Since my last post, the sun sits a little different in the sky, the night air has a briskier bite, and my iced fruity refreshments have turned to steamy pumpkin comforts.
The seasons are indeed, shifting.
And in the shifting of seasons, in the transition of a new job, into a new house and among a new community, a still small voice challenges her being, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
She likes to think she knows who she is. She even has a sure answer, and it accurately reflects the essence of her existence, that is, when she FEELS loved by God, when her life is together and support systems are in place. Self-acceptance here is relatively easy. She may even claim that she is coming to love herself. When she is strong, on top, in control, and ‘in fine form’, her sense of security crystalizes.
But what happens when life begins to spin out of control? What happens when she no longer FEELS loved, when her seasons begin to shift, when her sin is exposed and her failures are highlighted? What happens when her fears come true, and her dreams shatter? What happens when, yet again, she comes face to face with the human condition?
[She] sits beneath this honest tree of [her] freedom, and [her] insecurity. And [she] goes back and forth between where [she] is, and where [she] wants to be. And [she] wrestles with the doubts that crowd, [her] redemption and release. And [she] struggles with what people think, and what I think of me….
(Donna Stuart, ‘Carry Me’)
In this in between a false self rises, ‘the imposter’ as Brennan Manning describes in his book, Abba’s Child (the following is a personalization of his thoughts). In her false hood, she is a pretender, a compromiser of her true self, insecure in her own skin and using others for how she might win.
in her pretending,
Adapting to each evolving situation, she has no personality of her own. She prefers to be plain; to blend in, there is less of her to reject that way. She wants only to be safe, to fit in, to be accepted, to be liked. She is incapable of direct speech, she hedges, waffles, procrastinates, and remains silent out of a fear of rejection. Her opinions and ideas remain unspoken. Silence is safer.
Because of her suffocating need to please others, she cannot say no with the same confidence with which she says yes. She overextends herself in people, projects, and causes, motivated not by personal commitment, but by fear of not living up to others expectations. Living out of her creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire her yet she will remain unknown. Her life becomes a perpetual roller-coaster rode of elation and depression.
She is preoccupied with her weight, and is often grieved by the scale indications from the night before binging. Her reflection in a side store window kidnaps her attention away from the voice of Jesus and temporarily rob her of the Truth of His Word. She sizes herself up against any roomful of women. She finds ways to justify a preoccupation with her waistline and overall appearance cunningly and creatively with cultural health trends. She is obedient to the whisper of lies. She is narcissistically obsessive. The amount of time, energy and thought she devotes to acquiring and maintaining a certain image is staggering.
She strives after the woman that she wants to be, but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about her. She draws identity from meeting the needs of others and performing with excellence. She wants to stand well with people of prominence because that enhances her sense of self-worth. Success to her is people liking and approving of her. Failure is being rejected.
She assumes the passive role in relationships, snuffs out her creative thinking, denies her real feelings, allows herself to be intimidated by others and then rationalizes her behavior by coaxing the ‘gentle and quiet spirit- woman of peace’ card. She is devoted to a life in the shadows. She hungers for excitement and craves some mood-altering experience.
She is afraid.
She is in me, and she must be called out of hiding, accepted and embraced. She is an integral part of my total self. The art of gentleness towards her leads to being gentle with others. Hatred of the pretender in me is actually self-hatred, and self-hatred always results in some form of self-destructive behavior. (i.e. for this season, gluttony manifested in 13lbs. since my last post) And I scorn her for the result of this rebellion. However, with a graciousness and an understanding of human weakness that only God can exhibit, He thus liberates us from alienation and self-condemnation and offers each of us a new possibility. He is the Savior who saves us from ourselves. His Word is freedom. Jesus discloses God’s true feelings toward us in the life He lived in the flesh when He dwelt among us. The understanding and compassion He offered those He encountered then, He also offers you and me.
Over the past year, I’ve begged of God a meek and feeble request that he might cause me to fall in love with myself. Not in an arrogant and self-righteous manner, but from an attitude of humility, to view myself from His gaze, by His grace. To love myself with each breath, breathing in simultaneously through one nostril awareness of who I am without Jesus, insufficient, depraved and desperate, and through the other, who I am with Him, perfected, loved and redeemed. Both are significant to the bane of my existence as a follower of Christ, to be known accurately, and loved wholly. But how might I extend this love as an agent of His to others if I resist to extend it to myself? I can’t.
So what will it take to ‘love me for me’? To love not only the me that FEELS lovable, but to love the me that frustrates me most, to love the me that is most despised, shamed and criticized. To love the pretender. What will it take to embrace her with the same understanding and compassion that Christ asks us to follow Him in?
Hence, a letter to her:
Hi there, Pretender,
After years treating you with contempt and shame, my heart softens as if I’m looking into your eyes for the first time. I’ve long viewed you as a ragamuffin of a little girl, victimized and abused, neglected and abandoned; one to keep hidden, unacknowledged and left out. When I think of your present position in my life, I see the parts of me playing a game of Red Rover on my elementary school playground at recess. Lined up, hand in hand, I see Outgoing Kara entertaining the crowd, Deep Thinker Kara gazing into the sky, Tender Hearted Kara restoring harmony, Competitive Kara keeping score, Planner Kara directing the game, Prepared Kara suited appropriately, Fun Kara dancing around, Organized Kara administrating order, Creative Kara crafting with dandelions, Light Hearted Kara hootin’ and hollarin’, Reserved Kara taking it all in…. and then, there on the sidelines, in the shadows, ignored and unnoticed by all, there you are, Pretender Kara, crying out to be-loved. Even Tender Hearted Kara is too jaded to acknowledge you, let alone invite you to join in on the adventure of life. They know that you are there, but choose to ignore you. Why? When were you cast out? When did it all change?
When my sister was hurt, and my parents were doing their best with the circumstances at hand, you intervened and showed me where to hide. At that moment in time, you were invaluable. Without your intervention I would have been overwhelmed by dread and paralyzed by fear. You were there for me and played a crucial, protective role in my development. Thank you. You taught me where I could be me. In the safety of my closet, and in the muffle of my pillow, I could express myself fully. But in the construction process you taught me how to hide my real self from everyone and initiated a lifelong process of faking it, or as Momma would say, ‘Cowboyin’ up’. Your resourcefulness enabled me to survive. But you gained momentum a little too quickly, and your saving places became hidden disgraces. You started lying to me. ‘Kara,’ you whispered, ‘if you persist in this thoughtlessness of being yourself, you will be alone. No one will love you. Stuff your feelings, shut down your memories, withhold your opinions, and develop social graces so that you’ll fit in wherever you are.’ And the masking began. A variety of people and places stroked this behavior. It was admirable. How could I object? Instead, I just fed you. Your appetite for attention and affirmation became insatiable. I never confronted you with this lie because I was deceived and hardened myself. The reality, my dear one, is that you are both needy and selfish. You need care, love and a safe dwelling place. You long to be in the presence of Jesus. Your days of running recklessly are over with. Slow your roll. In His presence, I notice that you have begun to shrink. Wanna know somethin’ little one? You’re much more attractive that way, smaller and slower. I am nicknaming you, “Pretty”. Pre-tender: a state prior to tenderness; Pre-teen: your birth season, but Pretty: my acknowledgement, compassion and acceptance towards you. Naturally, you are not going to go away. I wouldn’t want that. You are a part of me. However, you will not control me. I know you will get frazzled at times, and start to act out, but the longer you spend time in the presence of Jesus, the less adoration you will need because you will have discovered for yourself that He is Enough. And in the Presence, you will delight in the discovery of what it means to live by grace and not by performance.
So, Pretty, wanna come play Red Rover?