“So I’m halfway through your book,” she says, as we stand next to the coffee percolator and the table piled high with double chocolate muffins. We chat for a bit about my memoir, and initially I feel pleased, but a few minutes later, after she’s turned away to refill her Styrofoam cup, panic clenches deep in the pit of my stomach.
I’m struck by the awkwardness of the situation. After all, I am about to interview this woman for a ministry position at my church, and it’s clear she knows more about me – a lot more about me – than I do about her. Worse, though, I suddenly feel anxious and insecure.
Scenes from my book flash through my mind, like the one in which I launch a fist-full of crunched up Cheez-Its at my young son in a fit of pre-bedtime lunacy.
Or the scene in which I mercilessly judge another woman, seething with envy over the fact that she looks like Gwyneth Paltrow in her name-brand jeans and her perfectly coiffed hair while I, in my droopy-bum yoga pants and my pilly fleece sweatshirt, resemble an out-of-shape version of Richard Simmons.
What if she thinks I’m a really bad mother? I fret.
What if she’s appalled by my questions and doubts?
What if she thinks I’m a terrible person?
Later, after the committee has concluded the interview, I sidle up to the candidate.
“So, um, I hope you don’t think I’m a really bad mother or a really bad person, because, you know, I’m not that bad in real life,” I stutter. I can’t even make eye contact with her.
This is the down side to writing a memoir. If you write a book about yourself, it’s bound to include a bit of your warty, wenchy side. It’s one thing to admit those unsavory qualities to yourself and God in the quiet of your own home, as you sit with your Bible and a steaming cup of ginger tea. It’s another thing to announce to the world, “Hey, I have a lot of flaws! Want to read about them?!”
Yet as awkward and embarrassing as it is to offer those stories in print for anyone to read and judge, I know it’s necessary, even imperative. Because here’s the truth:
We need to hear the whole story. Not just the pretty, shiny, fancy parts. Not just the moments when we make the right decision, or offer grace or parent with patience or turn the other cheek, but the moments when we fail to do so, too.
Because these are the moments that make us real and relateable. These are moments that earn trust, gratitude and empathy. These are the moments that assure others that we are flawed, just like they are. These are the moments that have us nodding our heads in recognition and encourage us to be courageously authentic, too.
“If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting and it will probably be universal,” writes Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. “Write toward vulnerability…worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it.”
Lamott’s advice is intended for writers, but I say it’s applicable to everyday life as well. Share your story, your whole story. Risk vulnerability. Tell the truth. Risk being unliked.
It’s not easy, I know. It’s scary, I know that, too. But if it’s real, if it’s the truth, it will undoubtedly be universal. And your vulnerability, your honesty, gives the rest of us permission to share our whole story, too.
I am thrilled that my publisher, Convergent Books, is giving away five copies of my new book — Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith – here today.
Spiritual Misfit is the story of my journey from unbelief to faith, but it’s my hope and prayer that you will recognize parts of yourself in this story, too, and will turn the last page knowing, in spite of your flaws, foibles and missteps, that you are always and forever God’s beloved.
To be entered to win, simply leave a comment below. To read more about Spiritual Misfit or to purchase a copy, CLICK HERE.
A native New Englander, Michelle DeRusha now lives in Nebraska, where she discovered the great plains, grasshoppers the size of Cornish Hens and God. She’s married to Brad, a man who reads Moby Dick for fun, and mom to contemplative Noah and rambunctious Rowan. In addition to Spiritual Misfit, Michelle is also the author of 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith (releasing September 16, 2014, from Baker Books). She writes a monthly column for the Lincoln Journal Star and is a frequent contributor to The High Calling. You can connect with Michelle on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog, http://michellederusha.com.