Good Imposters

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

I learned a new phrase this week—“New marriage imposter syndrome.” I’m very familiar with the last two words, but not in the context of marriage. When explained to me, though, I understood the concept perfectly. 

“It’s when you wonder who let someone your age make such an adult decision as getting married.” (Reader, it doesn’t matter what age you actually are.)

I remember that devastating crash of doubt the day after I got married. I assumed I was the only one who’d ever felt it. It’s not great to begin married life believing you’re an awful wife for momentarily thinking you might have made a terrible mistake. I’m glad we can name it now and let newly married people know it’s normal. 

Imposter syndrome is real in most areas of life. It’s well documented in the workplace, especially affecting high-achieving women. (Although some current research suggests maybe it’s not the women who have the problem but the workplace. Finally.)

It happens to parents. We wonder—Who let me walk out the hospital with this little creature? I don’t know the first thing about what to do with one of these! It doesn’t let up. We’ll spend the rest of our lives second-guessing our ability to help a child grow into a happy, healthy adult and beyond. Pastors question ourselves on the regular. Christians are sure God loves us but not at all positive God likes us very much. 

Usually, this is hurtful nonsense. But I’m going to flip this thing a little bit.

What if, despite the very real detrimental effects it can have, imposter syndrome isn’t wholly bad?

Perhaps a little bit of understanding that we’re not able to do all this (whatever all this is) on our own is, dare I say, a healthy thing? Maybe it’s women who are in the right of it when we doubt our capability and believe we need to crowdsource rather than the men who (statistically) are certain they are the right man for whatever job they want to do.

When I officiated our daughter’s wedding two weeks ago, I asked the guests to stand as they pledged themselves to help the new couple through the joys and sorrows of their relationship and their faith. It’s a sacred pledge, and I wanted them to recognize that. We’re used to thinking of our marriages as “our own business.” Americans are used to thinking of anything that touches their lives in any way as their own business. 

In reality, life is a communal event. Because we’re not any of us old enough to make life’s most important decisions on our own. It’s taken me so long to accept that.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

When God said it wasn’t good for humans to be alone, God was making more of a statement about community than marriage. It wasn’t whole, in order, good for humans to be on their own. 

Maybe we all need simultaneously to be standing and saying “Yes, I will help you through this thing called life—I will be your people” and also seeking that input from others with all our hearts. 

Yes, the church has failed egregiously when we’ve been too intrusive in others’ lives. There is a correction and complement that seeks a self-righteous “I told you so.” We’ve witnessed the delving into someone else’s privacy that cuts wounds with its veneer of holiness. Too often, church leaders have sought to be the authority in believers’ lives without the vulnerable posture of fellow pilgrims. Too often, we’ve been happy to tell others they weren’t qualified to run their own lives and we were. We need to repent and lament that pride. 

The true community of believers—those who will cheer us on us when we’re capable and shore us up when we’re not—has become a unicorn. So rare as to be a rumor one has heard of but doesn’t quite believe in. It wouldn’t be a rumor, though, if it didn’t exist. Ive seen it. I see it in our church. I see it among online believers. I see it in house churches and small groups of straggling pilgrims who’ve decided they’re not church but are working together toward being something. 

The people who are there for us when we admit we feel like imposters in this world. They tell us—yes, you are. We all are. Every one of us. But it’s OK. We’ll get there, together.

Imposter syndrome isn’t all bad. Let’s let it lead us to our need for others.

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