Two weeks ago was Rape Awareness Week at JBU. As part of the week, Students Against Sex Slavery showed a video with the stories of three rape victims at JBU, as told through the voices of others to protect their privacy. The stories were hard, some brutally so. My heart breaks for each of these students and the pain, shame, confusion and guilt they have all suffered.
Today, two lines from their stories echo in my head. These two thoughts they expressed are things I can do something about, because they involve how JBU students and fellow Christians have reacted to or perceived these students. Not only will countering these perceptions and reactions help those on campus who are rape survivors, but doing so can help us in relationships with each of our friends—no matter what challenge they face.
The first thought was the perception that everyone else at JBU (or even in the Christian world) has perfect families. One victim expressed that she felt like the other people around her wouldn’t understand and would find her problems too big to deal with. These people were “too perfect” to mess with her problems. She was “too messed up” to find healing. These feelings led her to coop her emotions and experiences up within her—something that is unhealthy for anyone, especially someone dealing with such a traumatic experience.
Let’s get one thing straight right now. None of us comes from a perfect family. We all are messed up human beings, saved by God’s grace, and striving to serve Him as best as we can. Not one of us has it all figured out. However, we are often good at hiding our problems, which only makes us and other people feel worse.
This is what I like to call the Masquerade Problem. Each of us has masks we choose to wear. It may be the “I have a perfect family” mask. Or the “perfect GPA” mask. Or the “perfect girlfriend/boyfriend” mask. Or the “unshakable confidence” mask. Or the “I’m fine” mask. Some of us have a whole wardrobe of masks designed to blend us into the world around us.
Wearing masks makes us feel safe because no one can see inside. Yet, this is all fake because we know we are not perfectly reaching that ideal, which makes us feel worse about ourselves. It is further damaging because those around us are comparing their imperfect, real selves to our “perfect” fake masks.
In their song “Stained Glass Masquerade,” Casting Crowns asks, “Are we happy plastic people under shiny plastic steeples, with walls around our weakness and smiles to hide our shame? But if the invitation’s open to every heart that has been broken, maybe then we’ll close the curtain on another stained glass masquerade.”
In order to close the curtain on the Masquerade Problem, we must take off those masks and reveal what is underneath. It is then that we can truly see and love each other for what is really there, rather than just our projections. If we start by being personally real, mask-less, genuine and vulnerable with those around us, it will encourage our friends and help them feel more comfortable sharing about whatever joys and struggles they encounter on a daily basis.
The second perception is that the victim’s friends will see him differently, or judge her for what happened. Trust me, the last thing people need is someone else telling them why they should feel guilty. I hope that none of us will react toward our friends with condemnation or shame when they trust us and talk with us about hard things. We need to follow in the footsteps of our Savior and to instead react with love.
Let me tell you a little story to explain what I mean. This last week my roommate got some roses. After a few days, the water ran out. When I noticed, I filled the water back up. The blossoms perked back up, but they still bore scars from their drought.
I sometimes imagine people as flowers. Perhaps my friend in unimaginable pain or facing major challenges can be seen as those roses whose water ran out. I can love her and support her and thereby fill her up again, but the lingering effects of what happened will still remain.
Yet, does that make that person any less of a beautiful rose—a precious and God-created person? No! He or she still has purpose, beauty, value and even the ability to begin to live a fulfilled life free from guilt and shame. When I hear of someone’s pain, my heart breaks for him or her, and I am driven to reach out, to help. I empathize with and show love to him or her all the more because of what the individual has experienced.
In the same way, my roommate’s roses still smell like roses, look like roses and make her smile like roses ought to do. I do not look at those roses any differently or judge them for what they have experienced. In fact, I admire their resilience, appreciate their beauty and hope for the best for them.
So then, let us take off our masks and be genuine people. Let us reach out in love in order to bring hope and love to the wilting roses in our world. By doing so, let us make this campus and this world a better place.