“Do you Believe in God?”

It was a leisurely afternoon at the mall, one where I didn’t have any specific destination but did have Christmas money to burn. (Thanks, Mom!) So maybe it was because I had nowhere in particular to be. Maybe it was because God knew I was just killing time. But when I stopped for that quiet “excuse me,” I knew I was in for an adventure.

“Do you believe in God?” she asked.

I’d just started to refocus on my studies. I’d missed church the week prior, and had been slacking off in my reading. But I’d gone to Mass that day. I’d finally delved into my pile of “to-reads” from RCIA, including those Bible books I’d never delved into before.

“Yes,” I replied, and because that didn’t feel like enough, I added, “I’m Catholic.”

What an oddity, to feel so separated from everything (remember the impostor syndrome?) and yet so confident in that declaration. I’ll admit, I expected her to have a negative reaction. But it didn’t deter her. Perhaps that’s why I stood in the middle of the mall on a Sunday afternoon and continued talking to her: I admired her drive. I admired what she was trying to do, even if we didn’t agree on things. It was enjoyable, especially when we learned we’d both come from the Baptist church. We’d gone in completely different directions—she was trying to convert people to some new-age, apocalyptic church—but I respect that we were both seeking Truth.

She tried to convince me that her church was the true church, and I did the same. She presented Biblical evidence, and I shared my own. It wasn’t a debate. For the first time, I had this sort of conversation and didn’t feel personally attacked. When she invited me to Bible study, I politely declined.

I’ll admit this straight out: I’m not confident. I’m defensive. I cry when I think people are maybe being mean to me. But this? Despite my weaknesses—and God knows how weak I can be—I walked away from that conversation pretty okay. I can’t pretend to know anything about other people’s experiences. I don’t understand why she was so confident about a church that was so off the mark. But for me? That wasn’t my own confidence. “Do you believe in God?” she’d asked. Sure. But belief isn’t all there is. It’s like… in that moment, I was finally working with God rather than trying to convince someone that I was right. That’s something more powerful than anything I’ll ever understand. I only pray that she, too, will understand that one day.

Impostor Syndrome

Though it’s more frequently applied to career settings, impostor syndrome is a legitimate thing anywhere. It’s “a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ … Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.” (Thanks, wikipedia.)

What does this have to do with God? A whole lot, in fact.

I spent a lot of time sitting in churches, convincing myself it was real. We don’t have physical, tangible evidence of God, so the whole ordeal is based on faith. It’s not a lack of faith in Him—it’s a lack of faith in ourselves. We watch those around us raise their hands in praise or sing the glories of God, and we wonder why we don’t have the same ethereal glow. It’s why we begin questioning things: Is this God thing even real? Where do I belong? Am I spiritual enough to understand this?

It’s how I finally stepped out of the Baptist church at all. I felt like an impostor, but I stuck with it. I knew God was real, but I didn’t experience Him like everyone around me. It took a long time to realize that I wasn’t an impostor, and even longer to step out to seek the Truth. I wasn’t faking my faith, despite my fears, but it wasn’t the place I was meant to be expressing it.

When I started attending Catholic events, things were good for a while. I finally found the place where I could be myself, where I could focus on Him rather than my own feelings of inadequacy. But sometimes, as I sit or stand or kneel in Mass, the old impostor syndrome creeps back in. And it’s that old lingering doubt that I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m not like everyone around me. It’s a little scary, because I remember what it was like the last time I had those feelings, and what I went through to change it.

It’s also more pronounced this time: “What are you doing here?” it asks, surrounded by these people who know what they’re doing, who grew up in this Church. I know I’m completely wrong. I’m not the only one reading the creed out of the book, nor the only one not receiving the Eucharist. But it still feels like there’s a giant spotlight over my head declaring, She doesn’t belong here.

But I’ve come to understand that this will happen in any church. Anywhere. Impostor syndrome is completely selfish—it focuses on me and how I feel. When I stop feeling sorry for myself, and when I stop feeling self-conscious about not knowing all the responses, He comes back. When I focus on God, things are good. It’s why things were good when I started my conversion. Because I told myself over and over again, this isn’t about me. It’s a simple concept we forget too often.

So, sure, sometimes I feel like a giant fake when I attend Mass. But sometimes I don’t. The career-centric way of overcoming this is “fake it til you make it.” Keep on doing what you’re doing. You know this stuff. And if I keep on attending Mass, and I keep on praying… maybe one day I won’t feel like I’m faking it. But probably not. I’m still human, and I still do stupid things. But if I could be less stupid, maybe I’ll feel a little less like an impostor.

January 1

Even in the midst of 2017, I knew it was a transition year. Everything that I’d been searching for and moving toward came to pass during the year, not that I’d planned it that way. At the end of every year, people are ready to give it the boot. They want to start new, forget their past mistakes, and have an excuse to redefine themselves. But for me, 2017 was a good year—and that includes the dark times. But once I rose out of the darkest moments, everything came to light. Everything changed. And my transformation was truly beginning.

There’s no limit to what God has done for me this past year. I went from the fear of disagreeing with the church I’d been raised in (What if they are right?) to being welcomed by the Catholic Church to be one of its family. There were growing pains. There were feelings of emptiness, of loneliness, of doubt. There was unbridled joy, and tears of laughter. And there were questions. So many questions. For God, searching in His Word and the Catechism; for his priests, in which I doubted my very belonging in the Church; for my sponsor, who received the brunt of my stupid and sometimes obvious queries.

But God always answered. Sometimes not in the way I expected. Sometimes not in the way I wanted. But as I welcome 2018, I welcome Him more into everything I do. I need to keep Him at the center of everything, and I feel (I hope) I’m getting better at that. I’m certainly not perfect. I’m still a slothful, selfish, prideful human being. But little by little, He’s taking over. With every time I talk to Him, with every time I attend Mass, with every time I surround myself with His people—the Spirit shines brighter within me.

2017 was a growth spurt. I wasn’t going to receive the answers last year, but I started to learn the questions. And simply asking the right questions has guided me in the way He desired me to go. But that’s the easy part. Asking the questions has been easy, and even receiving some of the answers hasn’t been so bad. But living it? Not only listening, but doing?

This journey is long from over. If anything, I’m just getting started.