Grey skies are gonna clear up, Put on a happy face; Brush off the clouds and cheer up, Put on a happy face…
I count myself as the Optimist of the family. The glass half-full person. The one who consoles gloomy others with “Cheer up, it might never happen”. A big fan of “Fake it ‘til you make it”. (And, as a Violinist and Strings teacher, I have taught my students the art of “Faking” – if lost during an Orchestra performance, to move the bow and fingers, pretending to play, while you desperately scan the sheet music for the correct place). (The kids call it “air violin”)
But is putting on a happy face always the best, the healthiest thing to do? When is that “face” making the best of a situation and getting on, and when is it a mask, which can be damaging?
I had coffee this week – separately – with two friends. One a Lawyer, the other a Doctor. And both genuine Christians. One of the things I love about conversations with each of these friends is that very little, if anything, shocks them. Because they have both heard and seen much of life, and indeed the seamier or unhappier side of it. Have had professional and personal contact with people in difficulty or strife, be it medically, legally or personally.
I hope that anything I might have to share is not too much on the “Shock! Horror!” scale, but I feel that I can be myself. That these friends will not judge me because I am human and imperfect. Or have unrealistic expectations of me because I am a churchgoer, indeed a Pastor’s Wife. And so I can let down that “Mask” that we all wear to a greater or lesser extent, and be myself. Friends like this make me feel more comfortable in my own skin.
Recently, oddly, I have had a few “Worlds Collide” moments, where a similar thought or topic has come up, seemingly coincidentally, from different directions. I have another friend who I have not seen in person in many years, who lives interstate. We keep in touch sporadically, these days via email. Recently we were reminiscing about the distant past and my friend commented:
“I realise that I’ve been at my best throughout my life when I have allowed my free spirit to flow, my unusual (to everyone else) to be my usual; my abnormal (to those looking on) to be my normal”…
This made me smile to myself, as it is such the type of thing I would attempt to express, and reminded me of part of a verse of a quite sweet Christian song “The Summons”:
- Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
If I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
And never be the same?
Although – as a fully signed up member of the Grammar Police (Something I may have learnt from my Mum, who was Dux of School back in 1947) – I tend to find the syntax clumsy, the concept of “the ‘you’ you hide” is a fascinating one. To various degrees I feel we all have a “’you’ you hide”. How much the “Real You” and the “What the world sees” correspond, probably comes down to a number of factors: one’s self-confidence, how much we care about what others think, to what extent we feel obliged to “Keep up appearances” and our own conscience, and how inclined it is to be a “guilty” one.
Recently I was recommended a book entitled “The Sociopath Next Door” which has the tagline “1 in 25 ordinary Americans secretly has no conscience and can do anything at all without feeling guilty… Who is the devil you know?”
This is a fascinating topic and, rather than take a huge tangent, should you be interested, I suggest you look it out. Apparently these sociopaths can do literally anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt, shame and remorse. (Fortunately one reviewer counters… “and a heartening affirmation of the empathic mindset that comes naturally to the vast majority of humans”).
But in my personal experience, rather than carrying no “guilt, shame or remorse”, many of us appear to have an over-developed conscience. We feel guilt and even shame over many things, even those things which were not our fault, or if we did contribute to – did not intend – or even when we have been the victim of a situation, or another person. The desire to “Keep up appearances”, to keep that façade in place, becomes more important than truth.
Some cultures have an important concept of “Face”. The desire to “Save Face” operates at a personal, family, employment, government and even international level. For example the “Expressions of Regret” in fairly recent times for historical wrongs, say in wartime. These are incredibly carefully worded so contrition may be offered but “Face Saved”.
So what were some of my other “Worlds Collide” moments? On Wednesday I was invited to our church Ladies’ Annual Morning Tea, to which they invite guests from other congregations. Both my daughter and I played violin solos as part of the “entertainment” for the mostly senior participants. Then my husband (Pastor) Neil led the gathering in a Devotion and reflection. He had chosen the topic to complement the guest speaker who followed, who came from a Shelter for Women and children who are affected by Domestic Violence and Abuse.
Now, Christians – and perhaps to a greater extent – non-Christians alike tend to look benevolently at Scripture/The Bible as a “Good Book”. (Indeed, one well-known translation popular in the 1970’s was called “GOOD NEWS”). Yet the Bible is full of all sorts of passages, some quite unsavory, and there is a collection I believe of what Seminary students call “Unreachable Texts”.
Neil chose to use one such reading (2 Samuel: 13) for his reflection.
For the whole passage, see here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+samuel+13&version=NIVUK
The rather dreadful story of King David’s daughter Tamar and what happened to her at the hand of her half-brother Amnon. And all the “players” are somehow related, and at no time did any of them (except Tamar herself) say “NO! That isn’t right!” An uncle aided and abetted the perpetrator; and afterwards there was a cover-up. Yet this whole situation had far-reaching consequences, including the later early deaths of many of the characters. The ultimate in “Dysfunctional Family”. Back in 1000 BCE. There is truly nothing new under the sun.
Neil also related the history of an elderly woman he had known (Eileen) who had grown up in a family where her father was a functioning alcoholic who abused her mother. Finally after witnessing this unhealthy relationship over many years, Eileen, as a 15-year-old had the courage to stand up to, and challenge her father, to say “NO” to protect her mother. Subsequently, her mother had the courage to leave her abusive husband, in an era where separation and divorce was rare, and even more so than today, victims suffered behind closed doors to maintain the outward appearance of normality.
The Guest Speaker from the refuge expounded on the topic itself, “Domestic Violence and Abuse”, which has been in the media more than usual lately. So much that goes on behind closed doors. And so often people (usually, but not exclusively women) suffer in silence, fearing for their health or even their life, but all the time “Keeping Up Appearances”. And in many cases, when they do have the courage to leave that situation they are faced by disbelief by family and friends, who cannot comprehend that what was seen from the “outside” and what was really happening (according to the victim) was very different. How often on TV news reports after some tragedy, is a neighbor interviewed who says something like “But they seemed like such a nice, normal family”?
I noticed that a number of people at the Ladies lunch (mainly senior women) were teary over both these presentations. I wondered to what extent they were reflecting on hidden secrets within their own family or circles.
Rock Band “Fleetwood Mac” – ironically formed in London the month I was born (July 1967) – had a Chart topping single 20 years later in 1987. In “Little Lies” the singer would rather hear little lies than the unhappy truth from her lover… “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies”.
How commonplace, sadly, is this…that we really don’t want to now the truth sometimes. The truth hurts. The truth is unpalatable.
In another terrible example of what is hidden behind closed doors, also this week, Phil Walsh, the well-known and respected coach of the “Adelaide Crows” football team was murdered. (Although not a huge sports fan, Adelaide being my birthplace, the “Crows” are technically “My Team”) His wife was injured and their 26-year-old son has been charged. I’m just waiting for the head-shaking bystander to come out with ““But they seemed like such a nice, normal family”.
And for good measure, I followed a Facebook thread that started with a link to a news report about evangelist Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian Tchividjian, who has has resigned from his pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, a high-profile church in South Florida, following “ongoing marital issues”. Over a day or so, 30-odd comments were offered by contacts in three far-flung countries. I personally knew the vast majority of the contributors. One point which emerged, was that some “sins” are seen as more grievous than others, and that Pastors and church workers tend to be held to a higher level of expectation than “regular people”.
But we are all imperfect humans! These unrealistic expectations, in my view, tend to make people, including me, feel unworthy and try to present a “Face” to the world, which masks the person inside.
And, lastly, I have a wonderful friend who is currently in a hospital two hours drive from home, courageously undergoing unpleasant treatment for serious Depression. She shared: “It’s got to the point I struggle to even enjoy my husband and the kids visiting… they come so far to visit that I need to at least not be crying when they come”. She is there to get well, yet as a parent, and a Mum, her first concern is for her family, and one of her battles is to shield them, to make all appear “normal” while inside herself she feels anything but.
Well, what is all this, converging in the same week, trying to tell me, and what ultimately am I attempting to share?
I guess, “It is OK to NOT be OK!” And that secrets and lies can be unhealthy and destructive…. and the tentacles of “what lies beneath” can reach out far, like those of The Kraken – the legendary sea monster of large proportions that is eyeing my children in the photograph at the top.
So, if I may be so bold, I suggest we all need to try to reconcile “the ‘you” you hide” with the person displayed to the world. To “always be yourself”.
And recognise that nobody is perfect. And we need to be fine with that.