An Ambassador in Chains: The Danger of the Impostor Syndrome

impostor

Because so much of my life is centered around writing (I’m an English teacher, graduate student, blogger, etc.), it’s hard to ignore the different responses I have to my different writing milieus.

Writing with my students is easy; let’s face it – they just don’t know any better and there is something liberating about being in front of twenty people who generally believe you are the authority on whatever you’re talking about. We often conduct workshops in class in which we critique each other’s writing and offer suggestions for improvement. My writing is always featured heavily within the students’ as well and the sessions are usually enjoyable and often accompanied by food (which, to be honest, is probably the real source of their joy).

Writing as a graduate student is a little trickier. There’s a different voice, tone, purpose, strategy – the entire endgame is different. Confidence becomes an issue in graduate studies in a different way than it does in my life as a teacher. Am I even remotely close to a “right” idea? Have I researched enough? Have I read enough? Am I going to pass unnoticed through the boundary line of intellectual approval without being found out? It’s this fear of “being found out” that has plagued me through most of my academic career. Come to find out, many others feel the same way and it’s such a big deal that there’s even a Wikipedia page devoted to the “Impostor Syndrome” and the Chronicle of Higher Education featured a piece on the subject just last year. The implications of the Impostor Syndrome are, for me, not very far-reaching, at least in my academic experience, but I bring the issue to light to talk about another way in which the Impostor Syndrome does take hold in a far more dangerous way.

When I sit down to write for CatholicHow, my first move is usually to consult my List. To explain: The List is my little list of ideas that come to me at all hours of the day (usually, and annoyingly, right before I fall asleep). They’re not all worthwhile (for instance, a bi-weekly blog about my personal dream diary sounds a lot better at 2am than it does in the harsh light of day), but some of them stick and end up on the site. Too often, though, I find myself scratching off ideas because I feel as though writing about them would be akin to my writing about Italian Olive Farms: interested, certainly, but in no way an authority. This sense of being unqualified, unworthy, incapable, and generally ill-suited to the task at hand is not only a feature of the worn and weary academic; the faithful, too, are often plagued and silenced by their belief in their own inability. As one friend once told me, “my greatest faith is in my lack of faith.” How tragic is that? Sadly, the little ministries that are so often placed before us go unfulfilled as we remain assured of our own inevitable failure. The fruit of that failure, which can be so much greater than the original aim, is never brought to fulfillment.

But remember, we are all impostors! We are living in a foreign land – this is not where we belong. In preparing for this post, several different scripture passages came to me one after the other in recognition of my inability, yes, but also my ability in Christ:

Moses, however, said to the Lord, “If you please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him: Who gives one person speech? Who makes another mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?

Now go, I will assist you in speaking and teach you what you are to say. (Exodus 4:10-12)

Also:

When they take you before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be or about what you are to say. For the holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say. ( Luke 12:11-12)

And of course:

And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. (Acts 2:4)

All this to say, yes, we are unfit on our own to proclaim the Word of God. But God, through our Baptism, grafts us onto the branch of Christ’s goodness and we are tasked with the mission of Priest, Prophet, and King. The impostor has been made friend, and as friends, we proclaim the goodness of our God. From now on, I will resist my spiritual Impostor Syndrome and fight the good fight, as it were (but I promise, no dream diaries).

With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for the holy ones and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must. Ephesians 6:18-20

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