By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
Do you get excited about Halloween? It seems to me that many people are polarized about this holiday, meaning they are either wildly into it or they really could not care less, or think negatively about it. But, whether or not you care one whit about Halloween, we all wear masks. We likely have more than one, wearing different ones to fit the occasion. Masks are great, because masks allow us to pretend we are something or someone else. And masks help us to relax in uncomfortable situations, or even behave in ways that we would normally feel insecure about. And we can hide behind masks. Oh yes, we can hide.
We as a culture have become very adept indeed at wearing masks. So much so that most people are conditioned into mask wearing to the degree that they are not even aware of wearing them. You see, mask wearing is taught. Children are by nature without guile and pretence. It is rather ironic, isn’t it, that children do not wear masks of this kind? Children wear masks in play, but it takes a grown-up to really wear a mask!
Why do we do it? Well, likely over a myriad of circumstances and encounters we experienced people as not accepting us for who we were. We were told to change, we were told we didn’t please them, we were mocked or laughed at or rejected or neglected. Or maybe we simply noticed that there were other people who got acknowledged and praised for their smarts, their looks, their wonderful personality or their toughness. Actually, it may have been us who got strokes for something we could perform, and so like a rat in a science experiment we kept pushing on that button to get another treat. And in so many ways we were influenced subtly by our culture as to what was acceptable and what wasn’t. And it did its work on us. We learned what we could get rewarded for pretending to be and what we would get ostracized or ignored for. These are powerful motivators.
But masks aren’t just for performing and pleasing others. Masks are also about what we construct to hide our real selves. You see, I believe that even if the culture did not exert such influence on us that we would still utilize masks. In our own right we really want to control what others see and believe about us. We fear being misunderstood, labeled, shamed, attacked or blamed. And to avoid any of that we need to control what people experience from us. We can’t permit our selves to be seen. Why is that? Well, because we have a strong sense that our real self won’t be approved of. And – some of the things we chose aren’t in reality approval worthy, are they? We all have an incredible capacity to mess things up – to be greedy, selfish, nasty, devious, malicious, and more. Yeah, this one is called guilt and it’s a huge motivator to hide behind a mask. There is a second category that motivates our hiding and that is when someone perpetrates their manipulative, jerky ways on us and the result is we are hurt. There is a book called True Faced, in which the authors outline how these are the main two responses to sin that lead to our hiding and mask wearing. (24)
We wear masks to protect ourselves, don’t we? And I think that for all of us, that makes sense. It’s reasonable to protect ourselves. We would certainly say that it is foolish for someone to not protect themselves. We believe in protecting ourselves.
Although, I have to say, when I look at Jesus I don’t see a guy who was focused on protecting himself. He really lived differently, didn’t he? He wasn’t afraid to say it like squarely and directly to the religious leaders. He didn’t hide when they tried to trick him and he didn’t accommodate them. He went right on angering them and doing what he knew was right. He didn’t hide from his close friends and followers. When he was tired he fell asleep in the boat, rather than try to fake it. When he was sad about Lazarus dying he went ahead and cried. When he thought that they needed correction, he offered it. And when he felt compassion for people he gave, he healed, he touched, he hung out, even if they were tax collectors, prostitutes, or really poor, actually especially if they were. And when people mocked him and sentenced him to death and when his best friends abandoned him, he didn’t keep a stiff upper lip and say he was fine, nor store up resentment. He didn’t shy away from the potential of those around him to hurt him. In fact, he put himself right in the prime position to be taken advantage of and misunderstood and mistreated, and they did.
How was Jesus able to do this? Let’s not simply chalk it up to him being divine. Jesus was also fully human. If Jesus could do what he did just because he was God, then it means he wasn’t really a model for us to follow. So what was it?
I believe it was about vulnerability.
I believe that when we have the capacity to be vulnerable that it actually means that we have come to understand what true safety really is about and that we have found that real safety is not in self protection and mask wearing. You see, I would say that Jesus knew, really knew who he was and found his security in his Father’s control and his Father’s will. He lived dependently on his Abba. And he was able to rest in his Father. And because of that he didn’t need to control things, he didn’t need to protect himself in all the myriad ways that we are so sure we need to or the result would be beyond what we could handle.
In the end, the result was Jesus got killed. And we are afraid that God won’t really protect us either. But we believe that we can; we can protect ourselves, our image, our heart, our reputation. We don’t want to end up like Jesus – accused, abandoned, mocked, abused. But there’s the rub. It ends up looking like we believe that Jesus was foolish too. But the end wasn’t the end, was it? Jesus’ vulnerability did not lead to a humiliating end, but it led to the most glorious victory that has ever happened in history. Jesus’ vulnerability was actually a demonstration of great courage and love, and it was absolutely a model that we are called to follow.
Choosing vulnerability is choosing to be let people see and know the real me. I am not advocating that we unwisely bear ourselves to everyone and anyone and intentionally subject ourselves to abuse. Jesus may have come to die, but I don’t think he went looking for it. I think it was a natural result of his being hated and rejected. Nothing in scripture, including the passage about turning the other cheek, supports the idea that we should allow someone to abuse us. Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 10:16 to be innocent as doves but also wise as serpents.
I believe that what this all means that there is a way to protect ourselves that is different from mask wearing. That’s what I’ll get into next time. What real protection looks like.
See you then!
If you would like to schedule a counseling appointment with me, please call our office at 407-647-7005.
Here are links to the book and You Tube by the authors of the True Faced material I referred to:
And on You Tube
Reprint Permission– If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint.