by James Rudy Gray
Very often people become who they believe they are. Role playing has often been used in therapy and various types of classes to illustrate truths. But playing a role in life long enough can lead to a person becoming the role he plays.
According to an old European folk tale, a man with a deformed face was so embarrassed by his appearance that he would not go out in public. He hired a mask maker to make him a mask of a man with a handsome face. After he got accustomed to wearing his new face, he began to get out more. He met a young woman and they began to court. Marriage was discussed. He proposed. She accepted. But he was bothered by his lack of honesty with her. The night before the wedding, he told her the story of his disfigurement and the mask maker. He removed the mask to show his fiancé what he really looked like. She saw no difference! The man looked in the mirror and his face had become the same as the mask!
The big question for a Christian is, "Is this hypocritical?" In their book How You Feel Is Up to You, Drs. Gary Mckay and Don Dinkmeyer say that role-playing in life is not phony or putting up a false front. "You play roles all the time. Remember when you went for your first job? Didn't you put your best foot forward?"
Role-playing, in the sense of living out a right and good expectation, is not a sin. It can be a positive motivator. The key for a Christian is not escaping into a world or life that does not exist but realizing the potential for living a better life. Role-playing can become a way to reach the goal of living a full and meaningful life that honors Christ and brings a person genuine self-worth. The key element in role-playing is that the role must be something real and not something a person uses to lead a double life, cover up wrong, or escape from pain. In fact, role playing can be a way to face pain with a new strategy for overcoming the difficulty and moving forward to a more productive way of life.
Emotional first aid is often what pastors and church workers are called on to render in various situations in the church. Role-playing is something that can grow out of the initial first aid response.
Some key elements that can help a person deal with hurt feelings and low self-esteem involve physical exercise, remembering past successes (God's faithfulness can be seen if a person can focus), studying the lives of those people who manage their feelings, and self-talk. Self-talk may involve what Archibald Hart calls breath prayers. Some examples of things we can tell ourselves that will help us move through something are:
"Stay calm; Think; You can do this; This will pass." In the form of prayers they may sound like this: "Lord, have mercy, Help me Lord, Strengthen me Lord, Lord give me wisdom."
The Christian life is designed by God to be a journey of growth, change, and development. We grow into the truth as we know the truth and practice it. A person may know the truth but not be clear on how to apply it. He may feel inadequate or self-conscious. The Holy Spirit is the power for living a healthy Christian life. God may use tools like role-playing to help us in realizing our potential to live life beyond our own inadequacies, doubts, and fears.
Some things that can help people overcome emotional liabilities is to use reminders: notes or cards that are either carried or placed on doors or mirrors in the home. It can be helpful for people to set their watches to beep each hour and at the beep, read a verse or slogan that helps keep them focused on the truth.
Role-playing goes on all the time. We all wear more than one hat. The question for us as people-helpers seems to be not that we role play but how honestly and effectively we do it. Shy people often find that playing a role in a play helps them overcome their shyness. In the same way, good role-playing in life can help a person overcome some distress and trouble. Good role-playing is not an escape from reality but a way for a person to live life in ways pleasing to God and personally edifying to them.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.