Growing up I loved the Berenstain Bears books. I don't remember much now, but one story stuck with me. Sister was making a pie with Mama bear and pulled an ugly Apple out of the basket. She was going to discard it, but Mama used it anyway. It was a delicious apple. Sister pulled a big, bright, shiny Apple next, and it was rotten inside. The lesson was the appearances can never tell what is under the surface. That lesson has stayed with me for the last thirty years.
Part of the time I knew that applied to other people. They could look well on the outside, but not be well inside. Or, they might not look as out together, but actually be wonderful, loving people. I think I started to associate this idea with a mask or barrier when I was about 13 or 14. I started to have a really difficult time at school. I was severely bullied. I still did well in school and put on what I called my 'brave face' every day. I thought I could simply will the tormenting away, or perhaps forbid it from hurting me. Neither worked. I was depressed, suicidal, and developed social phobias.
My family moved away, so I got to start over. You would think this should be a good thing. But a new school brought new anxiety. Rather than make friends, I would sit alone in a hallway reading. They couldn't hurt me, if they couldn't find me. I only made friends when classmates were persistent about talking to me. It would take several more years before I would approach someone I didn't know and longer still before I felt comfortable doing it.
Yet, through the battles with depression and anxiety, I have almost always managed to appear well. Like the bright, shiny apple, no one knew what lurked inside. It was only through admitting first to my parents and then to a counselor that I needed some help, that I was able to get the help I needed.
Most of my work now is looking at the people are my and trying to see last whatever barrier they may have erected so that I can be truly effective in ministry with them. The question with each person I meet, is how do I love, encourage and support them to be as well and content as they can be. We all work to find our own equilibrium between the dark days and the bright ones. God is with us in both. Walking along another through that journey is an honor and a privilege.