“Why are you here?”
That’s a question someone will traditionally ask every year at the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s a good question—an important question, and one we should absolutely know the answer to.
But it’s not the question I want to ask you today.
I want to ask a related question. A more uncomfortable question. A question that might not feel very good to think about, but one that will ultimately take us someplace important:
“What makes you think you belong here?”
Here—in God’s Church. Among God’s people. What qualifies you to come in and take a seat among a congregation of God’s chosen and elect?
What makes you think you belong here?
A phrase for the feeling
It turns out there are a lot of people in the world who don’t feel qualified to be doing what they’re doing. In fact, it’s such a widely occurring psychological phenomenon, we actually have a name for it:
Dr. Pauline Clance was one of the first people to put a name to impostor syndrome back in 1978. (She called it “impostor phenomenon,” but over the years, “syndrome” seems to have become the more popular phrasing.) She discovered that many of her very qualified, very capable undergraduate students secretly believed they were unqualified and incapable.
In simplest terms, impostor syndrome is the belief that we lack the qualifications to be where we are. Along with that belief comes the fear that—eventually—everyone else is going to figure it out, too. And once everyone figures out that you’re out of your depth, that you don’t belong where you are, what’s going to happen?
You’ll get the boot.
You’ll get kicked out of wherever you are, someone will strip you of the accomplishments you lucked into, and everyone will know that you are a fraud—an incompetent huckster who never should have been here in the first place.
I understand what it’s like to feel impostor syndrome. I feel it nearly every day at work. I’ve been writing for a living for a decade now, and I still have trouble thinking of myself as “a writer.” That’s a title for people who know what they’re doing.
People who aren’t me.
Unqualified for the task
Let me tell you my qualifications for the job I do:
- I like writing.
And that’s pretty much it.
I have an associate’s degree from a community college no one has ever heard of. It’s in Information Technology, with a specialization in Internet Services. I can 100% guarantee you that most of the things I learned it that course were outdated before I got my diploma.
But that’s okay, because my bachelor’s degree is in—well, nothing. I don’t have a bachelor’s degree. I spent three years wiring residential and commercial buildings, and then I spent some time upfitting police cars.
That’s my resumé. I don’t have a big fancy list of official seals of approval showing why I’m cut out to be a writer. It’s just something I’ve been doing for a while.
Every article I write, every project I work on, there is a voice in the back of my head saying, “This is it. This is the one where everyone figures out that you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. This is the one where they’ll realize what a mistake it is to have you on the team.”
On some level, I know that voice is wrong. I’m a good writer. But I don’t always believe that I am. And that voice is something I have to wrestle with any time I try to do write anything—including this.
A broader context for impostor syndrome
Most of the time, people talk about impostor syndrome in the context of the workplace—what you do there, your job title, your position, your responsibilities. You know, like a writer who doesn’t feel qualified to write (just as a hypothetical example).
But impostor syndrome can show up anywhere in your life.
You might experience it trying to fill a role in your family. You might experience it in the dynamics of your group of friends. You might experience it as a member of a community. Any time there’s a job to be done, a role to be filled, any time our words and our accomplishments matter, it’s possible to feel the crushing weight of impostor syndrome.
Which means it’s absolutely something we can experience as Christians.
And so I come back to my question:
What makes you think you belong here?
Because, here’s the thing—you do belong here. But if you’re experiencing impostor syndrome as a Christian—and believe me, you’re not the only one experiencing it—then you probably have a lot of reasons in your head about why you don’t belong here. About why you’re not qualified to be here.
You feel like a spiritual fraud, and in the back of your mind, you’re afraid of what’s going to happen once everyone else comes to see you for the impostor that you know yourself to be.
So let’s talk about that. It’s a hard metric to measure accurately, but an estimated 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives. I don’t know what the percentage is for Christians specifically, and I definitely don’t know the percentage for Christians who happen to be reading this, but I’m willing to bet that if every one of you who has ever wrestled with that feeling would leave a comment below, we’d have a lot of reading material.
Why is that? Why is it so easy to feel like a fraud when it comes to our Christianity?
Well, think about it. We’re here as disciples of Jesus Christ, right? We’re here with the stated goal of trying to follow in the footsteps of the only perfect human being to have ever lived—the One who did everything right, all of the time, no matter what.
Those are big shoes to fill.
We are never going to do that perfectly.
Of course we’re going to feel like impostors. Of course we’re going to feel like we’re not qualified to be here. We’re aiming for a kind of perfection that’s currently beyond our grasp, and it can be disheartening to see ourselves fail to reach that unreachable goal over and over and over again.
Here’s the secret to getting past all that:
It’s remembering that you don’t have to be perfect to be part of this.
It’s remembering that no one who takes on the mantle of Christianity is perfect, and no one is supposed to be—and in fact, no one can be.
The way I see it, if we’re dealing with Christian impostor syndrome, there are three big questions we need to tackle if we want to see things from God’s perspective:
- Am I really forgiven?
- Am I really contributing anything?
- Do I really deserve to be here?
We’re going to talk about each of those questions over the next few weeks, and at the end, I hope you’ll find that, yes, you absolutely belong here.
Until next time,