According to a 2004 New Yorker article, Madeleine L’Engle’s stories, particularly her narrative memoirs, were not exactly truthful. Her children struggled. Her marriage was not as perfect as reported to the tune of alcoholism and affairs.
During those years, Josephine miscarried, and L’Engle wrote about it, in manuscript. Alan and Josephine asked her to take it out. She did, finally, but she didn’t understand why they wanted her to. Other members of the family say, too, that there were incidents in their own lives—in some cases the usual growing pains, and in others what they considered singular, traumatic events—that L’Engle appropriated and used in her novels or revealed in “The Crosswicks Journal.” Her own troubles, however, were excised or trimmed to fit. “Think of it,” Alan Jones said. “The confirmed construction of the self by means of narrative. Golly, what a job.
Madeleine L’Engle might as well take her place in line: the line up of people who somehow disappoint us terribly with their humanity and complexities, their sins and foibles, habits and hang-ups, imperfections and inconsistencies, even in the very midst of their greatest soul-stirring work.
Ask any pastor who fell from grace, ask any parenting expert that hollered at their kids this morning, ask any vegan sneaking cheese, ask any one who has ever drawn breath – we fail, we are do not live up to our own standards. And we are very good about giving ourselves the benefit of the doubt. (We remember things the way we want them to be remembered.)
I think about that with my own writing life here. People often remark that I am “so open” online (usually with a bit of wonderment or “Oh, I could NEVER do that” particularly when I write about marriage) – and I have to chuckle because if they only knew how little of my life makes it online.
I keep secrets.
Sometimes, I keep secrets because not enough time has passed for me to be able to really write about something. I keep secrets because it’s not yet time to tell that part of my life. I keep some secrets because it would hurt others to have it aired publicly. I keep secrets because only one part of the story can be told but really there is so much more going on behind the scenes.
I keep some secrets because I’m embarrassed or ashamed, others are because they are too dear and too precious for mass-consumption. I keep secrets because my appetite for truth and transparency doesn’t supersede my responsibility to care for the emotional well-being and hearts of others, and because most of our lives don’t occur in a vacuum.
I keep secrets because my family and my friends didn’t sign up to have their lives aired publicly.
I keep secrets because I like having my own life, tucked away, just for me, or just for my husband, or just for my tinies.
I keep secrets because it’s good for me, for my family, for my spirituality, for my sanity, for my soul, for me to keep secrets.
So I feel a bit tender-hearted towards Madeleine L’Engle today. I write through my life, and I write about my life, and I hope I’m true enough.
I hope I’m true enough.
I hope you know that I crop out my unflattering bits in photographs, and I’m rather chubby in real life. I hope you know I am rather dorky, and I swear too much, and my marriage isn’t perfect, and my mothering has a long way to go, and I don’t know how in the world to raise my tinies without spending a tremendous amount of time on my face before God crying out for wisdom and understanding, for patience and peace. I hope you know how far I fall short of my own standards, how slobberingly grateful I am for the Holy Spirit’s movement and grace.
I am sure I’ve disappointed some of you long before this, maybe this is disappointing to know.
I know I disappoint myself daily.
And yet when our heroes turn out to have feet of clay, just like us, we become disillusioned.
But we were the ones that placed them on the pedestal of impossible expectations, then we often work hard to keep them propped up there, and so of course it hurts when they tumbled right off. Sometimes they wanted to be on that pedestal, believing in their own ridiculous hype, but most of the time, our heroes and our patron saints, our spiritual mothers and fathers, didn’t want to be elevated up there, anyway, and are secretly relieved when it comes crashing down.
So go ahead. Be disillusioned, but be grateful for it.
Now we don’t expect a facade of performance and perfectionism. It’s okay that our heroes are also, well, people. We are all together in this, we are all on the same people of God, gathered, waiting, and walking each other home. Now we dont’ need to have expectations on our leaders or our heroes that we do not have on ourselves.
The greatest thing about being gratefully disillusioned: you look only to Christ, and not to man, and this is freedom. It’s freedom for Ted Haggard and for Madeleine L’Engle, for every preacher and teacher, for every mama and father, for every one of us.
As the company of the gratefully disillusioned, we get to enjoy the richness of relationship with Abba, Jesus, and our Holy Spirit without intermediary or filter. We et to follow Jesus, not the men and woman also on the path with us, reaching out for the hem of his garments. We get to be part of community that is rich and full, and guess what? This flattened hierarchy thing that freaks a lot of the Authority and Submission Crowd out so much is actually pretty awesome.
Be grateful for your disillusionment because it will push you away from revere-ing your own self or your heroes of the faith or the mystics or doctrine teachers or bloggers or missionaries or churches. Now we can learn from one another, as partners and friends, but we are pointed towards the only true example for humanity, the true Shepherd, the true Father, the true Mother, the true God. We can now embrace each other in our humanity, flawed, and moving together towards our true selves with open hearts to God.
The gifts of our heroes as just that: gifts. Gifts from God, gifts of talent and genius, of hard work and dedication, but they are not magic wands waving away skeletons in the closet or their own crippling needs and insecurities.
If we were all disabused of our false notions regarding perfect leadership, our heroes would be released from unrealistic pressure or expectations. We could see their gifts and callings as a blessing to be used in community instead of as an isolating boundary of “The Holy and The Rest of Us.”
Our heroes would be free to receive, too. We would come alongside one another, looking to Christ alone as the author and perfect-er of our faith. And when they struggle or stumble, they could be honest about it because who among us could ever throw the first stone at their precious face?
I share some of my life here – but not all of it.
I am honest – but selective.
I am vulnerable and real – but learning to keep some stories to myself, particularly those of family or friends.
And even being a bit more selective of what photos or stories I share from the tinies because they are slowly crossing that line where their stories are their own and not mine to tell.
I feel like my truest self is expressed here but it’s not my whole self either.
So I hope that when we meet you know that you know me. But I’m also still me – a little chubbier than you might think with normal tinies and a normal life and, really, so much like all of us, just living life and trying to slow it down a bit to love better.
I’m sorry if people had their hearts broken by the story about Madeleine L’Engle in the New Yorker. I’m always so terribly sorry when someone is disappointed or let down by someone to whom they “looked up.” I get that. I really do. (I imagine her family had their hearts broken long before these details emerged. A writer or a hero is something very different from an intimate family member, isn’t it?)
It’s possible L’Engle wrote out of her truest self, even if it wasn’t her whole self or the entire true story. It’s possible that her memoirs deserve ironic air quotes around the word “memoir” and it’s possible that it’s all a lie.
But Madeleine L’Engle told us herself that something doesn’t have to be true to be a true thing.
But, I asked, is there a difference between fiction and nonfiction? “Not much,” she said, shrugging. It was a long shrug, the wishbone of her shoulders pulled up almost to her ears. “Because there’s really no such thing as nonfiction. When people read your books, they think they know everything, but they don’t. Writing is like a fairy tale. It happens elsewhere.”
This doesn’t change how much L’Engle’s writing has ministered life and goodness to me. I have adopted her as my patron saint, not because of her perfection, heavens, no. It’s because she helps give me a glimpse, a fellow traveller with rumours of the north perhaps, and we’re on the same road, no pedestals are required.
Let her be flawed. That encourages me because I am so flawed. And yet, even in my flaws and secrets, my selective memory and story-telling, I still yearn to see God, to be truthful, to be fearless, to be vulnerable, to learn how to fling open the windows and the doors, and invite every one to the table to receive the measure of grace and goodness and salvation that I have received.
I learn from people who fall from grace, I am so badly in need of grace my own self. I learn about complexities, I grow up, I learn to throw myself on Grace, long before the times for the fall. I learn to point people to Abba, the source of anything good or praise-worthy, and I learn not to believe in my own made-up hype or to construct a pedestal for my own self.
I learn to live like there is no such thing as a secret while still keeping secrets.
And I learn to be grateful for my disillusionment.
Some portions of this post were lifted from previous posts.