"We study theology properly because we are curious and find pleasure in the subject." -Jürgen MoltmannWhen I first began my studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, I had an intense feeling that I did not belong here. It wasn't for lack of theological compatibility or because of any feeling that other people believed differently (although some of those initial conversations surprised me). In fact, I remember feeling liberated because I was finally in a community where I could use the term "eschatological" and people knew what I was saying. And it wasn't because people weren't hospitable (though not everyone was). Most people were very kind and extremely welcoming. The reason I felt I didn't belong was because I didn't feel smart enough to be here. Somehow, I must have tricked someone or slipped through the system. Why would a kid with a 2.3 high school GPA and 2.8 college GPA, who barely passed basic math his senior year, be accepted at such a good school (and even though PTS students are quick to downplay the school by reminding people that it's not Princeton University, it is a good school)?
Somehow I'd slipped in ...but I wasn't going to argue. The only problem was that now I had to actually perform. I had to convince people that I wasn't a fraud. Around here, we call this "imposter syndrome" ...and it's an epidemic.
I did whatever I could do to sound smart, or at least not to sound stupid. Sometimes I even fell for the temptation to try to make other people feel stupid. This is what makes Christian community so very difficult in seminary, especially in such a good seminary; perhaps even more difficult than in the church. We all have imposter syndrome. Or at least enough of us have it to make thing hard on ourselves.
I did discover, at some point, that I wasn't alone. And when I discovered that I wasn't the only person who felt like a fraud, I realized, however briefly, that I did belong.
I say briefly because now, in the beginning of my fourth and final year of seminary, as I prepare my application for Ph.D. program(s), it's all come rushing back. Why am I pretending that I should be considered for candidacy for the highest academic degree in my field? Why am I expecting to slip through the system yet again?
I am coming off of perhaps my most difficult summer in the last decade (if not my whole life). Working three jobs including a pastoral ministry position, finishing an article I had no business writing, studying for and taking the GRE (a comprehensive exam used to evaluate graduate applicants across all sorts of academic disciplines), and giving what little I had left to be a good father and husband (of course I know this is wrong and my family should come first...you don't need to lecture me, I can do that myself), I put my spirit through more than it should've had to bear. My insecurities are screaming as I enter one more semester.
I say all this with some hesitation. Should I be confessing so much? Am I being too hard on myself? Perhaps I am. I do, in fact, feel a sense of calling. I did, from the beginning, feel called by God to the place where I am. And I feel called by God to pursue the path that I am pursuing. It certainly isn't just about trying to measure up. But I fear that if I do not consider the deepest confession, if I do not release even this to the will of God, I will carry the burden with me into the semester and squander the blessing of this place--the blessing of truly doing what I love to do and participating in the calling to which I have been invited.
Confession is how we offer ourselves to God. This is why confession is essential to worship.
And that's what I am here to do. Not to study, not to get good grades, not to impress anyone, not even to change the world. I am here to worship God. I am here, not out of some necessity. I am invited to be here and do this for joy. I am here to enjoy God. The only fraud is the one who does theology for any other reason than the glorification and enjoyment of God. And this makes us all frauds--a community of imposters--made right and accepted only through the grace of God and not according to our own merit.
So my prayer this semester is that God would be worshiped in my life. My prayer is that all of this--the articles, the grades, the test scores, the recommendation letters--may be counted as loss for the sake of Jesus Christ.
I am offering this year--with every page I read or write--to God. And I'm coming back to what I have been invited here to do.