I rolled over in bed, groggily squinting at the clock. It was already 1 p.m. The cafeteria would stop serving lunch soon. I better not go to lunch, I thought. Everyone will be in their church clothes, and I feel bad that I didn't go to church.
The doorknob rattled, and my roommate flew in wearing her Sunday best. Feeling like a heathen lying there in bed, I muttered, "How was church?"
"Great," she chirped and proceeded to tell me about the service. "You wanna go to lunch?"
"No thanks," I assured her. "I think I'm gonna have my own church service here." As she turned to go, I reached for my Bible and journal, the guilt still eating at me. I was disappointed in myself—not only because I had overslept but because I was so bothered by what other people might think of me.
From the very beginning of my college career, I had played the game of trying to impress my peers. I constantly looked for opportunities to entertain them by saying clever things. And I had made an art of casually dropping references to my high school—as well as current—achievements into conversation.
I feel like I'm wearing a mask, I thought. As I wrote in my journal, I realized my acting was making me feel alone and fearful—alone because no one knew the real me and fearful that if anyone found out what I was really like, they'd reject me. I thought about my relationship with God, about how he knows me completely and loves me anyway. I longed for that same kind of acceptance from my peers.
I wish I could say I quickly learned my lesson that day and quit acting, but I continued to pretend that I had my life together. Eventually I grew so tired of my charade that I shared the truth with my best friend—that I had been wearing a mask. To my surprise, she didn't desert me when I shared my struggles. In fact, she reached out, grabbed my hand and told me that she still loved me.
Allowing her to see the real me opened the door to a deeper, more genuine friendship than I had ever experienced. Since then, I have found that my strongest friendships are the ones in which each of us truly knows one another. What's more, I've come to a better understanding of God's grace because I've seen it extended to me through others. And when I miss church or make a mistake, I don't worry so much about tarnishing my reputation. My friends already know that I'm not perfect.
Ali is a senior at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.