Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Real Love Is Not a Moving Target

Monroe County Community College

Brennan Manning, in his autobiography, writes of the moment when, as a young boy, his emotions shut down. He was angry with his mother. His mother retaliated, jumped on young Brennan, and began pounding him with her fists screaming "Shut up! Shut up!" That was the day Manning shut up. He made a vow to never, ever again share his real feelings with his mother and, by logical extension, anyone.

In his words, Manning turned from being a person to being an "imposter." He writes: "I made a vow with myself following my mother’s cruelty: I would become a good boy." (Brennan Manning, All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, p. 55) To illustrate he quotes from Alice Miller, who writes:

"Children who fulfill their parents’ conscious or unconscious wishes are “good,” but if they ever refuse to do so or express wishes of their own that go against those of their parents, they are called egoistic and inconsiderate.… If a child brought up this way does not wish to lose his parents’ love (And what child can risk that?), he must learn very early to share, to give, to make sacrifices, and to be willing to “do without.”" (Ib.)

Manning made a vow to be a "good boy," and it cost him his voice, his sense of wonder, and his self-worth for most of his adult life. He became a fake, out of fear and the need to be approved. Here is how the life of an imposter goes.

  • The impostor lives in fear. 
  • The impostor is consumed with a need for acceptance and approval. 
  • The impostor is codependent; in other words, out of touch with his or her own feelings. 
  • The impostor’s life is a herky-jerky existence of elation and depression. 
  • The impostor is what he or she does. 
  • The impostor demands to be noticed. 
  • The impostor cannot experience intimacy in any relationship.
  • And last but not least, the imposter is a liar. (Ib., pp. 56-57)
"Love," wrote Shakespeare, "is an ever-fixed mark." Manning writes: "In a healthy family, you know how love is defined: It’s clear, has boundaries, and is attainable. Unfortunately, in a shame-bound family, love is a moving target; one day it’s this and one day it’s that, and just when you’re sure you’ve got it figured out, you discover you don’t." (Ib., p. 57)

The answer for Manning, and for me and you and everyone on the planet is: we need to be found out and brought out of our hiding by grace. By the grace of God. 

For the way out of the voiceless, wonder-barren, self-worthless isolation of the imposter, see Manning's Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, and his eventual coming-back-to-life.   

All is grace. The grace of God.

Real love is not a moving target.