I’ve written previously on this topic, specifically regarding motherhood. I felt the need to write again, with more general applicability and depth, and in light of the season upon us:
Popular Christian culture runs on catchphrases, some better than others. There’s the classic “bless his/her heart,” which you can say before insulting someone to render any offense completely null and void. Or “guard your heart,” which has a vast range of applications from truly prudent chastity decisions to avoiding any risks at all in life.
Of all the catchphrases, I am most baffled by the quintessential, Christian dignity talk one-liner: “You are enough.”
I do understand the sentiment and good intentions behind saying “You are enough.” (Heck, I’ve even used it prior to developing the ideas I’m about to share). But I must respectfully express that I find no truth to this phrase, or at least I find it too vague to understand what its truth is supposed to be. Yes, we are children of God with inherent dignity and worth. But how does that make us “enough,” and even if it does, then enough for what?
In most cases, “you are enough” is meant to encourage someone struggling with their limitations. They feel they are not enough, and we think the answer to this is to tell them that they are.
But the limitations we experience are very real, and we can’t deny the level to which they testify that we are not enough: not enough to fulfill the people around us, not strong enough to overcome sin, not powerful enough to save that friend in trouble. The phrase “you are enough,” while it might be applicable to occasional moments in our life, does not and cannot deal with the sum of our human experience and especially with the struggles toward which it is most often addressed.
So what answer can we give for such daily trials and this yearning to have something that can fill the void that our human limitations and weaknesses leave wide open? It’s not as though anyone in the Bible ever dealt with this and got a viable answer and…
Do you remember what God said to St. Paul when he was struggling with “a thorn in the flesh,” a thorn that he specifically describes as being given to him to remind him of his limited-ness?
It wasn’t “Hey, Paul, it’s okay. You’re enough, buckaroo!”
God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you,” and “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:6-10).
Rather than turning Paul back to himself in his time of struggle and denying Paul’s real experience of weakness, the Lord affirmed Paul’s experience and drew his attention to the truest source of fulfillment: God.
If we were “enough,” there would be no need for a savior, no need for Christianity period. In fact, the entire point of the past three months was to realize how desperately we need a savior and that our savior is none other than the almighty God.
Having finished those seasons emphasizing the Son’s role in our salvation and meditating upon our great need for Jesus and for His glorious death and resurrection, the upcoming holy day of Pentecost should likewise remind us that we are, indeed, not enough. God sends us the Holy Spirit precisely because He knows that we are not and cannot be sufficient unto ourselves for fulfillment in this life or the next. And He doesn’t give of Himself this way begrudgingly, but completely, eagerly, and willingly, as a person in love. Thus, we can now receive God the Holy Spirit–who is Grace itself, from an Eastern perspective–and that Grace is enough for us even as it was for St. Paul.
So the next time your weaknesses and limitations start getting you down, by all means, remember your God-given dignity and beauty and worth. But don’t tell yourself “I am enough,” as though you will somehow muster through this while God looks on and applauds. It will get you nothing except perhaps a subtle (or not so subtle) case of narcissism and/or anxiety over the dissonance between your mantra and your lived experience. Instead, realize that your feelings speak to the truth when they tell you that you are not enough, and rest in knowing that you’re not even supposed to be enough. That role is for God and God alone.
He wants to be enough, and He is the only one who can be enough for you and for anyone.
Copyright 2015, Brittany Balke
Images:“God the Father” Guercino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Icon of the Old Testament Trinity” Andrei Rublev [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons