Giving Up the Facade

March 26, 2015


I remember going to a Post Secret event at University once. Post Secret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard. At my University, a small group of friends decided to try doing it locally. Students could put their cards through the door of a flat on a busy shopping street, and a few weeks later there was a champagne reception to launch the exhibition of all the postcards. I went. I think maybe one of my flatmates was involved.

My overriding memory of that evening was sadness. Reading through the secrets I was overwhelmed by how much was hidden. The loneliness. The shame. The unfulfilled dreams. The fear. The guilt.

And yet also, the similarities. Here were all these anonymous secrets suddenly out in the open. I only wished that we could have found the courage to come in person, postcard in hand. I think we could have all found some strength there.

It’s far too easy to say, “I’m OK, I’m fine”, when we’re asked “how are you?”. It rolls off the tongue so easily. The risk of baring all can feel so great, because what if the person we dare to be vulnerable with does not react in the way that we hope? And so it’s far easier just to keep it all bottled up inside.

There’s a building on Place de Paris here in Luxembourg, that they have been renovating the past months. When I say renovating, I mean they have destroyed the entire building except for the fancy old facade. Some elaborate scaffolding holds the beautiful stone sculpting but through all the windows you see just emptiness. The building is a shell.

I think this is what we risk when we work so hard at keeping up the facade of perfection, or at least perfect enough. We risk becoming an empty shell. When I don’t allow anyone to see the real me, there’s a danger that the real me gets lost, disappears. Until one day I’m left wondering who I am anyway?

We think the facade is protecting us. From judgement. From disappointing others. From embarrassment. From feeling like a failure.

But when I work so hard to hold up the elaborate facade I’ve created, I lose the freedom to discover who I really am, to become all that I am supposed to be.

It’s exhausting. Can we just admit that?

It can be hard though, to give up the facade. We have become so enchanted with our false selves. We like the way they look, we like the fact that they bring admiration and respect from other people. Most days we would prefer to pretend, even to ourselves, that we’ve got it all together, than admit that there might be bits of our heart that are broken.

Last Saturday lunch found me sitting in an Italian restaurant, plates already cleared from the table, the bill paid, most of the group departed for their next thing. And I let the facade slip for a moment. Let my face crumple a little at that corner table. Started a sentence with, “actually, I could use some prayer.” And it felt like a giant relief.

To be seen. To be heard. It was sweet freedom.

In Luke9, Jesus said to his disciples,

Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

If you try and hold on to the facade you have created, the “you” you would like everyone to see, if you keep striving to appear like someone different from who you really are, try to gain the whole world this way – you will lose your life. Maybe you’ll live until you are 100 but you will not be truly living. There is a kind of life that leads to death. And there is a kind of death that leads to life.

I want to put to death the facade, I want to lose the false me. And yes, there are also appropriate boundaries. People need to earn the right to hear my stories. But no more fake. No more pretending. No more striving for everyone else’s approval.

Brene Brown says,

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

Here’s to stopping the striving, stopping the trying so hard to be everything to everyone. Here’s instead to risking vulnerability, choosing the real me – quirks and doubts and brokenness and all – and declaring it beautiful enough to drop the facade and come out of hiding.

How about you?


Last last Sunday (15th March) I preached at our church, All Nations Church of Luxembourg, on this topic of Giving Up the Facade. To listen (it’s around 20 minutes – actually, a bit more, I went over time!) you can visit the website to hear the podcast.


Learning to pray the way God made me

It was a few years ago. I was watching the livestream of Pete Greig, the founder of 24/7 Prayer, speaking at the HTB Leadership Summit in London. And this sentence he spoke jumped out of the screen with force.

“The great joy of praying is learning to pray the way God made you.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d realised that maybe the way I’d been taught to pray was not the only way. But he held out an invitation to me, a chance to stop toiling to try and make my prayer life look the way I thought it should, and discover the joy of praying in a way that fits who I am, who I was uniquely created to be.

I wrote last week about giving up my “quiet time” – that structured, early morning, typically evangelical approach to prayer that is just a bad fit for me, especially in this season of being a baby mama.

The more I learn, the more I practise, the more sure I become that we need to discover ways of praying that are a good fit for our lives, the seasons we’re in, and our personalities.

Pete Greig also said during that talk, “So much of the material on how to pray has been written by introverts, living a cloistered existence, sometimes without children, and with an affection for squirrels and early grey tea!”

Alright, they may not all like squirrels, but I have found it to be harder as an extrovert to find personal prayer resources aimed at my personality. (On the other side, I imagine introverts struggle if they find themselves in a context where corporate prayer expects them to speak their own prayers outloud to the group).

I come out on the extrovert end of the scale in most tests. Although I love and need time to myself each day to feel inwardly balanced, so much of my energy comes from being around other people. My own projects get a boost right after I’ve had a conversation about them with a good friend. If a meeting finishes at 10pm, I still have energy to dive into all my assigned tasks right then and there. Because the presence, the enthusiasm, the contributions of those around me, it energises and enthuses me.

I like to describe myself as a “wannabe contemplative”. I am so drawn to the monastic writers and the mystics. I scribble down their prayers in my journal. I love learning about the ways they live. But if I try to begin a contemplative practice on my own, it usually lasts all of one day before I run out of steam.

It’s not just that I suck at discipline. There’s definitely an element of that too, but the bigger truth is that I am designed to be energised around other people, and so I find it harder to sustain that kind of prayer alone.

Ruth Fowke writes,

“Prayer is about finding the most suitable rhythm to enable one to develop a meaningful, vibrant relationship with the living God. He has chosen to make us all different from one another. Each of us must find the prayer pattern that is most suited to foster the development of our relationship with the Creator God.” (from her book Personality and Prayer).

Two years ago, at the Amahoro conference in Kampala, we began each morning with an hour of contemplative prayer together. It was lead by an Anglican priest in a room where the windows were open to the sound of the gentle waves on Lake Victoria, just meters away.

I pulled myself out of bed each morning to make it there with my wonderful room mate Tina, and we found a chair each in the circle and sat together in the morning quiet. Together our small early morning group sang Taize songs, spent long moments in silence, practiced lectio divina, and chanted beautiful lines of scripture. It was entirely beautiful and transcendent. I loved it.

Then, last year I spent four days on retreat at the Northumbria Community in the UK, where they follow the Celtic monastic tradition and pray together four times a day. And so four times a day I followed the sound of the bell to the cozy living room, settled back into one of the sofas in the sunshine, and joined in the quickly-familiar pattern of prayer, feeling my heartbeat slow and my shoulders release their tension.

These are two defining moments for me in my faith journey these past few years. They introduced me to contemplative prayer, monastic rhythms of the day. And yet, I still haven’t been able to sustain my own quiet daily prayer time alone.

For now, I’m letting that be ok.

The danger is that I would release myself from the shame of not managing to pray one particular way (the evangelical “quiet time”), only to layer the shame over me again when I struggle to pray in a different way.

But shame is the worst reason to pray. Or not to pray. That kind of shame is not from God.

Instead I want to pray out of desire. I want to want to pray. And more and more, that desire will come when I find the way to pray that is most natural to me, and when I learn the discipline to keep at it.

Mother Mary Clare of the Sisters of the Love of God, wrote,

“Prayer is essentially… a love affair with God, not schemes or techniques or ways of prayer, but the most direct,open approach of each one of us as a person to God our creator, redeemer and sanctifier… We are seeking God himself.”

In her book, Ruth Fowke has a section for extroverts like me. She suggests prayer walks, individually or with others; using creative endeavours like painting, gardening, sewing as ways to focus ourselves into prayer while still giving our bodies an activity to engage with; going on a retreat that has moments to debrief and discuss with a guide or another participant between times of silence; or meeting regularly with a prayer group so that the energy of being together with them will enthuse your individual prayer times.

That’s just one aspect of it. Do you approach the world primarily through your intellect or your imagination? Is your heart or your mind more likely to lead your responses to situations and people? Are you more intuituve or reasoned? Each of these will influence how we pray. And so the possibilities are endless!

What if we were to discover the joy of learning to pray the way God made us?


*All the Pete Greig quotes are from my own notes scribbled down as I was watching his talk. I’m pretty confident I wrote them down correctly but this is my disclaimer in case they are a few words off…

A really useful resource is Tara Owen’s series on the Enneagram and Prayer. She’s written posts for the first five personality types so far (and then paused for the new baby!) so if you know you’re type, there’s a wealth of wisdom and ideas there.


Celebrating the Spring Equinox

March 20, 2015

Today is the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere. The sky is slightly overcast this morning but the sun is breaking through, important since we also experience a rare solar eclipse today. I love marking the seasons. It’s still a relatively new practise for me, and I tend to make it up as I go […]

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Learning to Pray (or, why I gave up my “quiet time”)

March 17, 2015

For a while, my mornings looked like precious sleep. After a long night of waking every couple of hours to a hungry baby, my husband would fetch her up out of the cot one last time and they’d head downstairs for some play on the sofa together, watch the sun come up. Exhausted, I’d settle […]

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Giving up FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out!)

March 4, 2015

I have major FOMO. I want to know about everything that is going on. I want to be the first to hear all my friends’ news. I want to be in the photos that appear on Facebook the next day. I want to have the same success as my friends. I want to travel to […]

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right now- February 2015

February 26, 2015

February started in the French Alps and is ending right back home in Luxembourg. Kaya turned eight months (what?!!) and is determined to walk everywhere. She cries if we sit her down. Crawling she has zero interest in. My family came for a long weekend in the middle of the month, so they could give […]

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Giving up Apathy

February 25, 2015

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love for your dream for […]

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Holiday in Samoëns (or, how I learnt to embrace holidays as a baby mama)

February 23, 2015

A few weeks back we were invited by good friends to join them at their family’s chalet in the French Alps. Well, as another friend said when I told her, You never say no to the Alps.  So we packed up our little seven month old and her not-so-little supplies (I guess we’re still trying to […]

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Giving up fear

February 18, 2015

Three years ago, I chose one word for the first time, to guide me through my year – my first in Luxembourg – and help me live a better life. I chose Brave. I thought and wrote about courage so much that year (you can find all the bravery files here if you’re interested. I […]

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right now – January

January 30, 2015

  This has been a slow month, in a good way mostly. My days are full of not very much – play with my wee girl, make more baby food, try to fit all the cleaning and emails and projects into the few hours she naps. There is lots of space for imagining and day […]

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