The first time I heard the phrase “imposter syndrome,” I instinctively knew what it meant. I didn’t have to search the internet. I knew what it was because for most of my life, that’s how I have been living.
While it is not a technical definition, imposter syndrome describes the situation when you find yourself exactly where God has called you but still feel as though you are playing someone else’s role. It is especially defined by a fear that other people will discover that you are a “fake” and are not actually as qualified or equipped as you have led them to believe.
The reality and the absurdity of constantly feeling like an imposter hit me hard when I was in formation to become a religious sister, discerning what God was asking me to do with my life. At 21 years old, I found myself praying for at least three hours a day, serving others, and leaving my family and friends behind to follow Christ.
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And yet, I still did not feel “Catholic enough.”
I didn’t feel like an imposter because I was living a double life. No, I felt like a fake because I had created an idea of what I should be as a Catholic and a religious sister and I was not living up to it. I was still sinning. I was still spending a little bit too much time on social media. Quite frankly, I didn’t even know what I thought I should be doing, but I knew that I was not doing it.
In a real way as Catholics, it can be especially easy to fall into the trap of feeling like imposters. We are surrounded in our churches by pictures of saints with neatly folded hands and eyes raised to heaven prepared to receive a vision. On social media, people are quick to judge and put down someone who has fallen into some of the same sins as us. We have vision boards of who we would like to be and are surrounded by reminders that we aren’t there yet.
This creates a sort of cognitive dissonance for us. On one hand, the fact that you are reading this article on a Catholic site in and of itself suggests that you are in some way seeking God’s will in your life. On the other hand, it probably wouldn’t take more than 10 seconds for you to think of something in your life that you do not want someone close to you to know about.
We are left to wonder: Are we really following Jesus and on the path to holiness? Or are we just pretending?
Feeling like imposters is written into the fabric of the Christian life because God calls us to a life that is impossible to do on our own. To love our enemies, to extend mercy to those who hurt us, and to accept suffering with peace is not something that comes naturally to us. Left to our own devices, we will inevitably fail.
But friends, we are not imposters. We are not merely pretending to be representatives of Christ or to love like he loves. We do not have to be afraid of God or anyone else finding out who we “really are.” The God of the universe is familiar with the darkest corners of our minds and hearts and has chosen to live within us simply because we are his beloved.
When we are baptized, we are brought into the life of the Holy Trinity. We are given a share in God’s own life. This reality of God’s indwelling in our hearts is renewed every time we go to the Sacrament of Confession or receive holy Communion. In these encounters with God’s grace, we truly become Christ in our world today.
The key to living a full Christian life is learning to hold this tension that comes from knowing that we are not perfect but that God still loves us just as we are. The peace that God desires to give us is present when we truly believe that God will give us the grace to make us into saints, not because we earned it but because he loves us. We are most like Christ when we humbly admit that we cannot do anything without him.
We are not imposters, we are not fakes. We are beloved daughters of God, dependent on our loving Father and heirs to his kingdom — and that’s the Gospel truth.