When You Feel Like an Impostor

Photo by Xenia Antunes

I smiled, hugged, and waved at the women who organized the women’s day as I opened the trunk to deposit my props and books inside. Clicking the unlock button, I climbed in the driver’s side, and turned the car keys as I rolled the window down. One more wave, I thought, as the smile was plastered on my face. They waved back, laughing and smiling.

And then I was out the driveway, onto the highway, heading home. The smile came off of my face. I exhaled loudly, slumped in my seat, set the cruise control, and hunted for a radio station to fill the car with music so I wouldn’t be alone with my thoughts.

I felt like an impostor.

I think that is one of the most common feelings speakers have after an engagement–or perhaps even before one! We worry about whether we were present our message properly, whether our message was relevant, correct, and effective. We’re nervous. We’re scared. And yet we have to appear upbeat, energetic, and excited all day as we’re surrounded by women who are hanging on to our every word.

At times it feels more like being in a high school play than it does delivering God’s message. So many times I feel as if I have been acting.

And I have learned that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

A phrase hit me this week as I was loading up the car with books, once again, to drive three hours away from my family to speak at a retreat. God said to me,

Can you offer me a sacrifice?

And in many ways, that’s what speaking is. It is hard to believe that, perhaps, when you are just starting out and you’re so desperate to get some speaking engagements. In many ways the inception of a ministry is a wonderful time–a period of dreaming and visioning and working and excitement.

But the time comes when those speaking engagements roll in, and we are consumed with doubt. I know my messages are effective. People tell me they are, they cry with me, they pray with me, and most of all, perhaps, they ask me back.

I also know, though, that some of the best days I have had speaking are not days when I have felt particularly energetic. They’re days when I had to push myself. When I had to remember that it was God who originally helped me to write this message, and it was God who gave me the gifts to deliver it. And so I deliver it, and I see the impact, but in the meantime I’m thinking about missing my own church that Sunday, and wondering how the youth are doing without me (I teach their class). And I’m wondering if Katie made it back from Youth group okay last night, and if she’s made up with that friend who was being silly to her last week. And I’m wondering if my husband’s okay, because he was on call on Friday night and he’s always tense being on call when I’m not there, because he hates having to leave the girls (even though they are teenagers now).

And quite frankly, I want an afternoon to knit. I haven’t had an afternoon to myself in a while, and I’m tired.

Yet nevertheless, despite all these things running through my mind, I plaster a smile on my face, and I deliver my message.

Am I an impostor?

Photo by doortoriver

No. I’m not. Here’s what I realized, driving back through the array of fall colours last weekend. Those words I spoke were true–whether or not I was excited by them right then. I have heard them so many times, given them so many times, that I sometimes miss the power of them. But God’s power is still there, in those words, and He does not depend upon my mood. He simply asks to use me–even if I’m not excited at that very moment.

Isn’t that what a sacrifice is? To offer yourself to God, knowing that what you have to share is important, even if your feelings aren’t necessarily in line right now? I’m not talking about sin in your life. If there are major sins, we definitely have to bring those before the Lord and work them through before we stand in front of an audience. But sometimes we’re just engulfed in our humanity–worried about health concerns, or family, or laundry, or church. And none of those things stops just because we have a speaking engagement.

Here’s another scene that is repeated many times when I speak: I am standing alongside my book table, shaking hands, hugging teary women, praying wih some. So many come to me and say, “that was just wonderful. You spoke directly to me.”

And I don’t know what to say. I want to cry, “I’m glad, but I’m worried about my daughter, and I wish that I could have been there for her today!” I want to say, “I sometimes wonder if I’ve lost my enthusiasm for this; why aren’t I more excited today?”

But I don’t feel that I can say those things, and so I simply smile and say, “thank you for telling me. I’m so glad.” And I leave it like that, empty, hanging in the air, as if there was something else that really should have been said.

I don’t leave it hanging anymore. Sometimes, in those moments when people sing my praises, I just decide to be honest once again. I say, “Thank you for that encouragement. I needed that today. I’m tired, and I sometimes wonder if I’m having an impact. So it’s so great to know that God can use me even with all the things I’ve got running through my mind, too!”

People appreciate that. They like knowing I’m human, too. And so I have realized I don’t have to be an impostor. I don’t have to pretend that everything is okay, that I was completely excited to be there, that there was no other place I would rather be, no other people who are tickling at the edges of my brain, no other concerns that I can’t seem to leave behind. It is not “acting” to act excited on stage, to deliver your message with a passion that you don’t necessarily feel. It is simply giving it the attention that it deserves because it is God’s message, and it IS exciting.

And usually, once I start, that excitement returns. Berate myself for feeling selfish, and it doesn’t.

I am trying to practice the art of being quiet on the drive home, of letting God speak to my heart, and quiet me after delivering a retreat. I am trying not to flee from the people who tell me that I spoke to them, trying not to flee from the thoughts that accuse me of not being worthy to speak because my heart is sometimes divided. I am simply offering God a sacrifice–my time and attention and energy–and a sacrifice has to cost something. In this case, it costs my emotions and my energy, and it is lovingly offered, even if sometimes it is difficult.

We cannot expect ourselves to be always on an even emotional level when we speak. Some days we will be over-the-top energetic. Other days we won’t. But God stays the same. And we are offering Him our sacrifice. We are offering Him our best delivery–even if we’re tired. And I believe He is happy with that, and that He will use it, if it is honestly offered, even in the midst of worry or exhaustion.

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12 Responses

  1. Thank you for this. It helps,

  2. Sheila,
    YES YES YES and more YES! Thank you for these words. I felt just this way when I spoke at an engagement a couple of weeks ago. I was sick with a sinus infection going into it, the weather was awful, and Satan was doing everything possible to kick my toush… AND afterwards, I sulked in my car and just begged God’s forgiveness because I thought I had failed Him… WOW. What a deceitful enemy we have against us. Transperency is something I think women struggle with in general, and especially in Women’s ministry. We are supposed to be leading others to be godly women excited and joyful…yet I think women need to also see us be human, broken before Christ. Life isn’t always excited and joyful…and when it isn’t, I think God appreciates our honesty and realness. Thanks for the blog! It is nice to know I am not alone!

  3. Thank you for sharing this post today. I really needed to read it and be reminded that it is okay to be myself and allow God to work through me. Our pastor talked on Sunday about offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Any sacrifice to really be a sacrifice needs to cost us something. Speaking costs our time, our energy, our emotions, our vulnerability to open up and share what God is doing and has done in our lives – sometimes in very tough circumstances and yes leaving behind our families, our own churches to share with others. But God loves to accept that from us – and bless us in return. Thanks Sheila for sharing.

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SheilaGregoire, Sheila Wray Gregoire. Sheila Wray Gregoire said: When You Feel Like an Impostor: http://wp.me/pnXmo-7R [...]

  5. I have accessed your web site for the first time today and want to tell you that God has used you to answer many questions that I have been praying about. Your honesty in today’s message made me sigh in relief but also with a smile, as I recall leaving a women’s retreat, where I was the guest speaker. The farewell, the thoughts, the emotions you describe were so similar to those that tormented me on my drive home that day & continued to haunt me. You have confirmed once again how satan uses the same weapons on God’s children to cause them to feel like a failure and to question the effectiveness of their ministry. Someone once told me that when I am being attacked after ministry by such thoughts, to believe the exact opposite, then I would know the truth. You have provided another example of the truth to that statement. Thank you Sheila for your timely anointed teaching.

  6. Thank you, Sheila, for this post. I have found that as I pursue speaking I am challenged in very different ways than I was in work settings where I daily dealt with people’s needs. We don’t have coworker speakers we see and work with every day. Others are supportive but may not “get” what we feel and the unique attacks that Satan saves for those who broadcast God’s words the way we do. Then we have this intense people time–and then we leave. That’s a lot for us to adjust to in such a short period.

    I love what I found recently when I read about the woman pouring the expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. When the men there challenged her and said that she’d done the wrong thing–that she what she did was a deplorable waste–the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were “Leave her alone.”

    He defended her and the sacrifice she offered. When Satan, circumstances, and even my fluctuating hormonal feelings come at me, I make it a point to remember that God defends me the same way and I have to say out loud the words of Jesus, “Leave her alone,” as a reminder that the Lord is my strong and mighty defender and my shield of victory.

  7. Well said. If we relied on how we feel every time, very little real ministry would occur. I used to say that if I didn’t serve the Lord Jesus Christ, I would be probably be serving the god of convenience! Our bodies and minds are finite – there’s no way we can be “on” all the time. I think it takes prayer to discern between mild fatigue that God wants to work through and the mind-numbing, bone-tired fatigue that He is, perhaps, using to tell us to take a break. Either way, we are not imposters.

  8. Excellent post! I’m the Stonecroft Speaker Trainer for Illinois and I’m planning to send it on to my speakers!

  9. Thanks Shelia.

    I’ve gone rounds and done battle with these same thoughts, feelings and emotions about writing and speaking and have put it on the back burner for this season of my life – a season which keeps getting more complicated, by the hour so it seems.

    I appreciate your honestly and will take these things to heart when the time comes.

    Blessings!

  10. After I speak I often wonder if “real” speakers have these thoughts and feelings. I wondered if “real” speakers have self doubt. I think it’s easier to recognize Satan’s attacks as I prepare for speaking … sickness, fatigue, sleeplessness, grumpiness with the family, etc. than after the speaking itself is done. The speaking preparations easily take top priority; after all, this is such a huge responsibility! But the emotional and physical letdown afterwards is much more numbing for me.

    I have also found that being quiet on the way home is God’s tender way of applying balm and speaking encouragement … if I put in the God tape and not the Satan tape. Our hearts are deceitful; they can’t be trusted.

    Thank you again, Sheila, for your transparency and providing a place for all of us to know that we aren’t alone in our calling.

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