Thursday, November 30, 2006

Taking Off the Mask

Years ago I read a section in C.S. Lewis’ small book “Beyond Personality” that tells the story about “someone who had to wear a mask; a mask which made him look much nicer than he really was. He had to wear it for years. And when he took it off he found his own face had grown to fit it. He was now really beautiful. What had begun as a disguise had become a reality.” The author’s point was that the Christian should dress up as Christ—behave as if they really possessed the attributes of the Savior. Eventually these things would actually become part of their personality.

That young, idealistic girl who read the story immediately put on the mask. I’ve worn the mask for years, trying to become the perfect Mormon girl.

I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. The face beneath has not grown to fit. The mask was comfortable for a while; especially when I was a SAHM of eight, fulfilling callings in the Church and pouring all of my energy into keeping the family going. But as far as helping me become more like Christ, the mask has been a miserable failure. Pretending to be kind and sweet to all I meet has not made me more kind. Pretending to be obedient, humble and submissive has made me a hypocrite.

Now the mask is popping off with a vengeance. (Picture Jim Carrey in reverse: me trying to hold the mask on my face, the mask throwing me every which way trying to pull itself off.) I know the mask’s days are numbered. But I’m afraid to show my true face. I haven’t seen it for so long. Is that true face an ugly, warted monstrosity? Is it a failure to live up to the commitments I made and become a truly Christlike person? Please don’t discount this possibility. This is the point of view of all who are dear to me and I halfway believe it. But somewhere deep down I wonder if my true self might be nice to look at. It might be nice to live with. It isn’t what I was aiming for, but it might be all I have.


John said...

BiV, you mostly describe ethical behavior, but I'm curious, does the mask include belief components as well? When you say it's the mask of a "perfect Mormon girl" would it include all of the goals, expectations, and convictions as well?

jana said...

I think the oddest thing for me as a realization about 6 months ago of how polished I'd become at telling my church leaders what they wanted to hear. I realized that for most of my life I'd been able to give the 'right answers,' while never betraying my own truths.

It was so, so hard to give voice to my own feelings at first, but it's gotten easier with time. Now it makes me feel powerful--to speak what's really in my heart.

ZD Eve said...

I'm always so hungry for the authentic voices of others willing to reflect on the complexity and outright contradictions of their experience, people who are willing to speak from the whole of themselves instead of just mouthing the acceptable right answers Jana mentioned. The authenticity of others like you is such a gift, BinV. You and others like you inspire me to examine my own social compromises and hypocrisy and renew my determination to be truer, realer, more whole in not smothering what is broken in me behind empty smiles and platitudes. You make me want to shake off the vestiges of nice-Mormon-girl syndrome I too have struggled with all of my life and show others the respect of being real with them. You make me want to be a Christian of integrity and conviction and to shake off my own timid conformity.

The example of your courage and honesty is a tremendous gift that other quiet masked people might desperately need.

I can only imagine the difficulty of the situation you're in with your marriage. I'm so sorry.

JandS Morgan said...


I hadn't been to your new location before. Looks good. I have been unable to put on the kind of mask you describe. Even on my mission I suffered from my inability to project conformity. (Even when I was trying my hardest to conform, no one was buying it.) I guess it is just too contrary to my nature to simply tell people what they want to hear. I'm very familiar with the kinds of problems my approach leads to. It is interesting to hear from you what happens if you are able to wear the mask without truly making the transformation.

Bored in Vernal said...

John, I read your question yesterday and have been considering it since then. That was a very thought-provoking question for me. I realize that some people out there are relating to my struggle a propos faith issues. For me it's a bit different. Although my personal set of beliefs varies a bit from traditional Mormonism, it's not all that dissimilar. (i.e. I believe that Joseph was a prophet, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, etc.) I really fit in pretty well belief-wise. The mask seems to consist more of cultural expectations. For example, submission to husband/priesthood leader, not discussing controversial topics, political views, choice of music, clothing, etc.

Seraphine said...

BiV, I'm so glad to see that your blog is back up! I've been thinking about you a lot the past few weeks and hoping that you are doing okay.

When I was a kid, I spoke my mind, but as I grew up, I was slowly trained to hide the parts of myself that others didn't approve of. I'm currently in the process of trying to reverse that process--I've really been working on being more authentic and open and true to who I believe I am, and it's *hard*. I've been lucky in that I haven't had to deal with the extreme social and interpersonal consequences that you have had to deal with.

Anyway, I just want to say that people like you on the bloggernacle have given me inspiration to continue to work on my own process of taking off the mask.

Kaycei said...

I'm searching for answers right now, and your blogs have pointed me in a new direction. I always felt being Mormon was all or nothing. Now I'm starting to think maybe its not, maybe there is a gray area.
Maybe you could stop focusing on the perfect Mormon girl mask, and try out the Christ mask instead? To me, the Mormon girl was pretending, mask or no mask. Thats the person I used to be, and I've become a much nicer person ever since I threw away the Molly Mormon persona.

AmyB said...


My heart is aching for you. How does a free-spirited person function in a society that puts such high value on conformity?

I don't think the mormon girl mask is one that is meant to improve the wearer. It's meant to make everyone else more comfortable. Jesus was a radical in his time. Even the Mormon church was started by someone who questioned and was far outside the mainstream. Why shouldn't we embrace those aspects of Christianity and Mormonism?

m&m said...

Maybe you could stop focusing on the perfect Mormon girl mask, and try out the Christ mask instead?

This was along the lines of my thoughts. If I live only to fit a mold viewable from the outside for the sake of fitting that mold, without seeking for Christ to change me from the inside first and foremost, any mask will ultimately feel unnatural, uncomfortable and not sustainable. Inside out, I would say. :) Your spiritual triathalon sounds like a fantastic endeavor toward that end. Makes me want to join you! :) It made my heart leap for joy for you and the excitement I hear in your 'voice'! :)

nee said...

Your true face never disappeared. You know what your core is. Perhaps what you fear is the reaction of others who will be surprised - surprised by "the reveal" not saddened by your true face which is probably lovely - and human.

There is much to be said for living a life outward that is reflective of your life inward. Congruency is liberating - and understandably scary.