Am I Enough?
And absolutely yes.
It’s a paradox: a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.
You are nowhere near enough.
You are absolutely enough.
How can both be true?
Today is my last day working for Union Gospel Mission. In this, my last blog post, I wanted to explore a truth, a crazy paradox, that God has been teaching me over and over again – a glimmer here, a slice there – for the past fourteen and a half years (and, honestly, the lesson started long before that). UGM proved to be an excellent training ground for the most profound lesson of my life.
One of my favorite children’s picture books (I have SO many favorites) is about a little girl named Myra in a preschool dance class. The other children are all working hard to make their limbs conform to first position (holding a watermelon), stand on their tiptoes, or gracefully squat in a plié while Myra moves in her own creative ways, pretending to be different animals. The other girls have their hair neatly pulled into tight little buns, but Myra’s is sticking out in every direction. Her tutu is slipping. Her tights have a hole. She loses a shoe.
For most of my life, I have felt like Myra. Like everyone except me got the instruction manual, and I have been desperately playing catch up. Not enough, not enough, not enough has been my life refrain, but I also wanted to believe I could prove the voice wrong. I could be enough. And, so, I became a performer.
Have you heard of a dry drunk? I think a performer is a bit like that. Gritting your teeth, pulling up your tutu, using all the bobby pins to tame your wild mane, working overtime, studying harder to prove to yourself (and the world) that you are enough. The problem is that no matter how good you get at performing, the voice is never silenced. The bar keeps moving.
I have interviewed so many people at UGM who told me they thought they were the odd one, the weirdo, but coming to UGM taught them 1) so many other people felt exactly the same; and 2) it's OK to be yourself. You do not have to be like everyone else. I have tried hard to claim that truth. You are Myra, and it's OK.
In the Authentic Manhood class at UGM, they teach that the central question of any man’s life is “Do I have what it takes?” I’m not sure of the official answer, but I think the question is very similar to the one I’ve been asking, Am I enough?
Am I a good mom? A good wife? A good writer? A good boss? A good sister? A good Christian? If I’m not, could I get there with just a little more effort, a few more hours, a little more discipline? Do I have what it takes to succeed? What if I fail?
Here is the hard truth: I am never going to be good enough. I am never going to live up to my own expectations with regard to what a good mom, a good wife, a good grandma looks like, let alone God’s standard of what is good. Even with the Holy Spirit living inside me, the bar is just too high. I am human. I am frail. I am weak. I am selfish. I do the things I don’t want to do. And I don’t do the things I want to do.
I want to be available all the time to everyone who needs me. I want to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus. I want to love the people who call me a “horrible human.” I want to forgive the people who have betrayed me. I want to love God with all my heart and all my mind and all my strength. I want to eat healthy, exercise, and maintain a perfect work-life balance. I want to be like Jesus. I want to love the Bible and thirst after it. I want to love worship and lose myself in it. I want to abandon all prejudice and recognize each and every person as a child of God, loved and precious to him. I want to treat everyone at all times with respect and never let my own woundedness get in the way. [I also want to have a perfect garden, free of weeds, that yields delicious, organic produce, be effortlessly thin and fashionable, financially successful and write a meaningful, best-selling book, but hey, that seems like a bit much.]
I cannot do all these things, and if I don't accept that, I will end up pretending that I can. A deadly move. A move that will take me away from God, away from grace. Perhaps the best gift people walking through the doors of UGM receive is the freedom to stop pretending. Stop pretending there isn't pain. Stop pretending they're fine. Stop pretending they are enough all by themselves, and they don't need anyone else.
Doesn’t the Bible say, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you? Doesn’t it say that when you are in Christ, you are a new creature? The old things have passed away? Doesn’t it say that we are more than conquerors? That if we love God, we will be perfect as Jesus is perfect?
It does say all those things, and perhaps, like me, you have been reproaching yourself with those words for years. I beg you to take a closer look. Who is doing the work?
Maybe, like me, you’ve been thinking that the Bible is primarily a book meant to tell you how to live, a series of moral examples to follow. Do this and you can have the courage of David to go up against Goliath. Do that and you can lead people through the desert to the Promised Land. Have enough faith and you can move mountains and make a name for yourself as a great evangelist, a faith healer, a man after God’s own heart. Do the right thing and you will be rewarded. You will be enough. You will be a success.
Let me suggest a different way to look at the Bible. What if the Bible is a storybook filled with the failures of God’s people and His tireless pursuit of them? What if, after Genesis 3, the stories all reflect fallen human nature and a fallen, broken world hungering and thirsting for God but so often hiding, shaking our fists, or running from Him?
And what if that is also the story of the Union Gospel Mission, not just for the people coming through our doors seeking help, but also the staff, the donors and the volunteers – the people coming through our doors offering help?
For more on what I've learned at UGM, specifically regarding God's love for the poor, download the free e-book below.