The Masked Ball

I grew up in a city and an environment which valued appearances over just about everything else. So I am rather sensitive to the images which others attempt to project to mask the truth. For much of my life as a teenager my family tried to project the idea that we were upper middle class when in fact we were gliding along on a thin veneer of credit.

Then when I was older I ran off to be a hippy and even among the groovy I found that they were, in fact, merely projecting an image of coolness to mask their inadequacies. Later I went on to work in television where everyday we interviewed people who were projecting a desirable image in the hopes that someone would do business with them or support their cause. Almost everyone you meet is projecting an image of what they want you to think of them rather than who they really are. Some projected images are for the sake of business, they are professional personas. Some images exist because the individual is not able to cope with the harsh reality of their lives, I call this type of projected image Fantasy World.

I am very familiar with Fantasy World because I used to live there. Now in my case I lived in Fantasy World because I was actually a scared little boy who quailed in the presence of authority figures, so I had to create a confident persona to keep the abusive people from taking advantage of me, because nothing attracts a bully like apparent weakness. So in the land of plastic, smiling beauty queens  I had my own fake smile and false confident air. For years I projected a false front of competence to hide my incompetence and I drank to soothe my fears, to prop up my cardboard courage.

Eventually I realized the damage I was inflicting on myself. So I quit drinking and joined a church, and because it seemed like such a complete change, I did not notice that really, nothing had changed. I still had a mask to wear to any and all religious events. And there were bullies to avoid in that atmosphere too. My projected image was cleaner, shinier, but there was a hole in my seemingly perfect armor.

Then one day outside the confines of the local church and quite apart from the usual religious context I came face to face with Jesus. There were no projected images or masks which could protect me from Him, but in that vulnerable moment I realized that He is the one person who can be trusted. He saw me as I am and He did not turn away from me. He did not belittle me, instead He befriended me. He said that He was going to heal my heart so that I would be less and less dependent on my mask. Then He walked me through the wounds and scars which made me so fearful. He did not send me there to relive those awful moments alone, no, He went with me so that I would see that those woundings and the scars they caused were not as overwhelming as I thought. I could turn all of those things, which I had never been able handle, over to Him.

Now each day is fresh and new, He is willing to walk with me as I mature in Him. Do I stumble at times? Yes, I do. Does He discipline me? Oh yes, but I have to say that He is the Master of the appropriate word. He doesn’t condemn me, He corrects me. He will never bully me, He loves me, no one I have ever known has loved me like He does.

I can recommend His care from experience, surely you don’t want to live a life behind a false front, lay aside your masks and your elaborate projected images, and throw your cares on Him, depend on Him. Cast your lot with Jesus. He loves you and He wants to know the real you, the one without the mask.

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6 Comments on “The Masked Ball”

  1. cindyinsd Says:

    Hey, Nathan

    I haven’t read your last post yet (it’s saved in my e-mail), but this one is so, so accurate. Amazingly right on target. We’ve been talking about this in our group — about how difficult it is to get to know one another well enough to reveal our true selves. It seems like such a risk.

    There are things I feel the need to hide even from God, though I know He knows me through and through. But I have the desire to clean things up before I officially let Him in. Not that I think He’ll reject me, but it’s just so shameful — some of those putrescent wounds we carry deep within. I don’t want ANYONE to see, especially Him. But it’s necessary, of course, or how can He heal us if we can’t let Him in?

    Thanks for a great starter on the morning! Got to go to work . . . .

    Blessings, Cindy

    • Nathan Says:

      Hi Cindy,
      Thank you for your kind words of encouragement.
      Yes, I have these little conversations with myself too!
      My brain will dredge up some stupid or shameful thing I did long ago and say, “What about that?”
      And my heart will say “He knows all about that, and He still loves me.”
      It is a good thing that we know the Physician who can heal even our deepest, most troublesome wounds, so that we don’t have to live wounded and stunted lives.
      Go get ’em Cindy

      Nathan

  2. Ken Says:

    This was especially interesting to me, Dave, since of course I knew you fairly well during your teen years, and I must confess I found your air of confidence quite charming and charismatic. But we were all a lot younger then… You make me wonder exactly how much I myself am projecting a mask, even when I think I’m not. We wear masks to ourselves as well, after all.

    • Nathan Says:

      Alright! great to have you comment dude!
      Ken,
      Of course self deception is one of our greatest problems, many forms of mania are basically serious and common cases of self deception which we have defined in psychological terms. The nature of self deception does tend to make one doubt if he will ever get to the bottom of it all. That is where a neutral party comes in, psycho analysis, at least in part, attempts to do this with a trained professional. Sometimes it can be quite successful. But I have found that when I peel away all of the papier mache and paint which forms even my own personal mask, the one I present to myself, and find nothing. It helps me to find that God (my neutral party) is there telling me that nothing (emptiness) is certainly what is behind the human mask, but He did not make me empty, He has laid a foundation in my heart to really make something out of me after all, in truth and love.

      We just don’t want to see what He is doing when we are seeking to bask in our own great achievements, and the personal mask is an attempt to synthesize that greatness, it is our attempt to construct our fantastic successes out of spit and chewing gum, “ex nihilo” if you will.

      Of course you were probably expecting a reply like that. <8^)
      It does sound a bit like "when you meet Buddha on the road kill him" doesn't it?

      As far as interaction between people goes, learning about the mask and even destroying the mask are only the beginning. Old habits are truly hard to break, so there will always be some kind of persona which we project, the goal is for that to be a more honest representation of our true selves each time we dust off the old mask or should I call it the incrementally rejuvenated mask. Until one day we discover that we are no longer tempted to lie and make excuses (common social peccadilloes) and we can be comfortable and rest easy in who and what we really are.

      Sure Ken, when we were both young I had a heck of a mask, and to some extent it is because I had so much to hide. When I was in 5th and 6th grade I was withdrawn and beaten down by circumstances, partially by my father's overbearing personality. I was an unpopular middle class kid floundering in an upper class private school (St. Mark's in Dallas), but something happened between 7th grade and 9th, it was as if I had had enough abuse and determined to make the best of whatever came my way (the physical effects of adolescence may have played a hand as well). I was starting a new school (PHS) after too many failures at St. Mark's, and I had the opportunity to reconstruct my persona. So when you knew me there was always the withdrawn kid somewhere inside and some of my crazy moods were evidence of the struggle to maintain the mask.

      I have read about guys in the military in WW2 who would bluff their way into new and responsible duties they weren't qualified for. I kind of feel that way about the confidence I projected in my late teens and early tweens, it was an elaborate bluff, and part of the bluff was a confident indifference to being vulnerable. So there you have it, it was a beautiful mask honed and polished in the fires of adversity, but a mask nonetheless. It is rather freeing to discuss it and pitch it to one side as something which is no longer needed.

      Thank you for your honest and thoughtful comment

      Nathan

  3. Rachel Says:

    This is an excellent post. It is easy to get wrapped up in others expectations of you – and try to mold and conform – but it isn’t true life but bondage.

    It is amazing the closer I draw to God and put my trust in Him the more I move into who I really am and that woman is real inside and out. Amazing freedom.

    Rachel

    • Nathan Says:

      Thanks Rachel,

      I think once before we discussed how God heals us one layer at a time, I think this is what Paul was alluding to when he said “I die daily” for as God pulls each layer off of us with our cooperation, we die and take another step closer and farther along the way with Jesus. And as we mature we will begin to relate to Him honestly and as we truly ought to. For we are moving day by day toward being like Him. I think it is one of the coolest things ever. As long as we are turning and returning to Him I do not think we ever regress. Because it is what He is doing in us that is bringing results.
      He is building our faith by working these miracles in us each day.

      Nathan


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