Take Off Your Mask

Speaking With Authenticity

  • by Rich Atkinson

My voice quivered and my eyes teared as I recalled the incident.

If my middle school experience had a movie title, it would be called “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

The good part was I got braces and they helped straighten out my teeth.

The bad part was I couldn’t see the chalkboard, so I got glasses.

And the ugly part was an encounter with a bully in the sixth grade.

The bullying incident has been part of my testimony for more than 13 years. But last year, in the middle of telling my story in front of a group of people, I broke down. Overwhelmed with emotion, I had to pause and regain my composure before continuing.

I didn’t see that coming.

For the first time, instead of just saying I was bullied, I shared the pain. I was literally brought back to the emotions from the incident in middle school so many years before. By recounting the details and sharing them with others, I was able to truly process the pain for the very first time.

Sometimes we treat our changed life stories as if they’re episodes of MacGyver or NCIS. The storyline is wrapped up in an hour (45 minutes if you take out all the commercials), and the world is saved and the crime is solved.

But our testimonies are just brief glimpses into our changed lives, and we are still being sanctified. We’re not perfect, or even fully healed yet. We are in process.

Cardboard testimonies and three-minute testimonies are great starting points, but it’s important to continue telling more details of your story in a way that shows authenticity. Be careful not to portray the message that you’re now perfect – as if you had problems and now don’t. That would give people unrealistic expectations of what it means to be a Christ follower.

Yes, our lives have been changed by Christ. We’ve been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. We’re called saints, but we still sin. Romans 12 talks about being a living sacrifice to God.

But some days, we want to crawl off of the altar. We live in our flesh instead of by the Spirit of God. He is continually redeeming us, and the journey is filled with ups and downs. It’s important to be honest about this reality with non-Christians or new Christians as we have conversations with them.

In Romans 12, it fully explains how we are to live out our new lives in Christ. Verse 9 says to “Love without hypocrisy.” Hypocrisy literally means to play a part, referring to the masks that actors wore in ancient Greek theater.

As followers of Jesus, we are to live lives of love and truth. A safe community is one where we can be real and transparent, and this is the kind of community we want to invite others to join in on.

When I shared my bullying story, I had to pause to regain my composure. Two or three people prayed for me, and then I was able to continue with the rest of my story. Afterward I was emotionally drained, but I gained greater community and intimacy with others that day. People thanked me for being real, and revealing my pain allowed some healing to take place. I shared the real me, and I was loved and accepted. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

Here are five resources to help you grow in authenticity with God and others:

  1. Read or Listen to “The Papa Prayer” and learn how to pray authentically, without pretense.
  2. Watch Pastor James MacDonald’s sermon on being authentic.
  3. Process how you can be strong in your brokenness through a resource from Ann Voskamp.
  4. Tell your story through video.
  5. Communicate deeply. Is your conversation surface level, about the latest sports, news and weather forecast? Or is it deeper, about thoughts, feelings and emotions? Check out the 5 levels of communication from John Powell’s book Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?