How Much Is Enough?
At a holiday party this winter, I had a surprising emotional response that took me back decades to my early teen years. On the surface, we were taking turns humorously parading our costumes for each other. But the inner me was once again walking the halls of my middle school, where all my social shortcomings were on daily display. What was intended to be fun and festive left me totally flustered.
My junior high experiences weren't all bad, and I made some lifelong friends. But it was during that period that I first felt the crushing blow of offering myself to others in friendship, and receiving the message that I was not enough.
My heart ached to belong, and though I couldn't see it at that time, I was not the only one wrestling with loneliness and self-doubt. By God's good design, we are all wired for relationship. That drive to connect leads us to seek acceptance for who we are, what we do, and what we contribute.
The problem is that we look for this approval in the wrong place, and for the wrong things. It is nearly impossible to be, do or give enough to please everyone. The effort will leave us empty. Even if by some gigantic effort we manage to gain the thumbs-up we are looking for, we will not find any sense of security. We are all too aware that life can be like a reality show, where tomorrow we could find ourselves voted out.
Though I know this, I still get caught up in trying to do and be "enough". Based on the conversations I hear among women, I am in good company.
Being followers of Jesus doesn't exempt us from this trap. If we're not careful, the church becomes one more place where we work to the point of exhaustion and still feel we fall short. The end of one successful women's ministry event, Sunday school year, or session of Bible study simply leads to planning the next event which needs to draw bigger numbers with more dramatic results.
Is there any rest in sight, any relief from the approval-winning treadmill?
To find it, we'll need to break away not just from the demands of our culture, but also our own misconceptions. From the earliest days of human history, God shows us a pattern of work followed by regular rest. During his ministry Jesus modeled a rhythm of seeking solitude after intense times of serving. The pressure to do more or achieve at a higher level does not come from our Father.
So what about contribution? Does God measure us by our ability to give something of value? We can gain some insight from a scene described in Mark 12, as Jesus and his disciples observe a time of public offering. The familiar story describes a line-up of people putting money into the temple treasury. While a parade of wealthy people give large sums, a widow adds her contribution - two coins of very small value.
How did she feel, knowing that her ability to give so little was on public view? We aren't given that information, but I can imagine her hunched shoulders and downcast eyes, comparing the meager amount she gave to the far grander offerings of others.
And yet, Jesus understood her situation and saw what was in her heart. He praised her generosity, because she gave all that she had. Years later, the apostle Paul described this principle of giving by saying, "if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have." (2 Cor 8:12)
These passages concern money, but I believe they apply to broader ways of giving. God sees our hearts as we offer our abilities and our time with joyful trust. He is not about measuring and counting, so that he can point out what we are lacking.
When my old insecurities flare up, this is the message I need. I may never be the life of the party, but that is not what the Giver of life is concerned about. While I define myself by what I am not, he sees all that I am.
Here, friends, is where we can claim rest and find freedom in our own uniqueness. The obligation we feel to be, do, and give more is not a reflection of what God wants from us. He does not expect us to be or do more, he simply wants us to surrender more of ourselves to him.