I’m not comfortable talking about myself. I like to keep things light and close to the surface when it comes to me. I’ve always joked that one of the reasons I do well with youth ministry is that I never have to worry about personal questions. Teenagers are at the stage of life where they are naturally egocentric. It is what it is and I love it as far as our relationship goes (I want them to be more thoughtful of others, of course, but it works perfectly for me.) It is incredibly rare for one of my youth to ask me how I am doing and if they do, I can easily deflect the question without too much risk and get it back to them. And I like that. I like hearing their stories, their fears, their wonderings. And I also like the safety of it not being about me.
The same with adults and friends. I truly love hearing their stories, their fears, their wonderings. Sincerely. I feel comfortable and safe and honored listening to them and asking lots of questions. I’m often envious that they can talk so freely about their life – what is happening, how they feel, what they think. I get energy from their stories and joy from being invited into their inner world and I wish I could return the favor more than I do. But I also like the safety of it not being about me.
So when a good friend asked me today how I was doing after a long conversation, I froze. It caught me off-guard and, though they always ask “how are you?”, I didn’t know what to say. In a split second, I was aware that I needed to say something not only because I’d been asked the question but because it would make this person feel bad by not allowing them to listen to me because that is what friends do. And I didn’t want to make them feel bad so I knew I needed to contribute. But I struggled. And it was weird and my answers were surface. I was mentally looking for an escape route and a way to redirect the conversation.
It was all so strange because I’ve been more open with this friend than most. I went for my walk afterwards and continued to come back to that exchange asking myself – what happened?
I came up with a few possibilities:
1. I had nothing pertinent to say. Did I really have nothing to say after a week’s worth of living? That is incredibly depressing, if true. Perhaps, it was that I couldn’t remember what all had happened. This is more likely because I am a big-picture “feeler” who lives in the current moment. I don’t remember things as much as I remember feelings. Sometimes people ask me what I’ve been up to (a much safer question than “how are you?”) and I literally have to go back through a mental calendar to try and remember. I’ve simply moved on and my inner world where I live a lot of the time has caused me to travel light years away from the week’s happenings. Honestly, it is probably both of these things.
2. I don’t think I have anything worth hearing. I know this friend, like others in my life, truly cared about how I am doing and genuinely wanted to know. It is simply me that doubts that what I have to say is of value and worth hearing. I have this irrational fear of boring or burdening people with my stories or thoughts.
3. I can’t think off the top of my head. There are often times, like this post, when I reveal a ton in writing. I feel I’m better at writing my thoughts than I am at speaking them. But I also think that it has a lot to do with control. I can edit and reedit a blog or an email but I can’t edit what comes out of my mouth. Off the cuff vulnerability is a whole different risk level – like bungee jumping in a swimsuit.
4. I don’t know how. I’ve developed a sophisticated diversion system that I’ve used much of my life to avoid getting intimate. I’ve deployed this system for so long that I literally don’t know how to simply talk about myself and what I’m thinking or feeling at any given time.
5. I’m scared. I actually have a negative, physical reaction sometimes when the conversation turns to me on a deeper level. It has happened on more than one occasion. Probably a result of #1-4.
Today was probably a blend of all five.
As I walked and processed, I realized that I wanted to know and understand this part of myself so that I could work on whatever it is that keeps me from being vulnerable in moments like the one today. It wasn’t an afternoon walk of shame or self-pity. I’m not berating myself as I type this blog. I’m simply interesting in owning it, understanding it and growing from it. This reaction gives me hope that I’ll be able to accomplish just that. Why?
Because it wasn’t too long ago that I would have been either beating myself up over my “weakness” or completely ignoring it. This is part of my impostor self that Brennan Manning talks about in “Abba’s Child“. Our impostor is our false self – the self that usually develops out of and is fueled by fear. From Manning I’ve learned that I need to call her out of hiding and embrace her with compassion and tenderness just as Jesus embraces me.
“As we come to grips with our own selfishness and stupidity, we make friends with the impostor and accept that we are impoverished and broken and realize that, if we were not, we would be God. The art of gentleness toward ourselves leads to being gentle with others — and is a natural prerequisite for our presence to God in prayer.” Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
I’ve denied and berated my impostor over the years to no avail. Recently, I came to her “not with rod in hand but with an olive branch”. I want to be more gentle with others so I need to be more gentle with myself. My impostor developed for a reason and, at times, has served her purpose of protection well. But she has also protected me too well and I’ve allowed her to keep me from the blessings of intimacy with others out of fear of the risks.
I will not hate on her anymore or berate my true self for giving her so much power. Instead, I’m embracing my impostor and making her sit with me, as tender friends, in the presence of Jesus each day. That is the only place that we can find true Peace and live life as God dreams for us to live as His beloved.
I know the impostor ideas might be confusing or weird. If you like weird or it makes sense to you, I encourage you to read “Abba’s Child”. Chapter Two is devoted to the concept of “The Impostor”.
What are some parts of your story or personality that you need to embrace with compassion and tenderness?