Taking Off the Masks

The need for recovery groups in our churches

by Daniel Blackwell

Taking Off the MasksI [once] walked into my pastor’s office, scared, nervous, and wearing a mask that hid an addiction. Thankfully, when I took off my mask, my pastor cared for and supported me. This past year I took the risk again when I allowed the six men in my recovery group to look behind my mask.

Masks are our way of hiding our inner pain and addictions. But the costs of wearing a mask are high in emotional pain, shame and hidden, unhealed wounds.

Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When Jesus said, “Come,” He gave us an invitation, both to remove our masks and to be channels of hope for people who need rest and freedom. In cities across the globe, Twelve Step groups like AA call people out of hiding and help them remove their masks. While it is true that some churches already have support groups, we have an open door to be doing more.

Imagine a sanctuary that invites people to find rest, remove their masks, and begin to heal wounds in a hope-filled community. If we look at the word sanctuary as an acronym, we can get a picture of what a recovery group looks like.

“When I took off my mask in my pastor’s office, I did so, realizing that the pain of leaving my mask on was greater than the pain of removing it.”

                Safety means that I can trust you with my secrets and not feel naked or ashamed.  When I took off my mask in my pastor’s office, I did so, realizing that the pain of leaving my mask on was greater than the pain of removing it. People open up in recovery groups because they feel a sense of community and acceptance. Hope resides in the room. Jesus’ invitation to “come” is an invitation to admit that we are powerless to manage our lives. A recovery group must be a safe place for everyone present. Everything must be kept in confidence.

                Anointing means we allow the presence of the Holy Spirit to heal lives through prayer and the Word. Years ago I remember asking a friend who had a mask of addiction, “What keeps you going?” He replied, “If God did not show up, I would have committed suicide long ago.” Profound. God shows up when we demonstrate His heart and lovingly care for people.

                Nurturing. My mother had a green thumb, and all of her plants proved it. Growth happens in a recovery group as the darkness of mistrust is dispelled. Light comes in, allowing honesty to flourish. The possibility of planting something new happens through the impartation of information, homework, and people honestly facing their issues in a group setting.

                Courage. It takes a lot of courage to walk on water, and Peter demonstrated that when the Lord called him out of the boat. For people to open up in a recovery group, even when they know it is safe, takes courage. Matthew 11:28 is an invitation to come and courageously expose the hidden, dark secrets that need to come into the light.  Courage is not just an act; it is a lifestyle that Jesus calls us to.

                Twelve Steps. This successful system has been adapted in Christian circles for a long time. We must be willing to incorporate this material. There is a host of available material. Two that I know are Freedom Session and Celebrate Recovery.

                Unity. It’s not easy to open up in front of strangers, but when you hear someone else sharing their struggles, it sparks a feeling of “I can do that.” Unity fosters healing through openness and honesty.

                Accountability. One of the great strengths of recovery groups is the accountability partner who provides encouragement and prayer support. Accountability means that no one needs to face his or her issues alone.

                Respect. One of the greatest examples of respect is seen when Jesus willingly touched the leper in order to heal him. This profound illustration calls us to demonstrate compassion in ways that bring honour to people through listening to them and valuing them. Masks usually hide inward feelings of low self-esteem. A recovery group’s strength is the fact that no one needs to feel devalued. Their mask does not define them. The overall message presented in a recovery group is: “We stand with you.”

                Yearning. Scripture tells us again and again that God’s desire is for us to find wholeness. “Come to me” is an invitation to not give up despite past failures or discouragements. A recovery group offers an opportunity to move forward with the help of those who understand your struggles, and to depend upon the Lord through prayer. When the masks come off, the Lord enters our deepest pain, touches us, and calls forth healing.

I believe there is a growing need for recovery groups in our churches. They provide a sanctuary where people can safely come, take off their masks, and find healing.

ShareAt the time of writing, Daniel Blackwell and his wife, Alice, attended The Stone Church in Toronto, Ont., and were involved in inner-city outreach and evangelism. This article appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of testimony, a bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.


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