I was sitting in the parking lot of Bed, Bath and Beyond the other day with Andrew in the backseat, and I don’t know why, but I suddenly had this thought pop into my head: I’m stupid. I didn’t push it away, like usual. I didn’t fight or flee. I got out of the car and took Drew into Best Buy.
There’s a great quote from the Sabrina remake with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond: “Do I look stupid? You know, I never thought of myself as stupid, but maybe I am.”
When I was a kid, I was smart. At least, that’s what people told me. School came easily and reading took no time at all. Writing was fun, not drudgery—my hand would cramp because I couldn’t move it fast enough, not with all the ideas flowing. I knew big words and I remembered all the lyrics to songs. In high school, I studied hard and got good grades. In college, I had this one science class that knocked me on my butt, and I met Thomas during that class so I didn’t notice how bad I was at science. I became a teacher, and I like it. I learn a lot from teaching, and it’s fun.
But every now and then I feel this whisper in my head that says, “you’re stupid. It’s all an act. You don’t know how to DO anything. If you didn’t have a list in front of you…if Thomas wasn’t making all the decisions…if you had to teach a harder subject…if your son was more of a challenge…” and the ending never really materializes. It’s just sort of a vague fear that’s over the horizon, and I hope I never meet it.
Disaster. I fear disaster, and I’m afraid that my own stupidity will summon it. When I was in college I used to record myself reading textbooks for the blind. I’d sit in a tiny recording room and click little buttons while talking slowly into a microphone. Once, I pressed the wrong button in the recording studio, and all the equipment turned on at once. The blaring, horrifyingly loud noise of all the speakers at full volume, screaming in my ears—it seemed to shake the walls. And as I unplugged everything (I don’t fully remember the next few minutes), I remember thinking how stupid they were to let me use the studio alone, and how stupid I was to think I could do this. I went back a few more times, then I quit, and forgot that I’d ever done it.
I fear that my stupidity will hurt other people. I accidentally drove over a curb the other day and frantically prayed to God that the tire wouldn’t burst and that I wouldn’t be stranded on some forgotten street with my phone nearly dead. Like a stupid person who couldn’t drive and couldn’t find her phone charger. What if Drew had been in the car? What if somebody needed me and my phone was dead? What if EVERYONE thought I was stupid, and was just being nice?
I’ve heard of this phenomenon called “Imposter Syndrome”—as far as I can tell, it means that lots of people fear that they’re stupid and that someday people will know.
I get scared that I’ll forget something important. I get scared that I’ll say the wrong thing to someone and their opinion of me will forever implode. I’ve done it before. I wonder if people are talking about me behind my back. I wonder if I deserve it.
Why am I being so depressing? I’m glad you asked.
Because I spent so much time with Tinahorse getting the stains out of the rug, and there are more. Andrew continues to drop things and they continue to discolor the carpet. My Spanish still isn’t worth more than half a sentence when I need to tell someone something. And as many goals as I’ve met, I still sometimes wonder if it’s all for nothing. Maybe “feeling competent” isn’t the same as being competent. If it was, nobody would be depressed. And I’m a little down, guys. I’m ticking items off the list but it’s harder than it is fun.
The bright spot is this—and it’s more of a reminder than a new bit of information, as many things are when you’re a Christian. I was talking to Thomas, and I said, “I’m afraid I’m stupid.” He began to talk to me about how I wasn’t stupid, but I didn’t really listen…because he had something stuck in his beard, sure, but also because I was having another one of those thoughts out of nowhere. Only this one wasn’t vague, it was perfectly clear, like something typed out in neat black ink. It was this verse my Dad quoted to me when I was twelve.
I was wearing one of his shirts as a sleep shirt, and we were sitting on the green couch. He was telling me to repeat the verse back to him. It was this one: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.”
I’ve read the Bible and I know the Psalms are as contextual as everything else. I know there’s more to that chapter. But that was a prayer I prayed as a child, and when you worry that you’re stupid, you become a child, because that’s a childish fear. Or at least, it is for me. In Perelandra, Dr. Ransom tells his companion, “Say a child’s prayer, if you can’t say a man’s!” And so I did. I sat there and prayed that I wouldn’t be scared I was stupid.
Because even if I am, stupid isn’t the end of the world. And the end of the world—whatever that fear is, over the horizon that we can’t face—and it’s always faceless, the thing that is the end of the world—I can’t deal with it. I just have to pray. There’s a great chapter about that in The Screwtape Letters, if Perelandra isn’t your thing or all the dense writing makes you feel stupid.
So anyway, back to the parking lot outside Bed, Bath and Beyond. I said to whatever was telling me how stupid I was, “ok, maybe I am.” Then I stopped listening, and I took Drew into Best Buy. I didn’t have time to worry about whether I was stupid or not, because I had Drew to deal with. And I don’t really EVER have time to worry about that. It’s a losing battle, trying to feel smarter or feel competent. But I would like to BE smarter and more competent. So I’m glad I made The List. I’ll keep doing things, following the instructions, trying this and trying that, and checking things off. When I get to heaven, God won’t ask me to answer a bunch of questions to see how smart I am. This is a struggle for me and He knows it—He knows because He is the smartest, and He loves me.
Thanks, Team. Don’t be afraid. Just follow the directions and trust God to handle everything.