For Read Across America Day, my youngest son was supposed to dress up like a book character. We had plenty of notice about this activity, so I started asking him early on what he wanted to be.
“How about an elephant like the Elephant and Piggie books?” I asked.
“I was an elephant last year.”
“Oh…that’s right, then how about a pig?”
We’re reading through The Littles book series (tiny people who live in the walls of the Biggs’ house) at bedtime, so I suggested he be Tom Little. “Tom looks just like a regular person, but he has a tail. That would be easy.”
“Mom, I am NOT wearing a tail to school. People will make fun of me.”
He was pretty adamant that he wasn’t going to dress up as any book character, claiming that he would be the ONLY ONE with a costume and EVERYONE would laugh at him and he would be SO embarrassed.
The night before Read Across America Day, I tried one more time to see if he had changed his mind. There was a picture book on the floor—Jack B. Ninja, a play on the nursery rhyme “Jack Be Nimble”—so I pointed to it and said, “How about a ninja?”
Once I described an all-black outfit we could easily cobble together from things in his drawers, he agreed. “But I need a mask, like in the picture,” he said.
It being 8:30 on a Sunday night, I wasn’t thrilled about going out to the store, so I looked around the house for something to make a balaclava-type mask. I found a pair of his older brother’s black compression shorts that were too small and ripped at the waistband. I cut it up and sewed it together like I was the birds and mice in the Cinderella movie. Ta-da! Ninja mask!
The next morning, the kid who was too embarrassed to go to school dressed as a pig or a boy with a removable tail, instead wore his older brother’s underwear on his face. Life is funny, isn’t it?
Wearing costumes can be fun, but it’s understandable why he was particular about who or what he would pretend to be all day long at school. It can feel inauthentic, phony.
Jesus warned his followers about hiding their true selves behind masks in Luke 12. “Watch yourselves carefully so you don’t get contaminated with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town.” (The Message)
We all put up a façade at some point, but it’s just a matter of time before our true identity will be revealed. Jesus recommended being the same person in private and in public. Don’t fake kindness and Christian values just on Sundays. Assume that those whispers will eventually spread like wildfire, so make them whispers you want heard by others. And this applies to everyone, even ninjas.