As the high school football season comes to a close, I would like to take a moment to honor a very special group of individuals. These people may not fit the typical football “mold;” they come in all shapes and sizes; and you won’t see their names on the starting lineup. But without them, high school football—and any other high-profile team sport—would cease to exist as we know it. Who are these “x-factor” personalities? These game changers? These difference makers? They are none other than your team mascots.
That’s right; mascots receive very little recognition. Their efforts go largely unnoticed. The hours of sweat, sweat… and more sweat are usually unseen (literally), but they are incredibly, unbelievably and invaluably important. Without a mascot, who would little children clamor around for photos? Without a mascot, who would represent the school on expensive athletic apparel? Without a mascot, where would the “face” of the school be? On behalf of all high-school sports fans, I would like to say “thanks” to mascots everywhere. You are valued and appreciated.
Okay, yes, I know; this all sounds more than a little absurd. And as usual, I would have to agree with you. However, as former high school mascot, I really do have a special place in my heart for all those who don the mask of famed obscurity. During my senior year, I had the opportunity (or rather, I begged the Assistant Principal for the opportunity) to be the Tiger for most of the football games. As strange as this likely seems, this mascot-ship was a dream come true. Ever since my first day at BVHS, I knew I wanted to be the mascot and every year brought me one step closer to making that dream a reality. When my first game finally rolled around, I could not have been more excited. If mascots were not silent, I would have shouted and yelled for joy. I was the Tiger, and I couldn’t have been happier about it. 🙂
Here I should note another fun facet of mascothood at my high school: No one knew it was me. According to long-standing BV tradition, the identity of the mascot was to be kept secret. Only my closest friends were allowed to know; to the rest of the school, it was a mystery. Naturally, this made my stint as mascot even more thrilling, and I enjoyed it for all it was worth. For instance, before the Homecoming parade, I got permission to leave class early and put on the costume under the pretense of visiting the nurse. Or when our football team played an away game, I snuck my costume to the stadium, concealing the oversized head under a massively large blanket in my backseat. (Unfortunately, Volvo trunks weren’t designed for mascot transportation. Thank you, Sweden.) Every game night, I was living the dream, my smile underneath the mask rivaling the permanent one on it. Life was good. I loved it.
However, sometimes, being a mascot had its downsides. For one thing, the costume was unbelievably hot with very little ventilation. To my knowledge, it had also never been washed, so a certain indefinable odor camped out inside the head. Not only did the head reek, but it also wreaked havoc on my hair. To call it a bird’s nest would be a gross understatement; a “bird apartment complex” would be far more accurate. But I think the most challenging part of mascotdom was simple: the silence. By definition, mascots don’t talk. Which, in case you were wondering, can severely limit one’s social interactions. Although I definitely loved my stint as the Tiger, the time came when I was ready to pass the head-shaped baton to someone else. I missed my friends, I missed cheering in the student section, and most of all, I missed simply being me.
But unfortunately, the Tiger wasn’t my only mask. No, I wear a lot of other ones. And if I had to guess, I bet that you do too.
As human beings, we have a very real fear of being ourselves and, furthermore, of letting people know us for who we are. So instead of overcoming that fear, we close ourselves off, putting on invisible masks that no one can see, but that keep us from truly being seen. For each person, this plays out differently. For some, it may be the mask of independence; we act like we don’t need anyone else, saying that we can handle everything on our own. For others, this mask is perfectionism; if we have it all together and act like everything is great, then no one will ever know otherwise. Some people get absorbed in work, hobbies, sports, music and other entertainments in their attempt to hide. Still others turn to harmful behaviors, finding their satisfaction in unhealthy relationships or the abuse of various substances. Whatever our mask of choice may be, the core problem is the same: We’re messed up and we know it, but we don’t want anyone else to see. And so we hide behind the masks of our own making, closing ourselves off from the people around us, hoping no one will notice our hurt and fear underneath.
But Someone does notice. And He wants to set us free.
You see, God created us for glory. He desires to shine through us and to use us to make Him known. He loves us dearly, and He desperately wants what is best for us. And this “best” can’t be found behind a mask. As Galatians 5:1 states, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Jesus died, so we could live—and live abundantly. Yet far too often, we sell ourselves short, choosing instead the familiar comfort of bondage rather than the joy and liberty He desperately wants to give us.
For once, I have no bullet-pointed plan for achieving this, no simple to-do list to solve this problem. Instead, I have only a poem I wrote during my freshman year of high school. I pray that God uses this poem to speak to your heart as He has mine.
I wore a mask for all my life
To cover up my inward strife.
My pain, my shame, my sorrow grew,
And somewhere deep inside I knew
Masks do not help; they just bring pain
And even can make one insane.
They blind; they hurt; they never heal
The only cure: Simply to kneel
At the foot of His great cross
And give Him your heart; He paid the cost.
He bought me, a slave of sin
Put my broken heart together again.
He took off my mask; He set me free.
Now I can live eternally!
He bore my sin, my cross, my shame
Forgives me time and time again
He loves me and loves you so.
He just wants to let you know.
Jesus Christ will change your heart.
He’s loved you from the very start.
He’ll take off your mask; now here’s the deal:
All you have to do is kneel.
Life is found beyond the mask, not behind it. Won’t you let Him set you free?