October 26, 2010 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
"Of Masks and Halloween"
When our children were little, they loved putting on their favorite Halloween masks and believing that they were truly scaring us. After a few moments of enjoying how scared we had become, they would pull off their masks, and say, “It’s okay, it’s just ME!” We would respond with an obviously relieved, “Oh, thank goodness, we were SO scared.”
My wife and I would remember this ritual with our children a few years later when they were in middle school and high school. Now the costumes and behaviors that scared us at times were not just related to Halloween, but were related to the different roles that adolescents often try on as they are forming their identities. At this stage of parenting it became even more important to remember and stay connected with the “it’s okay, it’s just ME” that was the enduring core identity of our children, often hid behind the “masks” of adolescence.
A few years ago, in my role as pastor, I was visiting an elderly gentleman at this time of year in a skilled care facility, and I asked him if he had picked you his Halloween costume yet. He thought for a moment, and then grinned and said, “I’m going to dress up as an old man this year,”--and then pointing to himself, he said, “How do you like my costume!? Pretty good, hey?” We laughed hard together and reflected that behind the mask of his aging body there was a still a “It’s okay, it’s just ME,” inside.
There is indeed a “just me” inside each of us. I, along with many, call this “just me” the soul, or the true self. Because the soul, the true self is very vulnerable at times, we also have many “masks” that we wear to help us get along in the day-to-day world. There is nothing wrong with these masks, except when we confuse these masks--our own, or others--with the true self, the true soul of a person. When we are going through a hard time or when we are hurting in some way, we are even more likely to mask our true self by pretending that everything is fine.
Halloween masks make for great fun--the scarier the better. For Halloween, the whole point is to fool others and to mask our true identity--to be someone we are not. The rest of the year though, let’s remember that masking our true selves is a sure way to erode our own health and wellness, as well as the health and wellness of the important relationships in our lives. Revealing our true selves will be most difficult whenever we are feeling most vulnerable because that is when we are most tempted to put on our masks, including the masks of anger and irritability, that like Halloween masks are designed to scare people away. Making the sometimes difficult choice to share our true selves, to say to others, “it’s okay, it’s just ME!” will do wonders for our both our personal and relational wellness.
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