The pain was sharp and paralyzing, and I doubled over and clutched my chest. “How old do you have to be to have a heart attack?” I gasped to my older sister.
“Older than twelve, honey,” she said smiling. “I think you’re just nervous about starting junior high tomorrow. It’s heartburn or something.” She headed to the bathroom for Tums.
This memory keeps popping up lately, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve just started a new job. Transitions are tough for me, and they awaken familiar angst. Even as I write this, a voice in my head tells me that it’s not a real job, that I’m not getting paid, that it’s only part-time, that I’m kind of a fraud. Just like my twelve-year-old self heading off to seventh grade dressed in fishnet stockings and a miniskirt, playing the cool teenager, but knowing inside that I was a fraud, just a knee-socked, saddle-shoed elementary school kid in disguise.
The fraudulent feeling is in full fling as I start my new position as a pastor. An “unordained pastor” in an independent community church, I was simply commissioned by my congregation to help lead, not educated at Divinity school, not given any fancy vestments, not awarded any letters to put after my name. The words exegesis and systematic theology mean about as much to me today as the words calculus and civics did to me the night my sister diagnosed my adolescent heartburn.
The not-good-enough-fraud discomfort is second only to my fear of not belonging when it comes to transitional angst.
In June of sixth grade, I walked to school with a pack of neighborhood kids I’d known all my life. The following September I was waiting at a bus stop with a bunch of rowdy older boys I’d never met before. Only three kids from my elementary school transferred to my junior high, and none of them were in my homeroom. I threw up in the girl’s room that first day.
Today I’m sitting in a writing class with a roomful of Divinity school graduates, mostly ordained pastors, who are speaking Greek – literally – and I’m flashing back to not being able to open my locker or figure out how to change classes. I might as well be cringing naked in the gym shower room.