Thoughts on False vs True Selves on a Snowy Day in Chicago

Maybe it’s because I lived in a glass house when I was growing up—a parsonage where the parishioners could always watch the behavior of the preacher’s kids—that I have developed a love for being irreverently reverent. I love to act out a bit. It’s hard to be perfect all of one’s life, so I happily gave up years ago.

And this is why I love Anne Lamott, known for her famous Bird by Bird: Some Instructions for Writing and Life that has started up many a writing career and her honest memoirs of Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith;  her most recent Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, and others.

I see Lamott as an irreverent reverent Christian. The first time I heard her was at the Calvin College Faith & Writing Festival some years ago. She, wearing her signature dreadlocks, was talking about how God enters your life. I remember her saying something like: “God is like a cat. He slithers into your life like a cat through a crack in the doorway.”

I was sitting behind a rather prim and proper older couple during this evening session that was open to the public as well as the registrants. I saw these people tighten their shoulders and grimace at each other. From my background in the parsonage, I could sense their discomfort with God being talked about so casually.

But that’s the way I experience God. He just pops up, mostly through people, when I least expect a visit. That happened again yesterday (12/16/13) when I read Anne Lamott’s post on Facebook. Here’s how she started:

A friend is on an exquisite cruise in the Mediterranean, eating lavishly low-calorie, exercising a lot, seeing beautiful cities. Another friend just returned from a spa week across the border.

I am bitter and enraged.

My mistake was to have a child, who in turn had a child, so we have a children-y situation here 4 days week. No WAY children or grandchildren make up for spa week–hot rock massages and facials–or a cruise on the Mediterranean–lobster and spin classes. I’m just saying.

Having just taken a Mediterranean Cruise and having had little kids and having grandchildren, I could identify. But, I thought, how often do we dare to admit publicly that we are “bitter and enraged” or admit our mistakes?

Not many. There are days (or hours, or minutes) that we do feel that way but still act as if we are fine.  

Lamott goes on to say how she emerged from her day in a much better place. I, along with thousands of others responding to her post, saw ourselves in her day and appreciated her authenticity, her being real.

In Abba’s Child1, Brennan Manning compares our true (authentic) self to our false (imposter) self. It’s our imposter that we present to the public. It’s our imposter who is “preoccupied with acceptance and approval” (p. 30). And it’s living as an imposter that “creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us” (p. 31).

But we don’t need to be preoccupied with the needs of our imposter selves. Manning says, “The imposter has built life around achievements, success, busyness, and self-centered activities that bring gratification and praise from others (p. 37). Sound familiar?

By contrast, he says it’s essential to examine the “anatomy” of our imposter. He says that introspection “is not only necessary but indispensable for spiritual growth. The imposter must be called out of hiding, accepted, and embraced” (p. 40).

Only then, can we realize that we are “impoverished and broken and realize that, if we were not, we would be God” (p. 41). When we can accept we are broken, we can accept our true (authentic) self.

My takeaway is by accepting ourselves for who we are, irreverently reverent in my case, will make it possible for us to be our true (authentic) selves in our relationships, not only with God but with people.    

Manning, or course, deals with this in much more depth (read resource below). But Lamott’s post yesterday, once again revealing her true self, prompted me to go back and read Abba’s Child, a book I used when I was teaching mental health nursing.

A good reminder now, too, as we write our Christmas letters. We don’t need to describe our families in superlatives. We can be authentic!

A niece of mine emulates this every Christmas. She is no imposter! In yesterday’s letter, she said she was not asking her family to edit her two-page, honest expose of their lives before sending, because she may have to start over. She always tells the bad along with the good, always in a humorous, thoughtful, spiritual way. She and Lamott share the gift of being their true selves!

As I examine myself (again!), what about you?

A Good Day for Introspection!

A Good Day for Introspection!


1 Manning, B. (1994). Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging. Colorado Springs: Navpress.

 Resource you may appreciate.

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