Removing the Happy all the Time Mask
Wearing Authenticity and Joy
Wearing Authenticity and Joy
(from Real Women Don't Wear Masks, Carol Van Atta and Dr. Kathy Rodriguiz)
We're still seeking a publisher for this project. I'll keep you posted when its available in its entirety. Until then, you can read tidbits right here.
The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.
~Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind, 1954
The striking, multi-talented, pop star strutted across the expansive stage, stopping momentarily to shake her hips and flip her cascading, trademark curls from side to side. While belting out one of her top-ten hits, she pivoted gracefully, and began her dramatic descent from the stage via a light-studded staircase. Before reaching the bottom, the smiling diva tripped, stumbled, and plummeted to the lower stage — landing with her jewel-encased gown tangled in a sparkling heap around her.
Before the audience’s shock had time to register in a collective gasp, this dedicated performer leapt to her feet and finished her song as if nothing had happened. Her smile remained intact, proving that not even a traumatic fall would get this lady down.
Let me just say, if I fell in front of thousands of people, I’d stay down and wait for my band members (or a paramedic) to remove me, sobbing, from the stage.
Now granted, performers are just that — performers. They are trained and disciplined, prepared to handle surprising circumstances with ease, and apparently with a big, toothy grin.
But, what about a pastor’s wife who is suffering excruciating emotional pain, yet continues to smile at her women’s group as if her life is perfect? She, too, is performing, and has chosen to wear the Happy all the Time Mask.
This ever-popular mask has been worn proudly by thousands of women through the centuries. Its decidedly cheerful perma-grin has graced many a dinner table, PTA meeting, church service, and even a beloved family member’s funeral. After all, remaining cheerful and appearing happy are this woman’s top priority.
Embracing the Lie
Our all-American Pastor’s wife has been married for 22 years. She serves as the Women’s Director at a 500-plus member church, and at any given time, is helping on between one and five committees, and providing personal counseling appointments to the women in their congregation. Known for her spectacular smile (dimples and all) and positive outlook about, well, everything, she is sought out by men, women, and of course, children of all ages.
After all, she has a bright, cheery and hope-filled answer for everyone. At times, she appears a bit tired and rundown, but her smile quickly erases any concern directed her way. Not even her closest friends know the truth — her truth.
She is the envy of every woman who meets her. Like the elusive Proverbs 31 woman, she manages ministries, helps her husband with his career and pastoral duties, and even home-schools her children, all while looking gorgeous and fit.
I’ll let her tell the story of one not-so-perfect Sunday morning …
I let out an audible sigh of relief as the worship leader energetically shouted, “Let’s praise the Lord!” With zeal that I did not come close to feeling, I, too, bounce to my feet with the rest of the congregation. My cheeks ache from smiling so much. I nonchalantly wipe my hands down the sides of my skirt, hoping no one will notice what I’m doing, or, worse yet, guess why I’m doing it. After shaking so many hands, I feel germ-infested. I know; I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do. I’m supposed to be happy that I’m in a position of leadership and have so many admirers, but I’m not. I try to be like Jesus, after all, he touched lepers, but I’m not sure I could do that; although, I’d certainly try if it made others feel better.
I can’t believe what happened on the way to church this morning. Bill and I were arguing about what limits we should set on our fifteen year old son, Timothy’s, television choices. Bill says absolutely no rated PG-13 movies. He even screamed at Tim, telling him that if he didn’t watch himself he just might end up you know where — hell. In a few minutes, Mr. High and Mighty will take the church podium and talk about the grace and love of God. How can he preach that message when he is so controlling and unforgiving at home?
I’m the wife, though. The woman who needs to submit with a smile, right? We argued until pulling into our regular parking spot. Then, of course, I put on my most gracious smile; after all, I’m supposed to be happy all the time.
Several years down the road, when this lovely woman was prepared to leave her husband, she finally sought help. It was then she remembered clearly, for the first time, about her childhood. She hadn’t always been a happy girl…
“Frances!” Her Father’s angry tone confirmed what Francis already feared — he was drunk — again. “Frances, get down here and clean up this kitchen. Your mom’s busy with the baby.”
Frances knew better than to argue with her father, especially, when he’d been drinking. Rushing down the stairs before he had time to holler again, she failed to see the baby rattle four steps from the bottom. With what felt like a slow-motion summersault, she twisted and thudded onto the freshly-polished, hardwood floor.
Her father’s heavy footsteps thundered across the floor, causing a knife of pain to slice through her temple.
He stopped, his hulking frame hovering over her. “You alright?” He asked with no obvious concern. Showing sympathy wasn’t something he did — ever.
Wiping the tears from her cheeks, she sat up shakily. “I’m okay, Daddy.”
“Well then, put a smile on that pretty face of yours, and get to the kitchen. Your mom isn’t feeling well, and her bunko group will be needing a happy hostess.”
Frances blinked back more tears and forced a smile onto her face. Ignoring the throbbing pain in her lower back, she resolved to make everyone’s night better.
If she didn’t, who would?
This future pastor’s wife had embraced several lies that so many women both in and out of the church have and continue to fall prey to:
1. It is my job to keep everyone happy and at peace.
2. My feelings aren’t important. I just grin and bear it.
3. I have to be happy all the time for people to like me.
4. If I just try harder and always act positive, everything will somehow work out.
5. As a Christian, I am to be of good cheer; there’s simply no place in the life of a Christian woman for anything but a smile.
With a belief system like this, it’s no wonder women find it difficult to take off the Happy all the Time Mask. Just keep on smiling, keep on smiling, keep on smiling, and you will keep on lying, to yourself, to God, and to others.
TO BE CONTINUED.