6/30/10

Through the Smoke

I've been thinking a lot lately about the nature of illusions and how prevalent they are in our society and in our human nature. In the past few years of my life all innocence to the existence of deception and facades has been annihilated. That is not at all an enjoyable thing to experience. The world is a much more pleasant place when all we see is pretty colorful masks.

It seems every time I turn a corner I see and hear about another example of people with deep dark secrets. Secrets that they were able to keep hidden from the people closest to them...spouses, best friends, children.

The church elder who had a secret "sex addiction" and spent his retirement savings on prostitutes without his wife knowing.

The woman who had the illusion of the perfect home, perfect family and perfect life but on the inside was broken and looking for love outside her home.

The same woman who could look her husband and her closest friends in the eyes and most convincingly assure them that she was definitely NOT having an affair with another man. Even the suggestion was an insult to her.

The trusted and respected teacher who molested children when his adoring fans weren't looking.
The father ,admired and respected in his community, violating his own daughter behind the closed doors of his phony life.

The man with two completely separate lives, two separate families...who had no idea that the others existed.

The handsome charming young man with the best voice in the church choir who beneath the mask was wicked and perverse.

I could go on and on. All it takes is watching the news to see people with secret addictions, secret scandals, and secret sexual acts that they managed to hide from everyone who "knew" them.
If someone is determined to hide something they are ashamed of or don't want to be caught in ...they will likely succeed in doing so. Often they do this by making their unreal life seem more real. They polish their mask and they paint their image. They respond with defensiveness, more lies, blame , accusations, and even dramatic displays of hurt...when the reality beneath the farce is ever exposed or suspected.

As humans we want to believe what we see and what we have been told. We trust our eyes. We see neatly painted picked fences, beautifully arranged china tea cups, home baked cookies, smiling faces and "perfect" families. How could anything else more sinister exist behind that image?
How could child abuse exist in a "good Christian family"?
How could a PTA attending soccer mom be secretly addicted to drugs?
How can good and evil be mixed up together in one heart?

When we are deceived by illusion we are prone to be cynical, severe and cruel in our judgement and treatment of others. We obstinately see the world in black and whites. In pretty tea cups served with a smile or in vicious monsters out to destroy. The two worlds never cross. They never mix. People are either completely good or the embodiment of evil.
BUT....the disillusionment which comes from God brings us to the place where we see men and women as they really are. We can look at reality and yet feel no cynicism and we do not have biting bitter things to say. We see people as broken , hurting humans in need of grace and redemption. We see bad choices, entrapment of sin and un-dealt with hurts. We see fallible human beings that struggle with every kind of temptation. We see the same capacity to sin in our own hearts.

So many of life's problems stem from deception and ignorance. When those qualities of deception and ignorance exist in partnership...we are not true to one another in facts...we are only true to the ideas and perceptions we have of one another.

So many times we gasp and exclaim "It can't be...he would NEVER do something like that!" without actually knowing the truth of the situation. We see everyone as either lovely and good , or ugly and villainous. The unfortunate part of that type of categorizing is that so often what we see as good and beautiful is only a mask, an act, and a farce.
Sometimes the bad co -exists with the good and both are reality. "Good"people do bad things and "bad" people do good things.

We sometimes write people off as "dangerous " without ever actually looking past our assumptions to the reality of their lives or who they really are. Without ever walking a mile in their shoes...or ever even looking at their shoes.


As humans we are prone to judge. One thing to remember before we categorize people as either lovely or horrible, villain or victim, is that there is always more going on than we can see. There are always things that we are not aware of, things that have been hidden, or things that we have not taken into account.

If we love a human being but do not allow God to break our illusions, we demand perfection of that person and when we do not get that we become cruel. There is no room for mistakes, for struggles, for unexpected hardships. What is it about our society and our human nature that wants to idolize people and put them on a pedestal?

When people are courageous enough to share their struggles or to unveil their hurts we become bitter self righteous judges. When people keep their struggles, their sin, their shame cloaked in darkness we are more comfortable. We would rather live with pleasant lies than ugly truth.
The only way to face life in the realm of reality is to come to terms with the fact that there is something in human nature that will laugh in the face of every ideal you have. If you stubbornly refuse to agree with the fact that there is something self-seeking, spiteful, and wrong at the heart of human beings (even the ones with the prettiest masks)you will never know people as they really are. You will never see past that mask.
The recognition of human nature and sin does not destroy relationships, it provides the foundation for reality and a relationships based on that foundation.

Even so, it really hurts to learn that what you thought was real is only a land of make believe and the people you love betrayed your trust. There are steps of grief involved when a mask is removed and the person you thought you knew never really existed...not in the same way you saw them before anyway. However that is where real life begins. That is where the hard core stuff of acceptance, decisions, grace, forgiveness and healing happens. With our masks still firmly in place and our heads deeply rooted in sand all that we have is quick judgments, assumptions and fairy tales.

Jesus never trusted in human nature, but he was never cynical or cruel when he came face to face with the ugliness beneath the mask. He trusted absolutely in what HE could do for human nature.

 Adults have no business being innocent to reality. Virtuous, pure and blameless , yes. Head in the sand ignorant , no.  It is a detriment to remain blinded to the reality of sin in the lives of ourselves and people we love.

Deception is an ugly word...but the reality of deception is it is usually made to look lovely and innocent. I don't believe Satan is a pitch fork yielding hideous looking creature...he was an "angel of light". He is now the father of lies and deception. He is the creator of the first mask. His mask is the cloak of harmlessness and innocence. Those who practice deception, those who are unable to speak truth, wear the same cloak. On the surface we see alluring beauty. We see distracting fingers of blame pointed in so many different directions that we miss seeing what is not so deeply hidden.
Lies and masks are like a self preserving smoke machine. The smoke spewed is so thick and continual that ,when we are in the middle of it, we can no longer see what is real and what is illusion. We become unable to see what is going on behind that cloud. The person creating the smoke feels safe and the secrets stay hidden. Slanderous gossip, lies and angry blame are also forms of smoke meant to distract us from reality. Those forms of smoke are particularly stinging ,confusing and damaging. Can we see past that smoke long enough to really find the truth?

Are we living our lives in honesty or are we pasting on our phony smiles and shoving more skeletons in our closets?
Do we share our shame and struggles with those closest to us or do we hide them?
Do we have people in our lives that ask the hard questions, keep us accountable, and redirect us when we stray?
Do we keep our spiritual eyes and discerning minds open to difficult reality or do we prefer comfortable smoke, time worn rhetoric and easy answers?
Are we living real and genuine lives before God and others?

Where people are involved, things will not always be what they seem. The fact is, people hide things they don't want others to see. Ever since Adam and Eve hid in shame from God in the garden of Eden. Ever since a young man murdered his brother and pretended not to know where his brother was.

  Sin and deception go hand in hand.

We cover our dirtiness with masks instead of allowing ourselves to actually be cleansed and forgiven.
People hurt. People disappoint. People fall.
That is why people need a Savior.

This is a bit of Hebrew poetry written by an Ancient King named David. It provides a glimpse of how God feels about deception. This was written before grace came to us, born in a stable, able to redeem even the vilest sinner.

  God never white washes and pretends sin doesn't exist. He is able, however, to remove the darkest stain.

"You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil;
with you the wicked cannot dwell.
The arrogant cannot stand in your presence;
you hate all who do wrong.
You destroy those who tell lies;
blood thirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors.
But I, by your great mercy,
will come into your house;
in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple.
Lead me , O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies -
make straight your way before me.
Not a word from their mouths can be trusted.
their heart is filled with destruction.
Their throat is an open grave.
with their tongue they speak deceit.
Declare them guilty o God!
Let their intrigues be their downfall.
Banish them for their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name
may rejoice in you.
For surely , oh Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield." Psalms 5:4-12

3 comments:

Ashley DeLen said...

Carla,

I just wanted to stop by and say that sweat pants totally have their place in motherhood!

Your post is very well written. This is an area that I struggle with, the pretty picture area. It is something that became a reality when my once love (husband) left my daugther and I and I realized I was married to a complete stranger. It woke me up quickly.
And then just two weeks ago a lady that I had become friends with through a singing group, who has been married for thirty years and is 62 years old with grandbabies is having an affair that she refuses to let go of and is refusing to seek Godly help. I am caught between huge waves of emotions, fear that we all have to be so careful in our walks of life, and wanting to protect myself from the terror she is creating in her life, yet at the same time share the honest to goodness love of Chrit (thankfully I have three other women who are more mature in their walks with Christ to help me out on this one!).

Accountablity is a precious gift.

Carla said...

Things like that are so messy and complicated. There is always so much collateral damage.
One thing I've realized lately is there is only so much you can do. We can speak truth wrapped in mercy and love but they will make their own choices. That is where sometimes stepping back and choosing to not be a part of the sin, deception, ugliness..(whatever it is)is the only option left. Loving from a distance, kindness, truth, grace, but uncompromising biblical standards. I believe that is what God does with us. Never cruel or unloving but He lets us choose to self destruct if that is what we insist on.
It's hard when you see the darker side of humanity in people you loved and trusted. Hard not be become cynical. I think living with eyes wide open (with out the cynicism) is a good way to be though.
But by the grace of God go I..
Accountability, honest and real friendships are such a blessing.

Carla said...

...oh and prayer...lots of it! :)

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