When Is “Enough” Enough?

shutterstock_236380858Today I stopped at the post office to drop off a tray of mail, and I pulled up next to a very joyful, elderly gentlemen that was parked in a handicapped spot.  He was trying to get back into his car, which required getting his walker collapsed and into the backseat before he could get in himself.   I acknowledged him and asked if he needed assistance, but he just smiled and said he didn’t.  When I came back out from dropping off the mail, he hadn’t progressed very far in what he was doing, though he was still as joyful as he was when I walked in.  As I got into my car, I couldn’t help but think, “How blessed am I that I am able to walk to my car, get in and drive here and then carry in a tray full of mail and drop it off without missing a beat?”  Even with all my own aches and pains, I go about most daily tasks without even giving them a second thought.

It seems we get so caught up in the things that are wrong with us, or the things we need to change, that we forget about all the things that are right and don’t need to change at all.  We forget about the things in us that are perfect.  Yes, I said perfect.  We all have things about us that are exactly as God created them to be, and we need to embrace those things instead of taking them for granted.  I am not a perfect person.  I may not do anything perfectly, but as a child of God, I am already perfect in His eyes.  I am perfect in His eyes because when He looks at me, He sees me through the blood of Jesus Christ, and every time I fail at something or do something wrong, it is covered with that blood.  God sees me as who He created me perfectly to be.  I see myself as who I am with all of my failures and imperfections, and I think, “If I could just try harder, people would appreciate me more.  If I could just be better, people would love me more.  If I could just not mess up…if I could just be ‘enough,’ everything in my life would be grand.”

I spent most of my life feeling like whatever I did, or whoever I am, was/is just not quite enough.  I was raised with the perspective that if you have the ability to do something, you should do it, and if you are going to do something, then you should always do it to the best of your ability.  That is a very good way of approaching life, but the portion that was never really taught or emphasized was the price you pay when that mindset goes to the extreme.  shutterstock_228054031For me it was never about materialistic things (possessions or money), and it still isn’t, but the mindset is still manifested in other ways.  I heard somebody tell a story about speaking with a very rich friend and he asked this friend, “How much is enough?”  The gentleman responded, “Just a little bit more. “  That sticks with me.  When working for a company, how much is enough effort?  When is it enough?  My answer has always been, “Just a little bit more.”  How much will you give before it is enough?  My answer has been, “I need to do just a little bit more because I have the ability to work more or give more.”   Remember, I have always believed that  if you have the ability and you are going to do something, do it to the best of your ability – to the maximum of your ability.  I have a lot of interests and things in which I engage.  I’m driven to do every single one of them to the “best of my ability.”  Luckily I’m fairly intelligent and creative, and I am able to juggle a lot of things at once (and I have done so over the course of my life).  I think if I CAN do all of these things and excel at them, then I SHOULD do them, because anything short of that is not enough.  Anything short of that means I’m failing.  It means I’m average and I don’t want to be average.  I want to be excellent.

People say I’m competitive, and I am.  But what most of them have never understood is it isn’t so much that I’m competitive with them; it’s that I’m competitive with myself.  If I know I have the ability to be the best or to be first, then I am upset if I’m not.  It’s not because someone else was first or deserved it; I’m upset because I failed when I knew I could have succeeded.  That’s a really hard expectation to live up to in life.  We put such extreme pressure on ourselves to succeed and be the best in everything we do or every time we touch something, that when we aren’t perfect, we see it as an abject failure.  The truth is we aren’t a failure, we are simply human.  It doesn’t matter that we may have things for which we have superb and sometimes unbelievably amazing skills.  There will still be times that we do not reach our full potential when we engage in them.  That doesn’t mean we failed!

shutterstock_219355915Doing things to the best of our ability (in the sense to which I am referring), comes with a price.  We need to start talking more about that price because it is often extremely high.  I’ve paid that price at times in my life because it seemed less costly than feeling upset or distraught when I think someone is disappointed in me.   I’ve paid that price at times because everything in me screams, “You have the ability to not disappoint them!”  It’s interesting how nothing in me ever screams, “They have unrealistic expectations!”  Nothing in me screams, “YOU have unrealistic expectations of yourself!”   Just because I can, doesn’t always mean I should.   Just because I can, doesn’t mean it’s the best for me.  Doing everything I CAN to the  best of my ability will drain me, wear me out, and eventually destroy me.  It will do the same to you.  I’m not saying we should be lazy or careless, but we look at anything short of perfection or giving more than we have as exactly those things.  And most of us don’t want to be seen that way.

So when is it enough?  I am certain I’m not the only one who struggles with the fact that “enough” always seems just barely out of reach.  It’s like I can touch it with my fingertips, but I can’t grab it.  As a result, I am often filled with anxiety, guilt, disappointment and even a feeling that I should be punished because I haven’t lived up to my potential.  Doing everything you can to the best of your ability shouldn’t mean doing it better than everyone else.  Most people would say they agree with that statement, but when you watch them, you often see people who are actually not content with the level of their ability.   Maybe it is better stated this way:  Do things to the best of you.  You need to be the best you in all ways – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  And the best “me” is the one that is healthy, peaceful and without continual stress, anxiety and emotional upheaval.   Living under the pressure of those latter traits is not an abundant life.  God said, “I came that they may have life, and that they may have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  Most of us say we want that, but maybe we really don’t.  Maybe I want everyone else’s approval more than I want an abundant life.  Maybe I want to live up to unrealistic expectations more than I want to live an abundant life, because doing so makes me feel superhuman. We (I) think the busier we are, the more valuable we are, but an abundant life isn’t frantic.  It also isn’t draining.  On the contrary, it is fulfilling.  An abundant life isn’t about being enough or doing enough.  It isn’t about trying to be enough;  it is in knowing you already are!  It is knowing that God already loves you completely – even as you are.  You don’t  have to (and can’t) do anything to earn it.  You can’t do anything to make Him love you more.   Your choices certainly determine your level of peace and blessings in life, but they aren’t going to make God love you anymore than He already does, because you are already “enough” in His eyes.  We need to stop trying to be and do enough.  The apostle Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content” (Phil 4:11).  Contentment is peaceful.  It is not stressful.  It does not put such mental and physical stress on your body and mind that you cave in upon  yourself…because eventually you will  and it will come out somewhere.

shutterstock_227837773When is enough “enough?”  It is enough right now.  And when you start to struggle with the expectations of others, or more importantly of yourself, you need to step back and say, “I am a child of God, and in His eyes, through the blood of His Son, I am perfect…and I am enough.”  If I could step back and live contented with the knowledge and understanding that I am enough, then  it won’t matter what anyone else thinks of me or what they think my choices should be.  As long as I am following what I know God would have me to do, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  And if stepping back and simply doing what I am called to do causes loss in my life, then so be it…because letting go of the perspective that “enough” is “just a little bit more,” will free up space for us to grab and hold to those thing that make us realize we are more than enough.  Letting go of those things that are draining us (as scary or unsettling as that may seem), will free us from doing things to the best of our ability and leave it up to God to do things through us to the best of His.

Blessings!

The Ignorant Battle Cry of Christians

shutterstock_148970525Recently, people of faith all over the world celebrated the resurrection of their Lord and Savior.  They celebrated the God who loved us all so much that He was willing to take on a human body, suffer more than anyone has ever suffered, and die the most horrible, unspeakable death for us because He loved us and wanted us to be free.   You’d think this would inspire these same people of faith to try to live more closely to the teachings of the One in which they have put their faith, but that doesn’t always happen.

Recently, I listened to a member of the clergy speak publicly with such venom and hatred for people who were different, believed differently, or God forbid, were “them old sinners.”  When it started, it was almost humorous, because it seemed almost like a caricature of what the media portrays Christians to be.  But as I continued to listen, humor turned to surprise, then to disappointment and finally to disgust.  All I wanted to do was to shout out, “You are the problem!”  Because the truth is that God loves ALL the world and every single person in it.  He loves those we would classify as “good” as well as those we would say are “bad” (eg. Hitler, Bin Laden, Manson, etc.).  It makes no difference who you are, because in God’s eyes we are all the same.  No matter what we do or engage in, or how we choose to live our lives, He loves us with everything He has.  In John 3:16, we are told that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him, will not die, but have everlasting life.”  And then it also tells us that  “God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8).  He loved everyone while we were still rejecting Him.  He loves  us before we are “cleaned up.”  He loves us so much that He died for us WHILE we were rejecting Him.  That’s pretty amazing!

In today’s society, there seem to be more attacks on Christianity, but the truth is we bring much of that on ourselves.  If we weren’t so bitter and mean, maybe it would be a little different.  If we discussed our beliefs from a heart of love and lived the way Christ wants us to live, maybe so many people wouldn’t be so angry.  Make no mistake, Jesus told His followers that the world hated Him and as a result, they would also be hated at times.  (John 15:18-25).  So rest assured there will always be opposition to Christ and those who follow His teachings, but my point is that Jesus was about inclusion, not exclusion.  Jesus was about love not hate.  He never spoke with venom.  He never screamed at people.  He wasn’t about pride;  He was about humility.  He wasn’t about condemnation.  He wasn’t about prejudice of any kind.  He was about love.  shutterstock_247287523And yet I sat there listening to this clergyman shouting loudly and passionately how proud he was that he was raised knowing that abortion is sin and that “homosexuality is an “abomination!”  (Yes, that is a quote!)  He shouted about how we all need to “hold fast to the doctrines of our fathers!”  And inside, I was screaming, “NO, we don’t!!”  What we need to do is to hold fast to the truth of God’s word, not simply what our fathers or grandfathers taught us, or even what we have heard out of the mouths of pastors.  We are to hold fast, true and strong to the truth of God’s word, not man’s.  God has promised that if you seek the truth, you will find it, and you may even do so without a preacher.  I know that statement will be considered heretical to some people, but it is God who reveals the truth to you.  A preacher (or anyone else) can only share scripture and live an example before others, but if you are seeking the truth and you ask God to reveal to you what His word means, then He will.  We must study His word to gain knowledge, but the wisdom and revelation associated with it is a gift.   “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all generously and without reproach.”  (James 1:5)

Every person’s relationship is between that person, God and no one else.  Do our spiritual relationships affect other people?  They most certainly do, and to hear such passionate ignorance delivered in such an unloving attitude – and  to hear people actually cheer out loud – was one of the most disturbing things I have ever witnessed.  God is love, and to sit there listening to someone who claims to be one of His representatives shout in ways that declared certain types of sinners were less holy than him, made me sick to my stomach.  We are ALL sinners and equally guilty and I kept thinking of the story in the Bible (Luke 18:9-14) of a very religious man that was similar.  In a nutshell, this religious, faithful, church-going man prayed out loud so everyone could hear him, “Oh thank you God that I’m not like these other people!  I thank you that I’m faithful.  I thank you that I follow you.  I thank you I’m not like these robbers, evildoers or other terrible people like this man over here!”  The other man he referred to had been standing a distance away by himself and wouldn’t even lift his head and look up toward Heaven.  He beat on his chest and cried out, “Oh God be merciful to me because I’m a sinner!”   Jesus said it was the SECOND man that was justified and honored.  It was the terrible sinner (in the eyes of the religious man) who GOD recognized and honored.   Every time I hear a Christian speaking from a place of prejudice and anger or hate, I think, “How is it possible that people can’t see why their churches are dying?”  People wonder what’s wrong and wonder what they can do or what program they can start to get people to come.  We try all kinds of things.  We keep trying to make people want to come and worship with us, and the biggest thing we are missing in all of it is love.

shutterstock_63532855Why are our churches dying?  They are dying because of US!  They are dying because we don’t love and forgive as God loves and forgives.  They are dying because of men like this who stand up and scream against one particular sin or another.   They’re quick to shout about homosexuality, abortion, drunkenness or drugs, but they don’t shout about gluttony or selfishness.  They don’t shout about the person who overeats or is a workaholic.   They don’t shout about the person that gossips, which to me is one of the most divisive and damaging sins of all.  They  only shout about the things they haven’t done as if that somehow makes them holier than those who have done them.  And then they look down on those people as if to say, “If you will come crawling over broken glass and hot coals to Christ, then you can be saved,  but you’ll never be as good as me.”  Like the mob in the Disney movie, the battle cry of many Christians is, “Kill the beast!” when our battle cry should be, “Love them to death.  Love them above all.  Prefer them above all.  Love as God loved!”

We hear all the time, “Hate the sin but love the sinner,” but God does not give us permission to hate anything or anyone.  We are supposed to forgive the sin and love the sinner.  THAT is what Christ does.   As people of faith, there are certainly things and behaviors we should not engage in, but there isn’t one perfect person on this earth.  And the moment you start thinking more highly of yourself than you ought (Romans 12:3), you will fall.   If someone is engaged in something that is wrong or harmful, then it is our duty to talk with them to help them understand God’s word and the forgiveness in it, but not out of condemnation.  We are to do it (and everything else) out of genuine love.   I can think of nothing more wonderful than a church where everyone is truly welcome.  We need places where anyone and everyone are welcome to come and learn the truth of God’s word.  We need places steeped in neither legalism nor emotionalism, but steeped in truth – truth spoken from the most loving hearts.   Apathy is not killing our churches, hate is.  Apathy is not what is causing former Christians to turn away and say they want no more of church as an organized religion.  It is hate and meanness that is causing it, because no one has experienced more Christian hatred than those sitting in the very same pews of the very same churches.

As I sat in that room recently, listening to hatred and condemnation being spewed, I saw in my mind’s eye, picket signs, megaphones and people shouting “Onward Christian soldiers marching to war!”  When what I really longed for was a very different battle cry – one that says, “Come to me.  Love your neighbor.  Love as I have loved you.  Forgive as I’ve forgiven you.”  We must remember the battle is not between people of faith and atheists.   It is not a war between good people and bad people.  It is not a war between us and “them old sinners,” because you see, WE are “them old sinners.”  It is a war between me and myself.  It is a war between who we are and who we should be.  We must stop spending so much time crucifying everyone who is different or those who may disagree with us.  shutterstock_235743286We must start tending our own garden and pulling our own weeds instead of mowing down crops we don’t think should exist.  We need to simply turn our own hearts to God instead of trying to turn someone else’s, because we CAN’T turn someone else’s heart to God.  Only GOD can do that.  All I can do is to live my life the way Christ would have me to live, and that means to love and forgive above all else.  It means to stand firm on the truth of His word and not just what my parents taught me or what preachers have said from the pulpit.  I must stand on what God himself has revealed to me through prayer and study, by verifying for myself those things that someone else has said.

There is a Christian battle cry today and it is ignorant and idiotic.  It is bitter, hurtful and mean.  It is condemning, and Jesus was never any of those things.  We need to start loving more.  We need to stop hating the sin but loving the sinner.  It is time to forgive the sin and love the sinner.  That’s what we are called to do.  That should be our true battle cry.

I pray that all of us, especially people of faith, will have our eyes and hearts opened to the truth that love builds bridges.  Love tears down walls.  Love allows people to listen and softens them so it is easier for that “still, small voice” to touch them.  I pray that we will finally stop trying to scream the truth and just simply start living it.

Blessings!