Until about ten years ago I had never heard of Imposter Syndrome, but when someone introduced me to the term I knew exactly the feeling the term describes. If you’re not familiar, imposter syndrome is a newly-coined term for the feeling that one gets when he finds himself doing something remarkable, but nevertheless begins to question his ability to do so. For example, a man working a lucrative job that he truly loves may occasionally think, “Wow, is this really my life?” A woman who struggled for more than a decade with infertility looks down at her toddler as he yells “mommy” and remembers the ache she once felt when she couldn’t conceive. I’ve experienced it around times of major life transitions – getting married, attending my father’s funeral, watching my daughter graduate from high school, etc.
But while “imposter syndrome,” I think, is a pretty accurate term to describe those feelings, there are other unnamed feelings and senses that, while common to many people across cultural and economic societies, that don’t have a handy terminology. Wholeness, I think, is clear enough for a person to understand as long as it’s used in a full sentence with context to help determine the object it describes. (Are we talking about the wholeness of my peace of mind or the wholeness of my fresh baked bread?) But when we think of wholeness or completeness psychologically, the meaning gets foggy. I can’t really describe it other than by giving examples.
On the long night when I drove alone from my home in Virginia to my childhood home in Pennsylvania, on the day after my father died, I felt imposter syndrome, and some disassociation too. It was like watching one of those “found footage” style movies where you’re seeing everything as if you were the cameraman, and that feeling remained for several days after I arrived. But when I made the trip home to Virginia about two weeks later, the funeral complete and my father buried, I felt like an important chapter of my life had come to an end. My relationship with my dad began the day I was born, but it ended during that drive. I was incredibly sad, of course, but it was time to time to turn a page and keep on living one day at a time. Wholeness.
Wholeness is one of the many attributes contained in the Hebrew word shalom, and I think this is example of the type of wholeness meant in shalom – a sense of inner peace, of knowledge that, although we do not know the entirety of what God has done or will do in our lives, we know that he is fully trustworthy, fully loving, omnipresent, and omnipotent. We don’t know what God is going to do, but we have no need to know, because we trust him with our whole heart and believe that he loves us.
Trust is not something that comes easily to me. People – all of us – have been untrustworthy in the eyes of others, whether our betrayal was intentional or circumstantial. I tell my son that I will wake him up for school in the morning, but then I oversleep myself; it was a mistake, an unintentional situation that caused me to not provide the wakeup call I committed to, but it happened because of my own weakness. But when you’re the one on the receiving end of an unmet promise, whether the offense was intentional or not sometimes doesn’t even matter. Emotionally, we tend to feel frustrated or angry or even afraid despite our knowledge that whatever happened wasn’t designed to cause those feelings.
This is why the sense of wholeness that shalom refers to is hard to describe. For something to be whole it must be made of multiple parts that come together to bring it to completion. But if shalom means peace and wholeness, there is little, if anything at all, in this fallen world to depict this sort of shalom. I can only imagine it, but I’m certainly not the only one.
The Bible tells us a great deal about heaven, but none of that information is something we, in our limited capacity for understanding worlds outside of our own, gives us a class syllabus that describes when or how we’ll get there and what we’ll do when we are. We depend on the scriptures to give us some understanding of what awaits us, on the Holy Spirit to guide us in our service in life and to serve as our own in-house translator during prayer, and on the Bible to confirm to us that the sinless life and agonizing death of Christ has covered his believers with the shield that is salvation. Yet, even when our commitment to Christ and his church is strong, there is a sense of emptiness. As with imposter syndrome, it is quite easy for we who are currently separated from God to question ourselves regarding our faith. We yearn to feel complete because we are separated from God. We live in a world that has fallen under Satan’s control, but when we are introduced to our Heavenly Father and his Son who paid the price we owed, we cannot help but feel out of place.
Knowing that one day I will be with my Lord and free from the ache of longing to be in a place I’ve never seen before, I realize that I must befriend this discomfort, because it will be here for the rest of my life. Even now I can celebrate that El Roi, the god who sees me, and Yeshua, the god who saves me, are one in the same, allowing me to bend but never break and to wander but never stray. That sort of reassurance is the peace of shalom as we can experience it in this world.