We’ve been examining leadership principles to be learned from the life of Nehemiah. Maybe you’re thinking that you’re not a leader, but all of us are—in some way or another. These principles are relevant to everyone.

Previously, we learned that a leader knows how to handle bad news. In the second chapter of Nehemiah, we find that he was open and vulnerable. He worked for King Artaxerxes, and nobody was allowed to look sad or unhappy in the king’s presence. In fact, the death penalty was the punishment for sad-looking servants.

But with a heavy heart about his people and the condition of Jerusalem, Nehemiah looked sad in the king’s presence. Nehemiah did not hide his grief and sadness. He wasn’t trying to make others feel bad, but he wasn’t putting on a “happy face,” as we say.

Psychologists say that 80 percent of our emotional strength frequently goes into wearing a mask, pretending to be someone we are not. Think about it—when you ask someone “How are you?”, how often does anyone say anything except “Fine.” I’m not suggesting that we start dumping our problems on anyone who says, “How are you?” But I do believe that, far too often, we put on a mask and pretend to be who we are not, when we need to be openly honest.

There is great relief in developing this characteristic of not being afraid to reveal who we really are. You can be much more relaxed when you accept yourself the way you are, acknowledging your weaknesses while also recognizing your strengths. It is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity to be honest about yourself.

I remember going to Uganda and Kenya to minister to women in Christian leadership, and the women were kind enough to write notes of appreciation for my teaching. I noticed that many of them said things like, “Thank you for opening up to us,” and “Thank you for speaking from personal experience.” Being real and open can be used mightily by God to build bridges to other people and can open up possibilities for ministry that would otherwise be closed.

So remember this: God has called us to be authentic and not to wear a mask. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “By the grace of God I am who I am” (I Corinthians 15:10). There is no reason to cover up who we are in Christ.