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.


Silence Is Loud

Cayucos Sunset

Recently a friend shared with me that her hope for 2013 was “to be still and listen to God.” I found that to be a very interesting and revealing statement. At a time of year when people are busy engaging in new activities and commitments, it was unusual (and refreshing) to hear someone say she hoped simply to be still and listen. This time of year causes many of us to become more active. We take up a new exercise regimen or make changes to our diets. We start new adventures. We want to DO something.

In our culture, we have reached a point where if we aren’t continually running at a frantic pace we think it somehow means we are lazy. We work ourselves to death at our jobs and at home. We spread ourselves far too thin because we just can’t say “no.” We take on projects – very worthy projects – even when we know we don’t actually have the energy to give them the focus they deserve. In those rare times we find ourselves just sitting down and relaxing, it is only moments before our minds are jumping to the next thing we need to do or accomplish. I have suffered from this way of thinking most of my life. My husband tells me all the time, “You just can’t sit down and relax for even a moment!” I hate to admit he’s right but he is. (I also hate that I just gave him ammunition for the next time I refuse to slow down!)

As believers, we do the same thing with our service to God. We think the more we do, the more pleasing we are to our heavenly Father. Nothing could be further from the truth. He doesn’t want us to be running about frantically trying to serve Him any more than we want to be doing it. He simply wants us to trust Him to take care of us. He wants us to rest in Him. He wants us to “be still and listen” to the still, small voice within that is continually guiding us down the path we should be on. When it is time for us to act, we will know it. Purposeful action is much different than taking action just so we can avoid the silence or being still.

Three Rivers

Stillness and silence are uncomfortable for most of us. Even in our conversations, we feel strange when there is a longer than normal pause between topics. We will talk about almost anything to avoid the sound of crickets chirping! No matter what area of our life it may be, silence feels awkward and we do all kinds of things with one purpose in mind – to get rid of it. Sometimes, when I am still and quiet, I don’t like what I hear. When I am still and quiet, it isn’t long before the stillness brings reflection and reflection can be painful. It is sometimes difficult but it can also be a catalyst for change or reveal our true direction.

I have to be honest with you, there have been many times in my life when I have engaged in activities (no matter how honorable the cause) because I thought no one else would step up to the plate. I’ve been in churches and community organizations where it seemed everyone was content in letting one or two people do all the work. Many of you can relate to this type of struggle. If I am really honest, I must say I have found it difficult at times to let go of the reins because I feared the resulting effect would be that nothing gets accomplished. Do you know what this says about me? It says I struggle trusting that others are as committed as I am. It says I believe no one could have a better idea than I do. It says I think I am so valuable that without me this project, church, friendship, or family will crumble. When I finally realized how arrogant this mindset is, it was difficult to swallow. I can assure you it did not go down easy!

It is a fine line we must walk. There is a delicate balance between the things we do and the reasons we do them. Too much activity and busyness in our life will drain us of peace, sanity and contentment. On the other hand, too much rest will drain us of our passion and sense of purpose. I’m a firm believer in leaping when it is time to leap but the only way we will know it is time to act is if we have been quiet, still and reflective. It is only when we have listened to the voice within that we can be sure we are ready to leap. Only then do we know which direction to leap and only then do we truly have the strength. It is important to realize that being able to act and leap comes first from a place where we have been able to let go, rest and listen.

So my friend who said she hoped to be still and listen in 2013 was a great reminder of how important it is to slow down in life. It is crucial we learn to rebel against the pace dictated to us by our society AND by ourselves! It is good to rest. It is good to take care of yourself not only physically but in every other way as well. It isn’t selfish and it isn’t lazy to do so! When we constantly focus on the next thing we need to accomplish, we are losing the blessing of THIS moment! This moment is all we have. It sounds cliché but yesterday really is gone and tomorrow may never come. There is no guarantee of even your next breath so slow down and enjoy it. Once it’s gone, you cannot get it back.

Open Arms

It is good for us to step back and let go of the control we often grasp at in life. When I am able to let go of trying to fulfill everyone else’s calling, then I am free to fully embrace and fulfill my own. And when find ourselves feeling like we have to “save” every project or organization we are involved in, it might be time to put on the brakes and get quiet for a little while. You might be surprised at who steps up from the shadows when you are willing to step out of the spotlight.