Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wearing the Game Face

My friend Matt called me up last Friday on his way home from work.

"What are you doing tonight?" he asked. Nothing surprising there. After all, it
was Friday. Usually, I have plans on Friday night. It was my answer that caught him off guard.

"Nothing," I replied.

Nothing?" he was incredulous. "You're kidding. Why not? I thought you said you were invited to some party tonight."

"I was," I said. "I'm not going."

There was silence on the other end of the phone.

Matt considers me ultra-social. In fact, he generally considers me
too social. He is always telling me to slow down, relax, take some time off from my hectic life. So his surprise at my Friday night defection from the social scene was not unexpected.

After the moment of shock had passed, Matt finally said, " why are you staying home?"

"Because I don't want to wear my Game Face all night," I said.

"Game Face?" he said. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm not in the mood for a party," I explained. "I'm not happy right now. I don't want to pretend I want to be around people. So I'm not going to. I'm staying home."

"Hmmm...yeeaaahh..." He was obviously pondering the idea. "You should never have to do that."

He's right, I thought. I shouldn't have to feel like I need to be fake for other people. Wouldn't it be nice if I didn't feel that way?

"Well, sometimes we all do it," I said.

"But it's basically lying," he countered.

"Well, sure," I said. "In a way. But I don't always feel I can be honest about the way I'm feeling. Parties call for certain expected behavior. If I can't deliver genuinely, I feel like I have to wear the Game Face. And the Game Face takes a lot of effort. It can be exhausting. So I'm not doing it tonight."

"So be real," he said.

A dazzling concept.

He went on to make an interesting accusation.

"People think you are so open and out there," he said, "but there's a lot you keep hidden. You have this whole deception thing going on - people think they're seeing all of you, but they're really not. It's quite an act."

He's half right. I do have this sort of "I am who I am, take it or leave it," attitude - a little bit of a tough girl act that covers up the broken bits of me, the parts of myself that I want to protect. It's not an all-out deception, though. It's
part of who I am - it's just not all of who I am. And I think that's okay. I think we are allowed to choose who we want to share our deeper, more fragile selves with.

The conversation ended at an impasse. I didn't go to the party. I haven't been out much since then, either, which has been fine with me. But my best friend's birthday party is this weekend, and I can't bow out of it. I can't see myself feeling any differently by then. So the question is, do I wear the Game Face, or hang it up and just be real?

Larry Crabb, Christian psychologist and author of
The Safest Place on Earth, which I've referenced before, claims that we all need a solid spiritual community in which we can be real. A community that sees the potential in us, the Christ in us. A community that, even when we are at our worst, looks beyond the sin and the brokenness and encourages us, uplifts us, loves us. A community in which we can expose our struggles without fear of being misunderstood, judged, or shamed.

My social community is mainly Christian. But I don't feel safe in it. The trouble with building a spiritual community like the one Crabb envisions is that everyone has to buy in. Everyone has to be intentional toward everyone else. And well, as a larger community, we're simply not there.

I'd say that there are small pockets of safe community - people's small groups, our mini-circles. In my own little neighborhood community, consisting of my best friend/roommate and her boyfriend, I feel 100% safe. I feel safe within the context of a few other individual friendships. Maybe someday I'll feel confident enough, or safe enough, to leave the Game Face at home during times like this. But I'm thinking safe community on a larger scale isn't going to happen until Heaven.

In this life, no way am I okay with showing up at a large event and looking vulnerable. Someone might speculate to someone else about why I'm out of sorts. Worse, I might get questioned. Then I'd have to choose between a truth I won't want to reveal, a put-off, or lying. Yeah, I experience fear. Yeah, I experience insecurity. We all do. Those are raw, real,
valid human emotions. I'm not going to deny them here.

Getting ready to go out for my roomie's birthday Saturday will involve some serious preparation. An outfit that makes me feel good (I hope it won't be a Fat Day). The right makeup. Good hair. The perfect shoes (probably heels, which always make me feel tougher). And my Game Face, with its perfect smile.

Before we leave, I'll stand in front of the bathroom mirror, look myself in the eyes, and convince myself that I can do it. That no one will look at me and be able to see that I am less than thrilled with my life. And as long as no one at the party has read
this, maybe it will work.