Saint Anne dishes on OCD and unconditional love

Saint Anne dishes on OCD and unconditional love

A highlight of the Festival of Faith and Writing was hearing Anne Lamott speak about writing and faith.

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 7.33.41 AMAnne talked about brokenness and pain, although she was sure none of us Wholesome Midwestern Types could understand what she was talking about, because she was sure we grew up in homes where our parents loved each other unconditionally, and our family members honored one another, and we cherished each other, with no strings attached.

(This got a big laugh from the Wholesome Midwestern types.)

Because we were loved, honored, and cherished–without a whole list of requirements to satisfy first–we felt safe.

And because we felt safe, we didn’t display obsessive-compulsive tendencies like counting steps, or meticulously avoiding stepping on the sidewalk cracks, or flipping the light switch on and off a certain number of times before bed (which set my mind awhirling in a number of different directions, none of them comforting. But I digress).

Anne Lamott on faith and writing

I’ve been blogging for a year and a half about my desire to cultivate a warm atmosphere in my home. Could the bottom-line answer really be to unconditionally love, honor, and cherish? Anne made it sound so simple. Not easy, but simple.

Because that? I can do. Even when I’m angry, or upset, I love. I can honor–my husband, my kids, probably even the dog–even when I’m really pissed off. I can remind myself to cherish those I love in the midst of the whole range of human emotion.

It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

If I wanted to underscore the truth of Anne’s words, I couldn’t have done any better than diving into Elizabeth Esther’s new release Girl at the End of the World upon my return home. Holy smokes, what a memoir–and what a terrifying story of what happens when we’re not loved, honored, and cherished unconditionally in our own families.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Anne Lamott’s work, unconditional love, feeling safe, and OCD in comments. 

(For more wise words or one-liners, view my compiled tweets from Anne’s sessions on Storify here and here.)

P.S. On letting my face speak what’s in my heart, and your kids need to hear joy in the lifestyle you’ve chosen.

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  1. ed cyzewski says:

    Yes! So much to ponder. Thanks for digging into Anne’s talk(s) here.

    I’ve been blogging and journaling and thinking about St. Anne’s talk too. I felt like time slows down while she talks, and perhaps part of that is she’s a recovered/recovering addict (not sure what the right phrase should be) who knows how to keep sober: one step at a time, one day at a time. It’s like she has applied AA to all of life and it actually works. Just simple stuff like bringing a cup of water and listening one day at a time can add up. I shouldn’t be surprised by this!

    • Anne says:

      That’s so interesting what you said about time and Anne’s talks. I’m not sure how to say this without sounding like an idiot, but reading her and Mary Karr makes me want to go to AA so I can speak their language. (Have you read Lit?)

      When Anne talked repeatedly about bringing cups of cold water in her talks, I was constantly trying to discern if she meant it literally or metaphorically. I’d like to think both. Don’t tell me if I’m wrong. (Or at least let me live under my happy illusion for a few months before you break the news.)

      • ed cyzewski says:

        I’ve heard about Lit, but just couldn’t bear to read it. It sounded like a bit much to me. But I’ve heard good things about it.

        I took the cups of water thing on both levels, so I’m right there with you.

        • Anne says:

          It was written more gently than I expected, which was a great thing for my sensitive soul. (Also, I was disappointed that I didn’t realize the “David” she kept referring to was David Foster Wallace until after I finished! Makes me want to read it again … almost.)

  2. Katie says:

    I just need to say I was lucky to grow up in a home with unconditional love but it did not stop me from suffering with OCD. I do very much enjoy Anne but I think the second memoir sounds a bit too depressing for me right now!

    • Anne says:

      Katie–yes and absolutely. Thanks for pointing that out.

      Maybe on the lighter side …. I’m eager to read Anne’s more recent memoir-ish book Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son. I read Operating Instructions ages ago and I think I’m ready for the sequel, which I expect to be tender but also really, really funny.

  3. Meredith says:

    I love Anne Lamott, would have loved to hear her speak! I often re-read snippets of her work for writing inspiration – and just plain old great reading! Thanks for sharing your thoughts Anne, sounds like a great conference 🙂

  4. Anne says:

    Yes! One of the most important things I want my kids to know: “I love you all the time…when you’re sad, when you’re mad, and when you’re glad (I never say bad, yuck)…I love you all the time. Nothing could make me not love you.” Just like the Father’s love for us, unconditional. We work through a lot of big emotions here, and I say the above after things are heated or particularly hard to work through. (Your HSP posts resonate.) Unconditional love is #1- haven’t always felt it or given it; so, I try to pay attention to how I show it to my DH and kids. Key word try…I’m always learning. I have been reading a lot of Laura Markham’s essays on parenting. You writing about unconditional love reminds me of her work, especially that tweet that mentioned AL and taking your feelings to your room.

    Thanks for sharing about Anne L!

  5. ariana says:

    I have not read any of Anne Lamott’s work, though I have several on my to-read list. Any suggestions for where to start? I hear such good things that I think its about time I dig in!

  6. I love this post! (And the FFW speaker lineup looked AMAZING – I was kicking myself for not going!) 🙁 Anne Lamott is so wise – she is definitely one of my favorite writers. I can’t wait to check out your storify quote compilations – thanks so much for sharing those!!

  7. Abby says:

    YES! It was SO good to connect with you at FFW. I see why all my friends rave about you. I just finished Girl at the End of the World (WOW!) and I see what you are saying about how the two connect. I never would have put those pieces together on my own, I am so glad you did that for me. On my way home I started practicing what Anne was talking about and turned around to my children and said to each of them by name: Priscilla, you are loved and you are chosen. Juliet, you are loved and you are chosen. When I turned around Rilla said to me, And mommy, you are loved and you are chosen. My heart. I needed that.

    • Anne says:

      So good to connect with you too! I just love that you had that conversation with your kids in the first place, and that your daughter’s names are Priscilla, Rilla, and Juliet. There’s a lot of good literature wrapped up there. 🙂

  8. Amy says:

    I just got Bird by Bird from the library, and I can’t wait to start reading it; it will be the first book of hers I’ve ever read. If I love it, what should I read next?

  9. I realize more and more how incredibly blessed I am to have grown up in a family where I did feel safe and loved unconditionally. It definitely allowed me to accept that God loved me unconditionally, too. We had our quirks and our moments, of course. But I didn’t realize how rare this truly was until I became an adult.

  10. melyssa says:

    The only Anne Lamott book I’ve tried to read is Plan B, and the first two chapters were a rant against Bush. I was confused and baffled as to why she’s supposedly inspiring: she seemed bitter and angry to me.

    • Anne says:

      Now that you mention it I remember that part. Ugh–so sorry that’s where you started. Bird by Bird is my favorite. For her newer stuff, I thought Help, Thanks, Wow was good stuff.

  11. Anna says:

    I like Anne Lamont’s work, although I haven’t read any recently. I have several on my “to read” list. There’s never enough time to read! 🙂 I don’t always agree with what she says, but I love how she writes and how she makes me think about things. I would rather read something that makes me think than just things that are bland & have no depth.
    I think unconditional love is SOOO important to feeling safe. Otherwise, you have no safe place to step out from or return to. Even as an adult, I find that I still view my relationship with God through the lens of my past. I start to think He’s someone I hide from & fear. (and not in the good “fear of God” way.)
    And I can see how the lack of unconditional love/safe place or abuse can contribute hugely to OCD, but I think some people are wired for it more than others. Maybe it’s just something that gives you a little nudge in that direction. Some of it is just that you have no control, so you try to find it. And some of it is trying to be perfect so that you don’t have those negative consequences.
    I have to fight certain of those OCD type tendencies, but I don’t have classic OCD. But I don’t think some of that stuff ever goes away. Some of it can become a strength instead of a weakness- it makes you stronger to face other tough situations.

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