The Proud Impostor: Who Are You, Really, Behind that Mask?

Masks

On Halloween, many of us wear masks, don’t we? (Of course now in the age of Covid, we are all wearing masks most of the time…) The Beatles’ song, “Eleanor Rigby” describes her as “wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door”. Have you ever “put on a happy face” when you didn’t feel like it? Have you ever been an Impostor in your own skin? Jesus understood that all of us sometimes take refuge behind a public persona, and that all of us allow an impostor to represent us at one time or another.

Penitence Versus Persona

“Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; and give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)

The Self-Important Failure

If you are reading this, you have probably exalted yourself at some time or another. It’s human nature. You have looked in the mirror and thought, “I look good!” You have spent money that didn’t HAVE to be spent on some personal treat. When you have confessed your sins, maybe you are relieved that there are other folks who are far worse. Perhaps you have merely taken pride in an accomplishment, or perhaps (like me) your pride has subtly exercised itself in less edifying ways. Maybe you have been secretly glad that you were not like someone more evil or less principled than you; maybe you shake your head at someone else’s rude behavior, and are glad that you aren’t like that.

At some time or another, all of us hide behind a persona that presents us to the world as someone who appears better than we actually are—much like the Pharisee who prayed his very public self-congratulatory prayer…

The Way We Hide

In the wonderful book “Abba’s Child”, Brennan Manning says our proud public self is actually someone called the Impostor, who offers a presentable image but hides our flaws and our true, broken self. He says: “The impostor is the classic co-dependent. To gain acceptance and approval, the false self suppresses or camouflages feelings, making emotional honesty impossible. Living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us. The impostor’s life becomes a perpetual roller-coaster ride of elation and depression… The impostor is a liar.” (pp. 34, 35)

The Mask over the Mask?

My good friend Mark Krimm and I acted as accountability partners for several years, and one of the things we discovered was that we not only had an Impostor, but we even  have an Impostor to HIDE the Impostor. He’s the guy who humbly acknowledges his sin and brokenness 1) without sharing all of it, and 2) is secretly proud of how humble and transparent he is. He looks good on the outside, but his priorities are messed up and he’s really not doing business with God where it counts.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as external spirituality, and it hurts to realize sometimes that I have the capacity to portray a humble but broken Pharisee, even though I am an unfaithful dirty rotten sinner. On the other hand, the tax collector had no such pretense. He didn’t even deserve to be in church, but he was there, praying an honest prayer.

Begging not Boasting

Israelites despised tax collectors because they worked for the hated Romans, and people considered them traitors at best, extortionists and thieves at worst. They were social pariahs, the lowest of the low. In the gospels, they are often mentioned as synonymous with sinners, as in “tax collectors and sinners”. No Pharisee worth his salt would even go into the same room as a tax collector, and yet Jesus called one (Matthew) to be his disciple, and had several notable encounters with them.

This story about prayer and confession offended and enraged the Pharisees, but it gives hope to the honest sinner who 1) is so convicted and downcast that he is absolutely humbled before God (he couldn’t even raise his eyes towards heaven); 2) is passionate and truly sorrowful about his sin (he beat his breast in anguish); and 3) is honest and repentant before God (he begged for mercy).

What’s Behind YOUR Mask?

On Halloween, get real about your mask… The question that arises from this story is, which category are you in? A proud Impostor who feels self-righteous, or a humble sinner begs who for mercy? Every day we choose one of those attitudes or the other. Both of those folks will be surprised by God’s response; but only ONE of those folks will be justified.

Two Prayers

Two men went to church one day,
Where they could take some time to pray.
The sinner and the Deacon stood,
And one felt bad, while one felt good.
The Deacon proudly walked the aisle;
His tie was straight, he had a smile
And stood down front for all to see:
“I thank you, Lord, for blessing me!
I’m glad I’m in your Holy plan,
Unlike this other, sinful man…
I thank you I don’t drink or cuss!
I come to church without a fuss,
And tithe from all that I possess,
While other people love you less.”
The sinner stood way back in place,
While streaming tears ran down his face,
Anguished, hoping none could see,
He beat his breast and made his plea:
“Oh Lord, be merciful to me!”
He humbly prayed with no disguise–
He couldn’t even lift his eyes…
The God of Grace, the God who cares
Will listen well to both these prayers,
And both these men will be surprised,
When only one is justified.

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