Why it’s so painful to remove camouflage face paint

(putting on “camo” before a training mission)

I used to be an expert in camouflage techniques.  More than once, I camouflaged myself in such a way that you could walk right by me, less than arm’s length away, and never notice me.

I developed this expertise while serving for several years in the United States Army as a reconnaissance specialist in the 75th Ranger Regiment.

A reconnaissance mission is built on the idea of secrecy. The very identity of a reconnaissance patrol compromises the entire operation. Therefore, I learned how to blend in to almost any environment.

I was trained to carry a suitcase and wear business attire to blend in on busy streets in hostile countries. And I learned how to create a hide site, which would blend in perfectly on the floor of the desert while I surveyed enemy operations.

However, I spent the vast majority of my time doing patrols in jungles and woodlands.  To blend in there, I had to adapt the colors of my uniform and break up the outline of my equipment to match the vegetation around me. I also had to master the art of camouflage paint. I covered every inch of exposed skin in this paraffin wax-based camouflage to disappear in these environments.

I spent much time and energy preparing for missions by covering myself in camouflage. But it also took just as much time and energy to remove this camouflage after the operation was completed.

Many times, I stood in front of the mirror and rubbed my skin raw trying to remove this camouflage paint that hid me so well during training operations or combat missions. I’ve also used the help of Hollywood makeup artists to get the camouflage off my face between missions.

I wrote this article today to explain how easy it is to get comfortable hiding in plain sight and how hard it can be to take off the camouflage of your sins, to become totally vulnerable around a few trusted friends.

I believe there are at least four things that either cause people to hide their mistakes and failures or that describe the result. Before you read this list, though, I want to make sure you understand that it is unhealthy to camouflage your failures and mistakes from everyone

Just like I had buddies in the Army who knew exactly what I looked like behind the camouflage, you need a few close friends who know exactly what’s going on deep in your heart. Don’t let any one of these four areas keep you camouflaged and hiding the real you from one or two good friends.

Fear

Ultimately, all of us are afraid that people will laugh at or criticize us if they find out about our worst mistakes and faults. This fear causes us to camouflage our vulnerabilities. It makes us pretend that we’re perfect. 

If you’re afraid of how others will react when they see your faults, I get it. I’m also the kind of guy who doesn’t enjoy admitting my faults or mistakes.

However, everyone who knows me also knows that I’m not perfect. 

So, let’s just be honest with one another; people are much more likely to laugh at me if I pretend to be perfect (because they know well that I’m not) than if I show them my mistakes and faults. If you find yourself struggling with this, I wrote an article for people paralyzed by fear.

Futility

It’s futile and childish to try to hide your mistakes. Part of growing up and becoming an adult is learning to take responsibility for your actions. Children often try to hide their mistakes or act like it’s somebody else’s fault. Grownups look somebody in the eyes and admit when they’ve messed up. We all know that no one is perfect.  I don’t understand why so many adults act like children by hiding their mistakes.

I don’t laugh at the guys who make silly mistakes. Rather, I think it’s funny when people try to hide their mistakes and pretend that they didn’t do anything wrong. This is pure futility. We all mess up. Why not own up to your faults?

Don’t try to camouflage your faults because of your fear of ridicule… It doesn’t work! There’s no way to totally hide your imperfections.  It’s better to own them, learn from them, and move on than to waste time and energy hiding them. Here’s some advice about how to get back up after you fall flat on your face.

Folly

I am not using this word as an insult; I’m trying to use the official definition of the word to describe how useless it is to camouflage your mistakes and failures. The Miriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines folly as lack of good sense or normal prudence and foresight.[1]

It shows a lack of common sense to try to hide your mistakes from other people. Wise men and women realize that they’re going to have to remove the camouflage and show people their mistakes in order to grow as people. The book of Proverbs describes how disappointing a foolish son will be to a father that has tried to raise a son to be a responsible man.[2]

By trying to hide your mistakes and failures, you are in essence putting your folly on display. It is much more honest and refreshing to see someone just simply own up to their mistakes or failures.

Falsehood

Here’s the bottom line: We are pretending to be someone else by hiding our sins or mistakes from others. There is no difference between this falsehood of hiding your mistakes and wearing camouflage; both are attempts to blend in and look like someone or something else.

God challenges his people to come to him when we sin. In fact, the grace of God is more prevalent when we are willing to run to him and admit our sin. Jesus describes this vividly in Luke 7:47. Jesus used the woman in this story as an example of how much more powerful God’s grace is than our mistakes.

Don’t run away from God when you have made a mistake. Don’t hide your failures from one or two good friends who care about you and are willing to help you overcome your failures.  You and I need one or two close friends with whom we can totally be vulnerable, removing all of our camouflage and admitting our worst mistakes.

Only with friends like this can you and I become the kind of people who are totally honest with ourselves and willing to be honest with others.  

I recently preached the sermon about how challenging it is to remove your mask and to be honest with other people. Check it out here.


[1] Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

[2] Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Pr 17:21.

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