In this, the end of October, many a masked child can be seen stalking throughout the various corners of southern Ohio, in passionate searches of the sweets and treats that the “season” affords. Masks range from the newest round of Star Wars helmets to leering monster faces, from super hero visages to zombie heads complete with graphic flesh wounds, and from refined princesses to pallid vampires. Adults also get in on the act, and enjoy either pretending for one evening to be someone else, or gleefully striving to scare the socks off of unsuspecting souls.
The wearing of masks is, during this time of year, completely in vogue. On the other hand, it would undoubtedly seem out of place for our children to wear masks every day to school, the playground, or church. A child who sits down at the dinner table with a Darth Vader helmet on his head should expect a persistent parent to banish the effigy of the Sith Lord from mealtime activities: otherwise, attempts to eat could get quite messy. In the same way, a bank teller wearing a witch’s gown might expect to be sent home in the middle of November and the water meter reader with a werewolf’s head on an April morning might find the sheriff’s office called down on him.
But of course, the wearing of masks is (and has been) done by many people for a wide variety of reasons. There is, as has been said, the custom of mask-wearing for Trick-or-Treat in which children (mostly) are pretending to be something they’re not, delighting in the assuming of different identities for fun as they pretend, for a brief moment, that they have the qualities associated with the assumed identities (whether super powers, a cool reputations, or royal pedigrees).
Then there are those who wear “masks” to hide their true identity in order to carry out a wrong-doing with impunity (like robbing a local fast food restaurant when the manager arrives to open for business for the day). Hoodies pulled low with dark sunglasses covering the eyes, ski masks, and “hose-over-the-head” are all iconic examples of folks trying to do dirty deeds without being recognized so that they can avoid punishment.
There are also occasions when masks are worn to screen or hide the face of someone in their quest to achieve something. Soldiers, of course, may want to blend in with their surroundings and therefore wear a mask to more effectively camouflage themselves. Hunters, too, might wear a camo-style mask when hunting (although it might seem counter-productive when the hunter is also wearing a bright orange hunter’s vest).
Psychologically speaking, it is the norm to find folks wearing figurative masks as well. People “put on” an attitude so much of the time that it is almost impossible to assume that what you see is really what is going on. People wear the mask of friendship, the mask of happiness, the mask of self-confidence, the mask of strength or courage and so on, to prove to the world that they are in control of their situation and have self-worth.
People wear the mask of friendship, for example, because they have hidden agendas (think of the stereotypical car salesperson and you’ll have a great mental image of what I am talking about). People who present themselves as your friends and allies range from salespeople to predatory boyfriends, but they all present themselves as being both interested in and concerned about the welfare of others in order to exploit trust and take from their “victims” something that they want.
Others wear masks to hide inner feelings or failings, whether in the past or in the present. Shame motivates them to cover up unpleasant qualities in order to avoid rejection. On the one hand, some folks consistently present themselves in a particular light in order to avoid rejection. On the other hand, a self-righteous person takes it further and projects an air (or mask) of personal “goodness” so that he or she can feel superior to others who have not perhaps quite so effective a mask of goodness about them.
The bottom line is that we often pretend to be something we’re not, but that strategy does not work with God. Strange as it may sound, we employ the same practice of avoiding an honest approach to God that we do with one another. It’s strange because God cannot be fooled by our pretension and sees through our behaviors and attitudes right on down to our inner core as surely as Superman could theoretically see through a brick wall. God knows our hidden thoughts and secret fears. He knows our covered sins and our many failings. He knows our secret agendas and many cravings.
He knows… in spite of the great lengths to which we go to hide them. The mistake that we make is that we try to hide them, of course. This is why confession in our relationship with God is essential. It is a demonstration of the fact that we know the Lord knows all about us anyway and that denial is pointless. It also demonstrates our submission to His sovereignty and our willingness to accept responsibility for all the ways that we don’t measure up and all the struggles with which we do battle.
Once we’ve done that and agreed to take the mask off and come clean with God, we can then begin to be met by His grace in becoming what we actually wanted to become all along: a person of worth and dignity, beloved of God and appointed for great things. Once we’ve done that, we can then begin to employ the same kind of honesty in our human relationships and, consequently, experience in them a new kind of joy… a joy of true fellowship where love is more than an abstract idea but an active force at work as people accept and are accepted in the Spirit of holy grace that changed their lives.
“May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 ESV).
(Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 23 years. He is the author of “The Fairy Tale Parables,” “Crimson Harvest,” and “A Heart at Home with God.” He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org).