Finding Belonging When You Feel Spiritually Out of Place

Out of Place – Kate’s Story

The white tile floor cooled down my skin. My body was flushed and warm to the touch because I’d spent the last twenty minutes crying on that same bathroom floor. The tears, the anguish of overwhelming doubt — they had become my nightly routine. Every night, I lay in bed awake asking the same question, “How do I know I’m really saved?”

My story seemed so different from everyone else’s. When I asked my mom how she knew I was a believer, she simply replied, “We just knew.” Not surprisingly, this logical brained little girl did not find that a satisfying answer. Especially not when the rest of my friends at my small Christian school knew exactly which teacher, classroom, and outfit they were wearing when it happened for them and I didn’t have a story to recall for everyone else.

So every night I wrestled … needing proof that I wasn’t going to go to hell. I don’t remember what abated my fears, but at some point they left … until college, when another type of doubt swept across me.

A Different Kind of Doubt

I stood in a chapel surrounded by other believers raising their hands in worship and singing that year’s Chris Tomlin hit at the top of their lungs while tears began to form in their eyes and roll down their cheeks at a snail’s pace.

I didn’t usually — if ever — experience God that way. I experienced God’s love with my mind, not my emotions. I devoured Christian non-fiction for fun. I bought commentaries and concordances, and my favorite assignments were our exegetical papers in my undergrad theology classes.

But over and over as I watched my peers worship with their emotions, doubts began to creep in … was I really experiencing God? Was I missing something because I didn’t “feel” him in the same way others did?

I did find tears, but they were tears desperate to be like everyone else … tears that fell down my face as I prayed that God would give me more emotions to experience him with.

My entire life I’ve experienced Impostor Syndrome – doubting my accomplishments and talents even in the face of success. But until recently, I didn’t realize that I also had Spiritual Impostor Syndrome — back in my younger years and sometimes even today — until we were studying the Great Awakening in my Sunday School class recently.

There were three big stars in the Great Awakening: Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley. Though each of them was different in style and even somewhat in belief and practice, there’s one thing their stories have in common.

Each was engaged in their college years of study in theology, and some even were actively ministering, when they each had what they decided was their “conversion experience.” And each of them had differing theological viewpoints through which they would explain such a phenomenon, but what I really wondered is: does the road to glorification through sanctification constantly feel a bit like Spiritual Impostor Syndrome?

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

There were two scientists named Dunning and Kruger. They did a study of competent and incompetent people. And as it turns out, the top percentage of those who had the most confidence in the tasks they completed were actually the least competent.

What about those who were most competent? Well, the top percentage of that segment had the lowest confidence level. Those who were incompetent actually had the most confidence. The most competent had the lowest confidence level.

As they continued to study this, they realized there’s more to the story. We actually ALL go through the cycles of competence and confidence and both … over and over and over again.

Today it’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. And I think it’s completely similar to how our spiritual lives form throughout our lives.

You reach a challenge, and you’re ready to take it on. But a couple of weeks into said challenge, and you’re feeling utterly incompetent to overcome it. You hit rock bottom, and you reach out to peers, mentors, and, of course, God. You get the help you need to overcome this challenge and you’re boosted back to feeling competent in this area — or at least you know where to look first next time it happens so you feel pretty good about it.

Then, the next challenge comes and the cycle repeats. Or if you’re like me, it’s the same challenge dressed in different circumstances.

Not all of these challenges feel salvation-threatening — if any. But they do feel heavy. They make you wonder why you signed up for all this, and in the end, they lead you a little closer to the Cross and the version of yourself that you’ll be in Heaven.

Edwards, Whitefield, and Wesley all had a NEW experience with God. That’s why it became their “conversion” experience. It was a way of encountering God that they hadn’t had before. It had emotions or it had miracles, and it made them realize there was more to their salvation than the knowledge they had before.

It was their Dunning-Kruger dipping moment, and man, if that isn’t relatable, I don’t know what is, but it also wasn’t until learning these facts that I began to wonder if others felt the same about how I experience God.

Does my head knowledge trigger Spiritual Impostor Syndrome in someone else’s heart knowledge? Does someone without my life experiences feel it when I talk about what I’ve seen around the world and believe now? Do people watch me teach in Bible study or write words like this and wonder if they’re doing something wrong in their walk because they can’t or don’t do this?

I honestly never considered it, but isn’t that the point of sanctification?

It’s not just to make us more holy but to make us more whole. I imagine that throughout our lives we’ll continue to find ourselves meeting God in new ways, places, and people. We’ll wonder if we’ve got it wrong and realize we probably do and start the cycle over.

I imagine that throughout our lives we’ll continue to find ourselves meeting God in new ways, places, and people. We’ll wonder if we’ve got it wrong and realize we probably do and start the cycle over.

Holy and Whole

Your Spiritual Impostor Syndrome is just a stopping point on the way to the next step in your sanctification.

The Spirit knows what we need. My biggest areas of growth came out of those moments of my Spiritual Impostor Syndrome. The moments of doubt, wonder, and rock bottom made me uncomfortable, and they made me long for more of God. I expect that the next stages of my life will continue in the same way.

From now on, I want to embrace it more fully — knowing that sanctification isn’t pretty, and it certainly isn’t easy. Because I know that someday — unlike here on earth with my non-spiritual competencies, the cycle will complete. God will make me whole and holy … and that’s worth working toward today.

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

Success! You're on the list.

Meet Kate Boyd

Kate Boyd is a writer, speaker, and Bible teacher. She is passionate about helping believers build biblical community with intimacy and integrity so together they become happy and holy disciples that influence the world around them. Check out the Happy and Holy podcast here! She would love to connect with you on her website, on Instagram, on Facebook, and on Twitter

*Feature Photo by Thomas Vitali on Unsplash

Posted by

Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

2 thoughts on “Finding Belonging When You Feel Spiritually Out of Place

  1. This really resonated with me, Kate. I think that part of the reason people like you and I feel this way is the overemphasis on emotionalism and “heart” language that modern protestant evangelicalism places on Christianity–the heart is literally the place we’ve been told Jesus comes to dwell! The discovery of older contemplative forms of spirituality and prayer practice, such as the Jesuit Examen prayer, have greatly helped me in my own faith journey. Being able to look at the history of Christian spiritual practices across the centuries and across denominations is such a gift….and also helps me realize that worship and prayer practices go through “trends” just as much as anything else. Thank you for representing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s