Brennan Mannings 1994 book, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, is a collection of essays on the theme of identity. There are chapters on who we are and who we are not.
Since I have long known that I am my Father’s beloved son, I was particularly intrigued by a chapter called “The Imposter.” Evidently, I’m not the only one.
In his preface to the new edition of Abba’s Child, Manning notes that since the original publication of his book, he has received more feedback on “The Imposter” than any other chapter.
So who is the imposter?
The imposter is the false self that grows out of rejection and abandonment. It is the image we make of ourselves to shield us from future hurt.
As Manning notes, imposters are preoccupied with acceptance and approval. They have a suffocating need to please others and cannot say no with the same confidence with which they say yes. As a result, they overextend themselves in people, projects and causes.
Does this sound familiar? If so Manning’s book will be a revelation. If I were to summarize the book in three words, they would be: Beware the imposter!
The imposter is a liar. The imposter dreads being alone yet is incapable of experiencing intimacy in any relationship. The imposter cannot hear God’s voice, since God doesn’t speak to imaginary people.
So what should we do with the imposter? Pretend that the Pretender is not real? No, says Manning. We have to accept the imposter, accept that we are broken and needed and receive God’s grace.
The alternative to the imposter is the inner child, that part of us that knows we are our Father’s dearly loved son or daughter. It is essential that we define ourselves as radically loved by God because this is our only true identity. Every other identity is illusion.
Unless we reclaim our child we will have no inner sense of self and gradually the impostor becomes who we really think we are… Our inner child is not an end in itself but a doorway into the depths of our union with our indwelling God, a sinking down into the fullness of the Abba experience, into the vivid awareness that my inner child is Abba’s child, held fast by him, both in light and in shadow. (pp.94-5)
People sometimes ask me, Where do legalists come from? Why are there so many who are obsessed with dead religious works? I can think of no better answer than the one Manning provides:
Suppose a child has never experienced any love from her parents. One day she meets another little girl whose parents shower her with affection. The first says to herself: “I want to be loved like that, too. I have never experienced it, but I’m going to earn the love of my father and mother by my good behavior.” So to gain the affection of her parents, she brushes her teeth, makes her bed, smiles, minds her p’s and q’s, never pouts or cries, never expresses a need, and conceals negative feelings. This is the way of pharisees. They follow the law impeccably in order to induce God’s love. Their image of God necessarily locks them into a theology of works. (p.83)
When you see it this way you realize that Pharisees aren’t evil people. They are just those who have not received the love of God and hence are trying to earn it. The child of grace is free to love and enjoy life but the pharisee edits his feelings and represses his emotions. The child is uninhibited but the pharisee is guarded, always watching his words and monitoring himself for “right” behavior. What a miserable existence.
To deny the pharisee within is lethal. It is imperative that we befriend him, dialogue with him, inquire why he must look to sources outside the kingdom for peace and happiness. (p.86)
Brennan Manning passed away recently but his legacy of promoting honesty to ourselves and affirming God’s love for the broken and hurting is one that will endure. It is a legacy that is brilliantly portrayed in The Ragamuffin Gospel and this, his other classic, Abba’s Child.
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