Theatre Masks

“The invisible dragon roared, I cowered, and what I’ve called “the impostor” was born, a shadow to the my eight-year-old life.  The impostor is a fake version of yourself, and that exactly how I started living.  I faked being happy when I was sad.  I faked being excited when I was disappointed.  I even faked being nice when inside I was really angry.  I still looked and sounded like me, but I wasn’t me.”  I was fake.  I lived as an impostor of myself.”  These are the words at the beginning of Brennan Manning beautiful, troubling memoir, All is Grace.”

The last post I wrote wondered about finding Salvation Stories in sagas that don’t end well or work out like we thought they would.  How do you turn declining attendance and gossipping church members into something positive for the Quarterly Report?  How do you write a message for the Women’s Retreat when your story is filled with brokenness and doubt and feeling distant from God and the theme is “Shining as Jewels in the King’s Crown?”

My answer has been to be an impostor at times, and so I understand Brennan’s vulnerable confession in this book about grace being always available for all people, places, and things.  Where’s grace for the impostor?

The first impostors I think about are in the oft-told New Testament story of 2 brothers who took very different paths in life.  I wonder about the prodigal brother gratefully accepting the royal ring, and the robe, and the banquet while being nagged by a pebble stuck in his tattered sandal — picked up on a treacherous path he should have never taken in the first place.  Did he feel like an impostor — especially when his brother’s jealous eyes taunted him about his derelict of duties?

But then there’s the hard-working older brother filled with pride for all he’d gotten done while his wastrel brother was wandering.  But the simmering resentment and bitterness had to go somewhere.  To fantasizes of revenge when he might expose his lesser brother and get everything that he really deserved for himself? Or flights of fancy in daydreams wondering what it might be like to give into temptation a bit more the next time himself?  Didn’t he deserve it after working so hard?  Did he feel like an impostor — especially when his brother’s grateful eyes taunted him about his hard heart?

Brennan explains, “What I had no way of realizing at the time was that there is a fine line between vows and deals, and deals can be sneaky, under-the-table things.  At the very least, the deals I made with myself to be a ‘good boy’ cost me my voice, my sense of wonder, and my self-worth for most of my adult life.”  I think the deal we all make is to not tell anyone that we’re an impostor —  we want to experience the grace and mercy of God in our daily lives and all-to-often finding ourselves experiencing doubt, jealousy, temptation, and failure.  And we don’t tell anyone.  And that costs us.

Brennan writes, “At the age of sixteen, Sunday mornings still looked the same.  I still showed up on Sunday mornings, went to mass, experienced the same distant God.  But something different began on Saturday nights.  I started drinking.”  Oh, I too know what it is to numb the tension of being an impostor — not knowing how to tell the good and the bad, the sublime and the terrible, the love and the loss, the grace and the sin, the temptation and the resistance, the blindside and the collapse.  Alcohol can become an effective way to silence the impostor and erode all of the confusing edges until she’s lost and forgets what matters.  I want to write about some of that in my own story in future posts, in part, because in reading this story of Brennan’s I am coming to believe that impostors just might have the potential to tell the best news of all.   That certainly proved true for Brennan — my fellow impostor, teacher of grace, sojourner in recovery, and who while sorting out all of the ambiguities that hem in the impostor found his message — or better said, His message found Brennan: “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.” 

This message of grace is a life-shattering gift to the impostor.  In the next Salvation Story, I will share the story of another man, sinking in the quicksand of feeling like an impostor — literally, holding a gun to his head — heard a simple question that became his salvation story.

“When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself.  Enter the silence.  Bow in prayer.  Don’t ask questions.  Wait for hope to appear.”  Lamentations 3, The Message