One of the major reasons I enjoyed being a catcher was because it felt like there was nobody watching me. I was crouched down in a squat, the umpire engulfed my back side, and I looked out from behind the bars of my catchers mask, so it felt like the crowd couldn’t see me and wasn’t even there. Playing baseball behind the mask was comfortable. In reality I was involved in every pitch of a game so the crowd could see everything I did.
In contrast, when I was hitting I felt exposed and it bothered me. This was reflected in the vast difference between my catching ability and my meek offensive production. What’s interesting is that as a child I could never sleep on top of the covers. I always had to be under them. Didn’t matter how hot or cold I was, I had to be covered. It felt safe. Much like wearing that catcher’s mask.
Even though I am no longer playing baseball I still reach for that mask when I find myself in a new or uncomfortable situation. The mask now, however, is my ability to create whatever I need to be whether for survival or to appear like I know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about. I hate my proficiency in this “skill”. Born out of my wound of a fear of being a disappointment, it had been unknowingly mastered for years, even decades.
The mask can take on any number of different looks, whether it be posturing, exaggeration, or learning a “lingo” so I seem smart (which never works by the way). It’s completely codependent and rooted in a desire to control a situation and the others around me. Just writing that makes me hate it even more. But that’s why I’m writing. To bring my awareness of it to the surface in order to grow in a new and positive direction from the rubble of my past (Isaiah 58:12 MSG).
We all have wounds. We all make vows as a result of those wounds. And we all wear masks. They’ve provided comfort for us. At one time in our lives they’re even necessary for our individual survival. Whether the mask is control, or anger, or work, or alcohol, or drugs, or sex, or [insert any addiction here], they can only be taken off when we’re aware that we’re wearing them and aware of the damage they do, not only to ourselves, but those closest to us whom we love the most.
I’m grateful for the years I was given to play baseball and at the level I was fortunate to end my career. The catcher’s mask provided comfort and security that allowed me to thrive at my position and improve on my baseball skills. Life after baseball, and the masks I created on my own for self-comfort have been less than helpful, damaging in some instances in fact. But over the past six years my journey has shifted from a self-destructive path to a redeeming one. Due in large part to my own self-reflection through writing, but also from an amazing community of men that I have the pleasure of doing life with that challenge me to grow and reflect my true nature so I am reminded of who I was created to be. We all need that.
The mask can serve a purpose for a season, but it’s not meant to be worn forever. Eventually it has to come off or it will do more harm than good. Only you and I can choose to shed that mask and live vulnerably, open and exposed as the unique beings we were always created to be. It’s an unfamiliar way to do life, but it’s immeasurably better.
Keep shedding the mask.