Keeping Up Appearances {and Then Not Keeping Them}

Thankful.  Joyful.  I hung these words up on my wall, written on cute little bunting banners, a year ago. I wanted them to be the defining aspects of my character. I want thanks and joy to cover me, to be a seal over my life.

But no one, not one person, would have described me like that earlier this year.

Now, they might not have gone as far to say that I was angry, selfish, and distrustful. But that’s because I didn’t let those ugly bits of me show very often.  Except to my husband. Oh the things he had to put up with!

I don’t think anyone else knew how much I had been struggling. I was so tired. I had been in four countries in as many months. I was lonely and disillusioned. I hadn’t felt God’s nearness in a long time.

In the midst of this, a group of energetic, optimistic college students showed up. It was summer. Our internship program.  I couldn’t just watch from a distance, finding the time and space to rest.  Months before, I had volunteered to be the “house mom” for the women. For several weeks I hosted visitors in a house I had never lived in while my husband stayed in our home with the guys.

I muddled my way through no water (imagine 8 women experiencing new and different foods with toilets that don’t flush), too much water (a 20 foot waterfall cascading down from our elevated water tank), major electricity cuts, and a generator that just wouldn’t stay on.  To top it all off, we had a rat.  My least favorite thing.  I’ll take spiders and cockroaches over a mouse or rat any day.

Yet, the students had a great time.  Everything they experienced was incredible, delicious, adorable.  But their joy and excitement, it made me angry.  “They don’t know the first thing about how hard life is here,” I thought.  Our first night, one woman asked me, “Don’t you love it here?!”  No!  I hate it.  There’s not one thing I like.  I want to get on the next plane and go home.  

But of course I couldn’t say that.  While, I did not say, “yes” I also didn’t let them into my mess.  I kept up appearances.

Inside, my thoughts and emotions were the antithesis of thankful and joyful.  I was just like the Israelites, grumbling and complaining after the Lord brought me where I had longed to be.

As I sat down on my bed, hearing the happy chatter from the women in the next room, I knew that I wanted what they had.  “Father, would you make this time one of reinvigoration and renewal rather than despair and weariness? Open my eyes to the good and joyful, praiseworthy and excellent things around me.” I wanted renewed joy for this place. I wanted a sense of peace and purpose. I didn’t want to have to fake contentment.

As the days and weeks went on, anger and weariness became my defining emotions less often.  I blew bubbles with children and learned to teach duck-duck-goose with only smiles and gestures.  I laughed and played and talked with the women.  God answered my prayer through connectedness with them.

While I never truly dropped my facade, I also didn’t need it as much. Their perspective and awe, their energy and excitement, made little changes in me. They reminded me why I moved across the seas in the first place. And though the Holy Spirit still has some serious work to do in me, maybe I can be honest about the ugly emotions that fight for control of me even as I pursue a life that is overflowing with thanks and joy.

What has helps you drop (or lower) your facade? What gets in the way? What situations have shown you your facades?

14 Comments

  1. Jan M September 30, 2015

    Great post! I think that often times I keep my mask on because I don’t want to ruin the childlike wonder and enthusiasm from our volunteers and interns that are just here for a little while. Plus, there was a time when I thought everything here was just so wonderful, adorable and cute!  You are right that it helps to be around them if we have the right attitude, but it sure can be annoying when we don’t!  My question is when is it healthy to let our battle-weariness show?

    1. Emily Smith October 1, 2015

      Can I jump in on this one?

      I think showing you are battle-weary is always a healthy response if it is truly what is inside of you. It is normal and natural and very much okay. I have also decided it takes far too much energy to try to act not tired. (I work with four year olds. There are times they are adamant they are NOT tired. They fool no one. I don’t think adults really do much better.)

      I think a distinction needs to be made between showing weariness, loneliness, fatigue, sadness, etc. and having a negative (think sinful) attitude. Negative attitudes happen. We are human, but that doesn’t justify wrong.  Fighting responses to be unkind, unloving, bitter or without compassion, is always the right path (I’m not saying easy). I think where we (or at least I) get confused is equating a positive perspective and jump-for-joy enthusiasm and happiness.

      I have found so often it is more powerful to be able to say life is really, really hard at the moment and I am choosing to keep going, keep persevering, and keep helping in the ways I am able. I think it comes down to honesty and authenticity. Of recognizing and proclaiming Christ’s power in our weakness.

      1. Ellie October 1, 2015

        Yey, Emily, I agree with every word.

      2. Laura Rescorla October 1, 2015

        Thanks for these wise words Emily! Growing up has shown me that important difference between “a positive perspective and a jump-for-joy enthusiasm.”  I think that even when we are filled up with joy from the Lord, it won’t always look like bubbling happiness and excitement.

        And maybe when we let our battle-weariness show in an honest (yet not sinful way), we will make it easier for the those who arrive after us to not have to put up their facade in the first place.

        1. Ellie October 1, 2015

          I think that’s really true and helpful Laura,  “maybe… we will make it easier for the those who arrive after us to not have to put up their facade in the first place.” Amen to that.

      3. Monica F October 1, 2015

        Yes, yes, yes Emily!  Thanks for pointing out that distinction!  Everything you said- YES!

  2. Emily September 30, 2015

    Thank you for sharing! This is something I’ve been struggling with a lot I think. (I feel like that’s been every comment I’ve posted on this posts this week….hmmm)

    Just this week I had an old friend come to me and say, “I feel like I don’t know you anymore. You’re just “overseas worker Emily”.” Basically, she felt like I was always in “work-mode”. You know, the kinda attitude you put on when you’re speaking about your ministry in front of a church? Yeah, that one. Great for church, bad for friends. Blech.

    The thing is, I’m not sure HOW to get back to the place where I could be real with people. How do I live vulnerably and openly, when I feel like the world (especially our supporters) is watching and waiting for me to fail or do something they don’t like? – Just the other day I was on Facebook on my phone, and without noticing it I basically “butt-shared” a post in the my feed that was NOT appropriate. Literally, within 60 seconds, I had 2 supporters messaging me with extreme concern. We cleared it up, but it still made me feel the pressure of “all eyes on me.”

    How do you live openly, without masks, when it feels like the masks are the expected?

    1. Laura Rescorla October 1, 2015

      Isn’t it amazing how long it can take us to realize God is trying to get our attention in a particular area?!  I am glad He is so very patient with me!

      I am so sorry you are carrying such a heavy burden.  Meeting expectations sounds daunting and so. darn. tiring.  And while I don’t have any wise words in this area, I am reminded of Lauren Pinkston’s post from earlier this year.  There are a bunch of comments on it because you are not alone in this struggle.

  3. T October 1, 2015

    These two comments above me have great questions!!!  I don’t have a sure answer, but I have been able to share with some volunteers that what we are doing long term is hard but good, and that I was so tired.  They were glad to see what a long termer experienced (they are interested in doing long term later), and were so glad to pray for me during and after their trip.  I had one come home with me and bake cookies for the next event so that she could ask question after question about what “it is really like to live here”.  I’m so glad I was able to honestly share the good and the bad and kind of prep her for her later life.   In another instance, where I felt I had to cast a good light on our struggles, but they showed thru anyway (for people we didn’t know at all, just visiting for one night), I was surprised and majorly affirmed when the next morning the two men said, “It is just amazing what you are doing here.  We are shocked by it all.”  We didn’t have projects or anything going; we were just trying to be part of the community and search for seekers while tentmaking and raising our 3 kids; we didn’t have any local believers around then (read: most American men would think no fruit) and they saw how hard it was and affirmed us.  6 years later, and I still remember!  Sharing can be good.

    1. Laura Rescorla October 1, 2015

      How encouraging!  I hope that stories of affirmation like this become such a norm for all of us that we don’t have to think back to 6 years ago – but instead only to last week or last month.

      And whether on the field or back home, I want to be one of those affirming voices!

  4. Ellie October 1, 2015

    Wow, T, that is encouraging. So glad they said that. Emily I know what you mean. It’s really hard to fight against expectation. I found the post yesterday helpful for that because it’s like people exhibit “change back” behaviour because it’s more comfortable with you in that box. I found how Emily S wrote about it yesterday really good.

  5. Monica F October 1, 2015

    I have two other sisters that have worked in the same country as me (imagine that three sisters, three different organizations doing different thing, in the same country!), and we have talked about facade, keeping up appearances, expectations and all of that.  We’ve even done it with one another- talk about ridiculous!  I’ve found that when I’m ‘really real’- whether super excited about something, or extremely frustrated about something in the culture I’m living- my sisters ‘get it’; we can be open and share without judgment.  But when I’m trying to put on a good face, all it does is create tension and misunderstandings- and that’s with my sisters, not supporters, or ‘people back home’!  The Father has blessed me with several opportunities lately to talk with people about ‘the masks we wear’- and I’ve been surprised how many of our friends and supporters empathize and actually feel concern over it.  Still learning of course in this area, and praying that I can be content in what the Father has called me to do in this season of life.

    1. Laura Rescorla October 1, 2015

      Monica, what a family legacy! God moves in some really cool ways.  It’s great to hear how He is creating opportunities for you to share and giving you encouragement in return.

  6. Jodie Pine October 3, 2015

    I really appreciate your heart, Laura, and the way you asked God to open your eyes to see that which was joyful and what you could be thankful for. May those two words become more and more who you are.

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