Behind the Mask

By Bobby Neal Winters Published on June 21, 2023

Everybody is broken. Everybody. But we don’t necessarily see it, even in those closest to us, even in ourselves.

Why? Because most of us hide it. We build a persona. A persona is a mask that we put on to deal with others. We usually don’t realize we’re building it while we’re building it. It’s what we do when we say we’re “putting our best foot forward” or “putting a good face on it.”

It’s what we’re doing when we tell everyone else, and even ourselves, that our lives are going good when they’re not. Others see someone who’s got it together. When we look at ourselves, we may see someone who’s got it together. The persona hides all the cracks of our brokenness.

Think of someone who brags about their child’s grades and accomplishments. You think how good their family life must be. But they’re not telling you about their child’s struggle with depression or drugs, or about how much their child feels alienated from them, or about their child’s lost faith. The true picture mixes good and bad.

The persona covers the bad and presents only the good to the world. And the world believes it. The parents themselves may believe it. The only one who probably doesn’t believe it is the child.

Everybody is Broken

Everybody is broken. You’re broken in some way. I’m broken in some way. We’re fallen people living in a fallen world. But our brokenness can be an asset. Pain is a path that goes to everyone’s house. We can always connect with others through pain.

Everyone has lost a parent, has lost a sibling, has lost a pet. Everyone has been fired, has failed a test, has lost a love. We may speak different languages, but everyone can cry.

But we have to take off our personas first.

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There are at least two points in the Bible where men who had very carefully created personas let sadness make them take off their persona and let others see who they really were.

Joseph had made himself one of the most powerful men in Egypt. When people looked at him, they saw power, confidence, a man completely in control of his world. But when Joseph was testing his brothers, he let the mask slip and called out, “Is my father still alive?” He loved his father too much to stay in persona.

David was the king of Israel, in his smaller world even more powerful than Joseph had been in his. When David’s son Absalom had been trying to overthrow him but was killed, David let his mask slip and called out, “Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son. Would God I had died for you.” He loved his son, even though he was a traitor who had tried to kill him, too much to stay in persona.

Joseph took off his persona and received a reunion with his family. David took off his and didn’t get any benefit himself, but left history a lesson of a father’s love.

Through a Broken Heart

Oscar Wilde was a brilliant man, famous for his wit. He had a carefully crafted persona that eventually came apart as the society that had praised him turned on him. Of all the things he said, of all the things he wrote, one bit is fit for Scripture. It comes near the end of his poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” the story of a man sentenced to death for killing his wife.

Ah! happy they whose hearts can break

And peace of pardon win!

How else may man make straight his plan

And cleanse his soul from Sin?

How else but through a broken heart

May Lord Christ enter in?

 The prisoner, who had used a knife in the murder, 

Waits for the holy hands that took

The Thief to Paradise;

And a broken and a contrite heart

The Lord will not despise. …

 

And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,

The hand that held the steel:

For only blood can wipe out blood,

And only tears can heal:

And the crimson stain that was of Cain

Became Christ’s snow-white seal.

The broken Oscar Wilde, wrote those words after two years of hard labor in English prisons and the loss of his family and of almost everything he owned. He wasn’t “Oscar Wilde,” the public persona, anymore. He was a man with a broken heart.
 
The man who’d had the persona that made him famous taken away found that we can connect with Christ and we can connect with each other, through our brokenness.

Everybody is connected: you, me, Joseph, David, Oscar Wilde, our friends, family, neighbors, everyone, because everyone is broken.

 

Bobby Neal Winters is associate dean of the college of arts and sciences and a university professor at Pittsburg State University. A native of Harden City, Oklahoma, he blogs at Red Neck Math and Okie in Exile.

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