Today, I was posting the weekly installment of Sunday Thoughts for a Monday World on the website for my faith community. Today’s Gospel lesson can be interpreted in various ways, but to me, its a story of someone who is suffering from that all-too-familiar-to-me “impostor syndrome” that can undermine all of our strengths. In case you haven’t encountered that term before, think of a time when you were in a place where you had been invited: a classroom, a workplace, a party, or another important event. Did you ever look around and think, “Look at all these other [intelligent, attractive, deserving, etc.] people. They deserve to be here…I had better not let on to who I really am, because they’ll find out I don’t belong!”
This scene is really familiar to me. I have played it out far more times than I would like to admit, actually.
I remember vividly sitting in the lovely, elegant wood-framed dining area of Holmes Lounge at Washington University in St. Louis at a table full of these brilliant, amazing, motivated PhD students from around the country and around the globe. Amid sandwiches and salads, they all spoke so eloquently about what they hoped to study as even more brilliant, experienced researchers and scholars asked them to talk about their substantive areas. Until about a week prior, no one had ever used the term “substantive area” in my presence before. I was a social worker; I sat in people’s homes listening and supporting in the midst of loss. I sat in cramped, dingy lunch rooms with my colleagues eating yogurt and leftovers between clients. I sat in meetings with the medical examiner and read through autopsy reports with families through tears and swirling questions. I always had more questions than answers, more doubts than security. I sat in a space that felt too good for me, stuffing bites of salad in my mouth in hopes that I wouldn’t be asked my “substantive area” not because it wasn’t important to me and to all those families I had worked with, but because I didn’t believe I belonged. I felt like the impostor.
I had to make a choice that day, at that table. I had already made big decisions: to relocate, to enroll in a PhD program, to step into the unknown of becoming a scholar instead of remaining in the comfort of doing a job I knew well. But that moment was in itself a choice: was I willing to step into the invitation that had been offered to me? Did I trust the invitation I had received to study in this place, with these people? Was I willing to embrace this new role, or would I keep myself hidden inside my cloak of insecurity?
In my life, just like in this parable Jesus is telling, we actually do belong. We have been invited, and we have been given all that we need to be fully present as our authentic selves without shame. We are not impostors. I may not have felt smart enough, good enough, wealthy enough, privileged enough to be at the table where I sat. But, I was at that table because I had been invited by those who saw potential in me that perhaps even I couldn’t see at the time. My University believed there was a “Sarah the Scholar” long before I embraced that role. But, I also had to choose to believe this, whether or not I felt it. I had to say a full and honest “yes” to the invitation to be present. I put on a role that didn’t yet feel like my own, and talked with guests that seemed so much more worthy than I was to be there. In retrospect, they were feeling the same way. In a few weeks, our friendship and collegiality would deepen. We would learn our new roles, and find that we fit them more than perhaps we thought we did. We would begin to see each other more authentically and humanly, filled with both strengths and challenges. We would become community.
To me, when I read this story that Jesus is telling, I see this same scene playing out. I suspect most of the guests there put on the wedding robes and made a choice: to trust the invitation that they were welcomed, and that they belonged. No where in the parable does it say that the guests were free of self doubt. But they were there, wearing their robes and stepping in where invited. Eventually, the guests would come to know each other and in doing so, they would become a beloved community who could reflect each other’s strengths. The guest who showed up but didn’t wear the robe…well, that would have been me if I had kept my head down eating my salad, and let my insecurity get in the way of answering the question and learning the role. I would have wasted the invitation extended to me. No one was taking it away from me. But, I could have just as easily become the outcast if I gave in to the impostor syndrome because I would be blind to the strengths, the possibilities…and, to use a God-word, the grace…of the invitation.
So, I offer up this story as a parable of life, wherever you are on your own journey. We have been invited and welcomed to the abundance of this feast that is our lives. We don’t have to feel worthy, or good-enough, smart-enough, beautiful-enough. We are invited and welcomed exactly as we are. All that we need to do…ever…is step into the divine grace of that yes and allow ourselves to be transformed by being present at the feast of this life to which we have been welcomed and invited. We are not impostors: we are learning to recognize and clothe ourselves in the fullness and authenticity of our humanity and the Divine that dwells in us. We are all guests at this feast, continually learning who we are, and Whose we are.
Welcome. We all belong.