I am delighted to welcome author Fiona Lloyd to the Unmasked: stories of authenticity blog series. Having also worn an ‘I’m in control’ mask, much of what she shares resonated deeply with me – and the lessons she has learned are full of wisdom pertinent for all of us seeking to walk with God each day…
I’ve spent my professional life wearing a mask. As a teacher, I discovered early on that letting my feelings show was likely to result in ridicule rather than sympathy, and I quickly learned how to disguise my nervousness and anxiety by projecting a calm exterior. Much as I’d like to blame my erstwhile pupils for my desire to be in control, however, they were only reinforcing a habit that had been honed over many years.
A LEARNED BEHAVIOUR
As the eldest of three children, I constantly felt under pressure to set an example. I was academically able, and drove myself to excel as far as I could. Underneath the studious façade, though, was a shy and reserved little girl who lacked the social confidence of her more gregarious siblings, and felt easily intimidated by the banter of her louder classmates. I developed a fear of unpredictable situations, preferring to put myself in settings where I could feel in control of things.
Often, I attempted to mask my insecurities by being overly competitive, but this in turn resulted in a fear of failure, so that I hated to play any game where I stood a good chance of losing. My driven nature and desire for control had not equipped me to cope with the notion of being proved second-best (or worse). And when I didn’t achieve at the level I’d set for myself, I became hugely self-critical.
I was in my late twenties – and a new mum – when I became aware of God gently picking away at my mask. I’d gone from being a teacher with responsibility for 200 pupils each week to someone whose life was focused around the needs of one small (and very noisy) baby. Suddenly, I didn’t have all the answers anymore, and – without the requirement to keep myself together at work – I realised I needed to allow myself to be vulnerable. With the support of my husband, I spent time receiving prayer ministry from Christian friends, and started to tackle the pressures and beliefs that had contributed to my mask of control.
This was a difficult and painful experience: it’s something of a miracle in itself that I asked for help in the first place, and even more of a miracle that I agreed to return after the first session. Childhood hurts and disappointments had to be faced and dealt with: my natural inclination is to push things under the surface, so this required a complete change of tack. I also had to let go of my reluctance to be beholden to others and make an active choice to be dependent on God.
The change in me has been both dramatic and slow-burning. Those first few sessions led to me sensing God’s loving presence in such a deep and tangible way that I almost floated home afterwards. But I’ve also had to learn that walking with Jesus is about making good choices on an ongoing basis. It’s one thing to forgive X today, but part of that decision means doing my best not to revisit that particular offence tomorrow. This doesn’t mean that past hurts are always instantly healed – some scars are still tender – but being willing to be part of an ongoing process of forgiveness is immensely freeing.
LEARNING TO TRUST OTHERS
A major factor in letting go of my ‘in control’ mask was learning to trust both God and other people. This felt easy when I was on a spiritual high, but when God seemed more distant, or when fellow Christians let me down, I tended to panic and reach for my mask. Understanding that faith grows and matures in the lean times was a difficult lesson (and one I forget all too easily).
However, as I’ve spent less time hiding behind the safety of my mask, I’ve noticed that people are drawn to vulnerability. In my head, I’ve always wanted to be someone who could help others by being calm and in control as I doled out wise advice, and I’ve been slow to recognise that a toughened exterior tends to discourage others from sharing their needs. This feels super-scary – and goes against all my natural instincts – but it appears that God’s strength really is made perfect in my weakness.
Fiona Lloyd is vice-chair of the Association of Christian Writers, and is married with three grown-up children. Her first novel, The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum, was published by Instant Apostle on 18 January 2018.
Fiona has also had short stories published in Woman Alive and Writers’ News, and has written articles for Christian Writer and Together Magazine. Fiona works part time as a music teacher, and is a member of the worship team at her local church.
You can follow Fiona on Twitter: @FionaJLloyd & @FionaLloyd16