Hide-and-seek is a fun game until it stops being a game and becomes the way you live your life. Sometimes the innocent rules of a childhood pastime become a pattern of behavior that shapes who you are.
Like most children, I never seemed to tire of the simple neighborhood activity. It had everything needed to provide hours of entertainment; the thrill of the hunt, the heart-pounding scurry to hide, the delicious fear of discovery, and the satisfaction I felt when in possession of the perfect hide-a-way.
Hide-and-seek was a fun game until my hiding became a full-time job and the seeker played by rules that I didn’t understand. My bed, once a cozy retreat, became a place I dreaded going to at the end of the day.
My futile attempts to hide, night after night, seemed to have little effect on my determination to keep trying in the hope that eventually the seeker would stop finding me. I didn’t have the option of giving up. I had to believe that, somehow or someway, I could eventually succeed in disappearing.
So I dug deeper. If I couldn’t make the seeker stop finding me maybe I could, on some level, just pretend that nothing was happening.
That nothing had happened.
That nothing would happen.
And so I began making up my own guidelines for protecting myself. They were simple. Rule number one: always remember not to remember. Rule number two: I’m always fine, even when I’m not.
And so began the ultimate game of hide-and-seek; hiding from myself.
They say it takes ten thousand hours to become an expert at pretty much anything. I guess that makes me an ultra expert at hiding. Concealing my truest self became my go-to defense mechanism for dealing with a world that was both scary and confusing.
Realizing that I couldn’t control the people or the circumstances in my life gave me the motivation I needed to camouflage my ideas and opinions, likes and dislikes, and most damaging to me, my pain and fears.
Sometimes I switched things around and became a seeker myself. I sought to please pretty much everyone; friends, relatives, teachers, parents, and especially, God. The only people I didn’t cater to were my two sisters! Although at the time I couldn’t have put it into words, I felt driven to perform and did everything I could think of to turn myself into what I thought people wanted me to be.
I sought the opinions of others so I could be like-minded. Your likes and dislikes became mine. If you asked me my favorite color I withheld my answer until I heard yours and then answered likewise.
Disagreements and confrontations just didn’t happen; they were excruciating and to be avoided at all costs. If I couldn’t say what I thought the other person wanted me to say I just kept quiet.
Anxiety gnawed at me day and night. Chronic tummy aches had my mother calling the school to see if they knew what was wrong. A surprise visit to see the school psychologist had me tearfully confessing that I was worried about my grades. After being assured that I was doing just fine academically the sore stomach-ache went away. (See rules number one and two.)
Too young and inexperienced to verbalize what I was feeling and determined to put a brave face on things, I couldn’t admit to myself or anyone else what I was going through. But inside where I was developing my sense of self, of personhood, I began to believe that I wasn’t enough.
Three years of perfecting my hiding skills went by before something clicked inside my head and I broke the rule of silence. And although the physical abuse ended the mental and soul wounds continued and to a lesser extent, continue still.
Multiple layers of defense and coping mechanisms had been formed and hardened. Ways of thinking and responding to people and situations were entrenched. An introvert by nature, I became even more remote by nurture. My comfort zone continues to be where I can control things and I’ve struggled with perfectionism, anxiety, and fear of failure all my life.
My walk with God has reflected where my trust has been… in myself. I have worn the christian equivalent of a mask until the last few years: christian service mask, wife-and-mother-of-seven mask, and homeschooling mom mask (we tried for the mega missionary mask but God closed that door!).
Slowly, gently, and lovingly, God has been drawing me to Himself. He has given me the courage to say, “yes,” to myself by saying, “yes,” to Him. He has invited me to come out of hiding and in doing so I am discovering who I am in Christ. He’s bringing my head and my heart into alignment with His will and plan for my life. Instead of wincing in fear and shame away from Him when I sin, I am learning to run to Him for forgiveness, love, and acceptance.
I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)
There are numerous reasons to hide in this broken world we inhabit. In the best case scenario it’s just an innocent game. But too often it’s because we’re trying to protect ourselves from being hurt the only way we know how. But I found that in hiding from pain I was hiding from myself and worst of all, hiding from Love.