Behind the Mask (part 2)

From One PK to Another

Life as a pastor's kid is very interesting. As a PK, it often feels like people are constantly watching you. Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand? You may feel like you always have to be the perfect example and have to keep your true feelings inside. But, in the midst of it all, you may also be trying to find out who you really are.

I know what it's like to be a PK. I have been an official PK since the day I was born. I remember what it was like trying to be myself in the midst of everything. I felt like I lived in a fishbowl and was on display for all to inspect. I found it hard to be a genuine Christian because I felt I had to be perfect. I was afraid that, if I showed my failures and downfalls the people of the church, they would condemn me or blame my parents.

Eventually, I placed a beautiful "fake Christian mask" on my face, thinking I could fool everyone. I figured as long as I looked like the perfect Christian to everyone in the church, no one would ever know of my faults or judge me. I wouldn't let anyone down. I would get up Sunday after Sunday and look like the perfect PK, smile at everyone, sing the songs at the top of my lungs, and always be right were I was supposed to be in my yearly Bible reading. As far as the congregation knew, I never skipped my devotions, was on target in my prayer life, and never sinned. I thought I had them fooled.

But I soon found that the one I was fooling most was me. With this "fake Christian mask" comes deceit. With deceit comes numbness, and eventually you wake up one morning thinking you have successfully fooled the congregation, and even God. When you are numb to who and what you really are, you can no longer feel the genuine presence of God. That is the worst place you could ever find yourself.

If you find yourself in this place and think you have everyone fooled, there are some questions you need to ask yourself.

Am I a "Christian" because my parents are Christians?
I remember when I was about 15 and I no longer "felt" the presence of God in my life. In fact, I even doubted that God was out there. The problem was I had not established my own relationship with God. I had just considered myself a Christian because my parents were. I had no personal prayer life and no devotional life. I had for too long just "gotten by." Out of a long string of events, I finally realized that I would never get to heaven through my parents relationship with Christ; I needed to have my own.

This is extremely important. Your parents' salvation will not get you into heaven. You have to find God for yourself. Too many people living in parsonages think they can get to heaven on their parents' coat tails. This is one of the biggest lies that Satan can tell you. Never let him whisper this into your ear. Do you talk to God on a regular basis? Have you accepted Jesus Christ into your heart? If you are unsure or can't remember if you have ever done this, now is as right a time as any to talk to Him. Don't let another day go by without knowing Him on a personal basis. No matter who you are or what you have done, He still loves you unconditionally.

God can see through that "fake mask" of yours. He knows who you actually are. He knows if you are really saved or not, or just lukewarm. The Bible talks about being lukewarm in Revelation 3:15-16. It reads, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth." God hates a lukewarm Christian, so do not be lukewarm or cold. Discover Christ for yourself. When He comes back for His children, you are the only one who will be held accountable for your life.

"Does my parents' pastoral reputation depend on my actions?"
I wish I could tell you that, no matter what you do or how much you goof up, it won't reflect on your parents, but often it really does — just like any kid's actions say something about his or her parents. Your pastoral parents or your church should never pressure you to be "perfect" or angelic all the time. But, in truth, in the eyes of most congregations, the actions of a PK do reflect on the parents and their ministry. It's unfair and wrong, but there's nothing you can do about it.

However, your actions also reflect you, your character and even your understanding of God. Tim Sanford, author of the book, I Have to be Perfect, says, "Your mom and dad's reputation is on their shoulders, but your reputation is on your own shoulders. You live and die by your choices. Other people will view mom and dad based on how you act. It is wrong that they do that, but you can't fix their perceptions. Don't do the opposite to get back at mom and dad either, because it is also your reputation. Your reputation is yours, not an extension of mom and dad's."

Your words and actions are watched. People should not expect you to be "perfect," but realize that you are in a position of leadership and a role model, whether you like it or not. My suggestion is be genuine. Don't expect to be perfect yourself, but know that God has set you in a place where people can either look up to you or down upon you. I would rather be a genuine, Godly example than to bring shame to myself, my parents and especially my God.

I learned some time ago that I needed to start being myself and stop pretending. I learned to allow myself to be comfortable and honest with myself. That also made me honest and open with God and, in the end, helped me learn who I really was in the midst of it all.

"How do I get beyond the 'mask?'"
First, learn to trust again. Lack of trust in people was probably what made you put on the "mask" in the first place. Realize that not everyone is out to get you, stare at you, make you an example or criticize you. There are nice people in the world (and in the church) that just want to be your friend. Let people see who you are. Let them in on the things that make you tick and laugh. It's hard, especially as a PK, to share with others what is on your heart. But, if you choose your friends wisely, you will be able to open up to them, knowing that you are in complete confidence.

I remember feeling like I always had to watch what I said around people, but I eventually found that one friend who would keep all my secrets. For me, it was my mother, believe it or not. She was in the same place as me, dealing with a lot of similar issues and pressures. We found we could tell each other what we where going through and lean on each other, knowing that neither one of us would tell on the other. It may not be your mother or father that you find you can confide in, but choose your friends wisely and find someone who you can trust. It is important to vent and confide in someone. It makes you stronger as a person and helps you deal with the stress and pressures of ministry.

Second, learn that mistakes are mistakes. If you have done something in your past and you've given it to God, let it go. Your past is your past. It's behind you. We all make mistakes. If we learn from them and go on, we then grow. Don't beat yourself over the head for something that you did in your past. Focus on what God wants you to become today. You may find that you can even help others because of the things that you have gone through.

There was a moment in my life when I did something very stupid. Instead of wallowing over it in my guilt and misery for the next ten years, I picked my head up, asked for God's forgiveness, and tried to help as many people as I could who were going through the same thing. God can use anything for His good, even your mistakes.

In conclusion, please remember that God is your ultimate confidant and tour guide through life's roller coaster! He will always be there to give you courage to be yourself, to trust others and open up, and to learn from your mistakes. He will be right beside you, holding your hand through all the challenges that are ahead of you. He will be your comforter when you are lonely and your friend when there is no one else to turn to. But most of all, He is your Heavenly Father who loves you no matter what you do or where you have come from. He made you just the way you are! Be happy with who you are in Him. Realize that everything happens in your life for a reason. Who knows, some day you may even be helping other PK's learn how to cope with being in the ministry. The possibilities are endless!


(Click here for part 1)

Article copyright © 2002, Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Julianna Preble Fife grew up as the daughter of an evangelist and pastor, and is now married to a pastor. She was a student intern with the Pastoral Ministries department at Focus on the Family
when she wrote this article. She is now married to a pastor and ministers in Mississippi as of 2009.