As a second son, I rebelled against the expectations of my father and spent my college years experiencing the counter culture. I grew up with the understanding that I was to follow my father into the family business selling heavy construction equipment. My experience of better living through chemistry in the ‘70’s helped me see through the American dream and realize that working myself to the bone to make my family wealthy while ignoring those less fortunate would not make me happy. So, I swore never to go to work for the old man.
Three years after marrying Genie, we were expecting our daughter, and living in a garage apartment near Emory in Atlanta. I made a fundamental choice to defer my own dreams in order to make create a home and rear our children. So, I cut my hair and beard, and went to my father with hat in hand and asked for a job.
When I went to work in the family business, I put on a mask that I rarely let down for 25 years. Most of our customers were contractors who did not much appreciate the counter culture types. I knew that the real me would not be accepted by our customers, suppliers and employees. So, I pretended. My father was a workaholic and perfectionist, and the message I heard as a child was, ‘you’re not good enough.’ So I put on a false identity, cleaned up my act, and kept my personal views to myself at work.
Robert Fritz and his work on Structural Thinking helped me see that I was living out of a distortion of reality as I tried to prove myself to my long-dead father, and really to God. I realized that the identity I had put on, the mask, was really keeping me from living into the fullness of life as a Christ-follower. Even though I consciously believed in Salvation by Grace, subconsciously I was still trying to prove myself worthy. Take a look here for a post on how identity can limit our spiritual growth and our relationship with God.
In the last dozen years, I have had some success putting space between myself and my structure of trying to prove myself. Yet, the tentacles of structure are still lurking just beneath the surface waiting to reach up and grab me. I have found myself wrapped around an axle, and back in my structure several times. Sometimes, it has lasted months.
I am now a structural consultant, working with organizations and individuals. I am helping others see the false identity, the mask they have been wearing. It is incredible to see the fog lift when someone sees reality clearly, and sees the distortion of living in false identity. A friend sent me a poem yesterday that captures this challenge quite well. When I researched the poem, it is attributed to Charles Finn and was written in 1966. See his work here.
Don't be fooled by me.
Don't be fooled by the face I wear
for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
masks that I'm afraid to take off,
and none of them is me.
Pretending is an art that's second nature with me,
but don't be fooled,
for God's sake don't be fooled.
I give you the impression that I'm secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water's calm and I'm in command
and that I need no one,
but don't believe me.
My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.
But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope,
and I know it.
That is, if it's followed by acceptance,
if it's followed by love.
It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
from my own self-built prison walls,
from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.
It's the only thing that will assure me
of what I can't assure myself,
that I'm really worth something.
But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to, I'm afraid to.
I'm afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
will not be followed by love.
I'm afraid you'll think less of me,
that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.
So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
with a facade of assurance without
and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that's really nothing,
and nothing of what's everything,
of what's crying within me.
So when I'm going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I'm saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm not saying,
what I'd like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can't say.
I don't like hiding.
I don't like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you've got to help me.
You've got to hold out your hand
even when that's the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you're kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings--
very small wings,
very feeble wings,
With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator--an honest-to-God creator--
of the person that is me
if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.
Please choose to.
Do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach to me
the blinder I may strike back.
It's irrational, but despite what the books say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.
Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.
Charles C. Finn