A couple of years ago, I while I was working on a book proposal, I wrote this long introduction which ended up being essentially, a dissertation on why I was not actually qualified to write the very book that I was writing. An editor I was working with at the time, graciously pointed this out to me one day while we were having a chat about my project. He said something along the lines of…
“I don’t think you need to list so many reasons why you don’t feel like you have the right to write this book…”
I inhaled deeply, holding my breath.
“We get it,” he said. “But you’re disqualifying yourself from the work, and this kind of introduction isn’t going to give your readers confidence in you.”
I knew immediately what he was getting at, and he was right. The problem was, I really did FEEL all of those things.
In his book, Scribbling In The Sand, Michael Card wrote that every time he sits down to write, he hears a voice. He said sometimes it sounds like his own voice but that other times, he doesn’t recognize it. But this voice, he goes on to say, whispers,
“There is no conceivable way someone like you can create this.”
“How can you possibly hope to do better than________?”
“No one will listen or care what you have to say”
“What do you think you are, some kind of celebrity?”
When I read this passage from his book, I felt an immediate kinship. YES! This was my struggle too! And it turns out, that other artists and writers often suffer from what is known as “imposter syndrome”.
Wikipedia defines Imposter syndrome this way:
“a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
If you google imposter syndrome, the internet will hand you 985,000 links related to this topic. Nearly 1 million articles and videos to comb through, offering everything from articles written in business magazines (because artists aren’t the only ones who struggle here), to pop-psychology articles, to self-help tricks and hacks for overcoming this syndrome, or more accurately, this phenomenon.
In her book, Presence, Bringing Your Best Self To Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy describes an interview with Neil Gaiman, an accomplished author of over 31 books, in which he describes the reoccurring fantasies he has battled, of someone coming to his door, and forcing him to stop writing and get a real job.
And even after she’d written 11 books, Maya Angelou continued to feel like someone might "finally call her out for being an imposter".
I could write another introduction. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was, that I felt unqualified IN MY BONES. And every day that I showed up to write, that was the track that played in my head. It wasn’t always loud. Many days it was barely more than a quiet whisper, but it was there, and that low murmur causes me no end of angst. The question that rings in my ears like a gong is constantly,
“who are YOU to think you can write anything?”
The heart of my issue of course, has nothing to do with my professional or academic qualifications. Nothing to do with my Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary humanities, with 3 areas of focus (because I couldn’t pick just ONE area of study—are you kidding me?!). It has nothing to do with how much practice I’ve had at writing, or how many times I’ve won writing contests (once, in the third grade, thank you very much).
I wrote that apologetic introduction because every time I sit down to write, I suffer an identity crisis.
I forget who I am.
I forget WHOSE I am.
Madeline L’engle wrote that “One of the great sorrows which came to humans beings when Adam and Eve left the garden was the loss of memory, memory of all that God’s children are meant to be.”
Despite being washed in the blood of Christ, many of us still embrace and identify with our old (wo)man self. In Romans 6:6 Paul reminds us that our old selves have been crucified with Christ. This crucifixion of our old selves means that now, we can identify ourselves as free people. The old self?--that’s person we were from the garden of Eden. That’s the person who ate from the tree because she believed the lie that she wasn’t enough as she was. That’s the person who didn’t understand that she was already free.
The struggle we face, this “imposter phenomenon” is a constant nag because we keep forgetting our true identity. Our spiritual identity. We keep forgetting who we are in Christ.
Henri Nouwen wrote: Spiritual identity means we are not what we do or what people say about us. And we are not what we have. We are the beloved daughters and sons of God.
Isaiah 43:1-7 says this:
But now, thus says the Lord, your creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed even whom I have made.”
Isaiah 62 says that you (we) are a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord. It says that God delights in us, and that God rejoices over us.
The only way to silence that voice, Michael Card said, is to shift our focus, from ourselves, to God.
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul writes, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
We feel like imposters because we don’t embrace THIS as our identity. Shifting our focus from ourselves back to God, reminds us that we are IN Him, and He is IN us.
Focusing on God reintroduces us to our true selves.
Our life’s purpose, is to give God glory, and when we write, this is our creative response to who God is and what He has done. This is a way of worship. This is where we feel God’s pleasure. This is where we come alive. And at the same time, for many of us, this is the place where we feel the most angst.
In her book, A Million Little Ways, Emily Freeman describes this hesitation, this identity crisis this way when she writes,
“We are colanders filled with glory-water. Our best efforts are spent trying to cover the seeping holes with not enough fingers. God’s glory demands display. Yet sometimes when we get a glimpse of it, when we taste something we come alive doing, when we feel that sense of purpose wake up within us, we become terrified. And so instead we spend our time looking for plastic bags to catch it before it pours out, wasted. We want to be something more sensible, more practical. Something like a jar with a lid. No holes. No glory leaks. Let’s control it, contain it. Let’s be reasonable. In this action, we have forgotten who we are.”
Knowing who we are is critical for all of us. As writers, as artists, this will be the place we must return to every time we suffer a rejection. Every time we feel overwhelmed and unprepared for the writing, every time we feel conflicted and strained the tension will threaten to derail our art.
When we aren’t able to cling to our spiritual identity, we’ll are easily discouraged to the point of quitting.
We forget who we are when we forget who Christ is. When we forget what He has done. When we forget what He is still in the business of doing.
Your soul has a story to tell. Writing is personal, emotional work, and if we don’t know who we are, we will be unprepared for the roller-coaster ride that is answering the creative call on our lives.
In Isaiah 43 God calls us by name. He calls us precious, honored. He calls us loved, and redeemed, created for HIS GLORY. Isaiah 62 says that we have, a crown of beauty, that we are the delight of the Lord, a people over whom God rejoices. In Ephesians, Paul calls us God’s workmanship, from the Greek word, Poeima—poem.
Some of us feel more like pretenders than poems.
So let’s be honest with ourselves. I know for a fact that right now, some of you are sitting here feeling insecure about why you are here. I’ve been holding your voxer messages, and facebook messages and emails telling me as much. Some of you are fighting off this imposter phenomenon right now. Some of you felt a catch in your throat when I asked you to tell your neighbor that you are loved by God. And if that is you—I hope you’ll sit with that in prayer and ask God to get you to the bottom of that awkwardness.
In the months leading up to Refine, after you took that bold step and said “yes” some of you have been batting that familiar murmur that makes you think that you are unqualified to be here at a writer’s retreat. Breathing the same air as people who by your estimation, have published a billion books, and are more “qualified” to be here.
But You are not here because of your academic or career achievements. And You’re not disqualified from being here because of the lack of some of these.
You are here because you are a living, breathing work of art—a poem embodied, and because you are called by His name—because you are beloved.
Showing up here—saying “yes” to this weekend, was a spiritual response. You, present in this space, is your spirit’s response to the wooing of the God who made you. It’s the poem of you, responding to her Author—Father God.
This is where we must begin, in the place of claiming our true identity. Not as writers, that is our work, that is our art, that is our response. We are here as free women, made in the magnificent image of the God of the Universe.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation of Ephesians 2 says it this way: He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
We have work to do. Our work will never be easy. It was Hemingway who rather melodramatically said “writing is easy, you just sit down at the typewriter and bleed”
So then, if we’re going to bleed, let's bleed words infused with our spiritual identity. Let’s write with the authority and humility and confidence that comes from knowing who we are.
We will still wrestle, we will weep, we will get frustrated with the work. We will procrastinate. We will suffer rejection (after rejection after rejection), we’ll be underestimated, and judged.
Vinita writes in her book, The Soul Tells A Story, that we can “expect to be misunderstood”. But when we remember our true, spiritual identity, when we live and work from that place, none of these things matter.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand…
We can best show up for the work God has prepared for us, for the art He has seeded in us, by claiming who we are in Christ. We are His, a royal priesthood. We are prophets and teachers. The very Spirit of God Himself lives IN us.
We are not imposters. You are not an imposter. You are qualified to do the work because of the shed blood of Jesus, who when He stretched His arms wide open on the cross exchanged our old identity for a new one.
You are not who you once were. You are a new creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works.
For good words.
Which, by the way, God already has prepared for you. Beforehand. Ask Him for those words and write them in the confidence that you are yourself, a masterpiece, with the blood of the Lion coursing in your veins.
Welcome to Refine