Perhaps she tripped on her oversized robe and heavy wings or stumbled on the narrow steps behind the podium. But between recited lines, down she went. The congregation gasped. The little angel quickly popped back into view, smiling, tucking her hair behind her ears and straightening her halo. We sighed in relief, and more than a few of us cheered and applauded. The Children’s Pageant, part of Sunday service to celebrate The Epiphany, continued without further incident.
Towards the end of the service, time was allotted as usual for sharing of joys and concerns. This week, there were many requests for prayers. Illness and loss had visited several families and friends over the holidays.
Before the final blessing, pastor Louie Andrews praised the children’s delightful performance and noted the congregation’s numerous concerns. In his self-effacing way, he quipped:
“Remember, angels fall down, but they get back up again.”
Now I’m not saying that we’re angels, especially not me, but I think we’ve all lost face and faced loss. Not one of us got out of childhood without falling down, and not one of us goes through life without experiencing illness and death in some form.
In her landmark book, The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self, first published over 30 years ago, psychologist Alice Miller wrote about disrespect for and death of children’s selves due to abuse, often early in life and unintentional and by parents, mostly mothers, replaying their own family dramas. The abused child tries her best to become what her parents need her to be and to achieve success in hopes of gaining her parents’ love and approval. But, as a consequence, she suffers from denial of self in two related forms of mental illness: grandiosity and depression.
Miller defined the “gifted” child as one who has faced the truth about her family and herself. During the healing process, she mourns the loss of her childhood face – the past cannot be relived – and develops a sense of compassion for her self. As she learns to love her real self and others for themselves, not as she needs them to be, she brings to an end the compulsion to pass on the legacy, in my case, of fear, control, loneliness and anxiety.
Much of what Miller wrote resonated with me but not all. Mourning and compassion for self smacked of blame and self-pity, both narcissistic quagmires for me. Also, in my experience, the quest for truth was inseparable from my faith journey where humility and accountability replaced humiliation and denial. Most surprising, I discovered that the only approval I really needed was God’s.
I still fall down, but I get back up again.
P.S. to my hard-working daughter: I read Freedom at your request and recognized some legacy. I am sending you a clean copy of Miller’s book in case you would like to read it.