Today 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. For 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!
Doing 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.
When 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.