Imposter Syndrome

by Hans on December 9, 2014 in Seminary

I write this form a hotel on the campus of Southern Seminary. Home Alone 2 is on AMC for the fifteenth time this week, it hans’t snowed one time, and most students have disappeared for the semester—it is the perfect time for guys like me to creep onto campus and take a few classes. (And tonight is the perfect night to blog because it distracts me from how badly I’m missing my family.)

I have been unsuccessfully hiding the fact that I have started a PhD program. Anyone preaching in my stead mentions it, and throughout November I’ve been in “cranky mode”—that time where the reading, writing, and research stacks so high that my fuse gets a little shorter and the staff graciously tolerates me.  I’ve been surrounded by pastors, missionaries, theologians, book writers, other students, people from all over the world, and pictures of Billy Graham.

Seminary students in the first years of PhD studies have a term: imposter syndrome. It’s when we realized we are, always have been, and always will be, the dumbest people in the room. I was feeling OK until yesterday, when I started reading the work of my fellow students.

Does this place know what they got themselves into in accepting me? Do *I* know what I got myself into? Did that other American guy who just walked by me just strike up a conversation with someone else in Chinese?!?! Everyone else seems so much smarter and writes so much better.

All this, and much more, circles around my head most days. . .

It is in those moments (which are many) that I have to remember what one of the directors of the program said back in August to the new students: “You did not make a mistake in applying to Southern, and we did not make a mistake in accepting you.”

That phrase played like a record in my head all semester. My high view of sovereignty made statement one no problem to accept, but my high view of our depravity made statement two hard to accept. (Yes, I am picking and choosing what to believe when I say that, I know that.) “They don’t know me, though. I eeked through my masters program, and I—most of the time—am a huge idiot.”

Still, reminding myself that, while feeling overwhelmed, under-equipped, unprepared, and many times just bad at this thing, I was here for a reason—and there are people at this school (and at the church) who cheer me on—who want me to finish.

That says a lot.

It makes me think about my church family. How many people, though hearing every week that they are loved (1 John 4:10), go “No way. Not me. You don’t know me or my problems.” It is more than I’d wish to count. We need people telling us regularly—from the Scripture— that we are not mistakes, and that we belong to a great and mighty King who didn’t consider us a stowaway—but precious cargo—when he chose us and made us new in him. We are holy and dearly loved (Col 3:12), we are chosen (Eph 1:3-6), we are new people (2 Cor 5:17) who have a new mind (1 Cor 2:16), we will not ever be forgotten (Isa 49:15), nor will we be rejected (Ps 94:14).

That says a lot.

One response to Imposter Syndrome

  1. Hans, I feel the same way a lot of the time, but I see you as perfect. Isn’t it funny how we see other folks as having it altogether, and ourselves as riddled with holes, all leaking fast. It’s a good thing that Scripture says, “But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” I hope my short attention span is inactive that day. 🙂

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