the fact that I’m sure I do, or did, or whatever. I mean, who doesn’t. Don’t we all want to fit into the crowd at some point in our lives? Or hide from the crowd if we want to lean into the mask analogy.
I assumed that in my life, I have indeed worn a figurate mask.
But the moment two weeks ago when the brutality of that analogy struck my heart and my consciousness, it dropped me to my knees.
Not because I was ashamed, or because I realized I still have that mask covering my truest self. It dropped me to my knees because I heart-mind-and-soul understood the full measure of God’s grace that has taken me from being that mask-wearer, to the freedom I have in who I am today.
God’s grace has the power to sweep our feet out from under us in the magnitude of the love he carries behind it.
Power pulses in God’s grace, and when I truly felt that grace beat in my soul, I finally comprehended just how far I had fallen into his arms, and how far he had carried me out.
I have not enjoyed wearing masks during this pandemic. And I’m not about to get into a debate with anyone on the efficacy of masks. Feel free to read my last post for my thoughts on strong opinions.
I have chosen not to wear a mask. Every time I tried to put one on, I had the strange sensation of feeling embarrassed, awkward, and self-conscious. I thought it was because of my beliefs on masks (nope, not going there), but physically putting on a mask for me took will power.
I felt like by putting on a mask I was compromising myself. From what – maybe I wasn’t quite sure. I simply knew deep down that I did not like or want to wear a mask. And because of where I live, it has been relatively easy to get by without having to wear one.
Until, that is, my school made the decision to require masks for the following two weeks. I told my principal that I had strong feelings on masks, but I also am not one to make waves. Life as a teacher has been stressful enough this year; I wasn’t about to make it more difficult for him or me by refusing to wear one.
I would wear a mask if I had to. So I told myself.
But the night before the first Monday morning of mask-wearing, I told Benj that it was the first time since school started that I was not excited to teach. Should wearing a mask have impacted my love for teaching that much? A mask is external; my passion for being a teacher is internal.
On my 15 minute drive to school, I held my mask in my lap. I dreaded pulling into the parking lot, walking into the building with that mask on, teaching my students whom I love with the mask covering my face.
I. Dreaded. It.
The closer I got to school, the more my emotions swirled. The need to cry crept up behind my eyes. I had no idea why. A few tears leaked out even as I asked myself, what the heck? I started to shake uncontrollably, and then I was sobbing. My heart started to constrict and panic.
I tried to call Benj but it went to voicemail so I knew he was in a meeting. I needed him because I needed my person who could talk me thru this. I haven’t cried that hard in a long time. Benj texted me back and I sat in the parking lot trying to use my wildly shaking hands to text back. I told him I was having a panic attack, that I couldn’t wear the mask. I knew that I could not put that mask on, and I finally knew why.
Because every time I put that physical mask on my face, I felt like I was slipping back into the very real and very raw emotions of my eating disorder.
I want, I need, you to get me on this. I want you to know that this disease is recoverable, but I need you to understand that it leaves behind its mark. What you do with that mark is the power of God’s grace.
I had lived scared and isolated for 17 years. Nowhere did that show as clearly as in my teaching life within the school walls. I had been intimidated by my colleagues. I’d made myself feel inferior, assumed my students disliked me, convinced myself how unneeded and unwanted I was in that school building. I allowed ED to make me feel worthless as a teacher and a team member.
ED sucked the life out of my passion for teaching, and until that moment, sitting in the parking lot trying to put that mask on my face, I didn’t realize how deeply I felt the loss of all those years of teaching.
All those years of missed relationships with students. All those years of missed friendship with colleagues. All those years of hiding behind my eating disorder and convincing myself that it didn’t matter. That I didn’t care that I was on the outside looking in, without feeling a part of the close community of Unity Christian High School.
Because putting on a physical mask brought into crystal clear focus the change in my heart and mind from then, to now.
I had found community. And I did it as myself. Not as ED thought I should be. But as myself. The me God always knew I was. Because he created me this way. His grace had brought me back to unmasked me.
I know who I am. And I’m happy with this person. I know my faults, but I also know my strengths. I know what I love, what I don’t love, what I do and why I do it. I love the students I have and I love getting to know them beside the grades on their paper. I love the teacher lounge. I love talking to the colleagues I used to hold at arms length. I love building relationships and I love doing it as me – Rhonda Joy Van Donge.
Yes, that is who I am. God’s child. She’s pretty darn okay. I like her. And so I can love others now too. Funny how that works.
Any doubts I had that ED could somehow still whisper his lies into my ear, all of that walked away the moment I understood why I can’t wear a mask.
I knew, in bold strokes, that God’s grace stands stronger and purer than anything my past could hold over me. I knew that I was free.
I’m not hiding behind a mask anymore because God’s grace has set me free.
I was free. ED was done. But not just that ED was done – I have known that for a long time already. I knew that believing the lies of my worthlessness was done. I had become myself because God had pulled me thru by his grace.
I could not put that mask on my face because that mask represented the years of hiding I had done with ED. I have dealt with those emotions over these four years since treatment. But that doesn’t mean that those emotions aren’t raw.
Putting myself back into the years with ED is unhealthy and unnecessary.
I have been forgiven. I have been set free. I have been transformed and renewed. God doesn’t see me cowering behind ED. He knows me as his child who he caught and carried.
I have been redeemed.
You may not understand how wearing a mask into school could spring all of these emotions to the surface. I’m not even sure I understand. But I know that I can’t wear a mask because, like I feel in an actual mask, wearing my figurative ED mask made me feel embarrassed, awkward, and self-conscious.
It made me feel ashamed.
A physical mask brings to my heart the suffocating emotions of all my years of hiding with ED.
And I will never go back there.
I had a panic attack. And I literally cannot put a mask on anymore. I can’t wear a mask. I will not wear a mask. I will live in freedom. I will let people see me. I will not hide anymore.
I will not wear ED’s shame on my face like a mask. I will wear God’s grace like a crown on my head.
And I will shine.