For the Christians Who Fear They’re Not Enough

for the christian who fears

On Monday I had a “chance” conversation with a friend on the phone. She told me that she’d listened to a sermon by a well-known pastor and when it was over she felt a sense of guilt and Christian inferiority.

What if she wasn’t doing enough for the kingdom of God? What if her life isn’t “enough?”

Every word she spoke resonated with me.

We may live in a post-Christian culture but I also happen to live smack in the center of the Bible Belt. I go to church, to Bible study, to a prayer group. I have sermons and Christian podcasts at my fingertips 24 / 7. I’ve read countless posts by Christian bloggers and books written by professional Christians.

Day after day, I’ve absorbed messages that have assembled themselves into a functional theology. And then one day I realize that I’ve steeped myself in partial truths that sound good and right but leave me in a place of fear-based striving and duty-bound performance. My outer life may look fine and good but my inner voices yell at me to “do more!” and “figure this out!” and “really sacrifice!”

You too?

Without knowing it, we begin living what we believe. Even if it’s not what we say we believe. I mean, who really says, “I believe in a theology of fear and guilt and striving?”

It’s well documented that we’re running around like crazy people trying to lasso our own securities in the form of success — our kids’ success, our financial standing, the renown of our “platforms.” Christians are as guilty as the rest for chasing after The American Dream.

But there’s this other security we’re chasing down. I believe it’s more dangerous than the American Dream.

We’re chasing down our own righteousness and it’s killing us.

Instead of living out of who we already are in Christ, we’re living out of who we want to be with Christ’s help. We think Jesus is our personal assistant instead of our personal savior who rescues us in both the eternal and the everyday sense.

exercise ball

We want to be better and do more and get this Christian living thing down pat. So we make everything from debt-free-ness and Biblically-literate kids to hospitality and social justice the measuring rods of how we’re doing. And they are good things. Godly things. My heart beats for all of them. Even though I feel ongoing guilt that my heart doesn’t beat as strongly for these things as it should.

But as the human heart is prone to do, it takes good things and makes them ultimate things. We define our position with God {and even with man} by what we do instead of whose we are.

The religious have been doing it for thousands of years and we moderns are the same.

The difference is that we have bookstores and radio programs and blogs and sermons highlighting “superior” Christians, “superior” Christian life-hacks, “superior” Christian families — people doing life righteously and radically — and those of us who are living life in the mediocre middle can get the impression that we’re not doing enough, that our lives don’t “count for the kingdom.” {A phrase that nauseates me because it reeks of self-focus.}

That was my friend’s lament. And it’s mine too.

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I wake up each day readying breakfasts and lunches and clothes for those in my care. I get them to school and pick them up. I wipe tears and correspond with teachers. Is that enough?

I make an extra PB and J for the neighbor kid who may be at my table. I buy the snacks and participate in the team fund-raisers and read books on learning disabilities so that I can be a better equipped mom for my child who’s struggling. Is that enough?

I have the hard conversations with those who live in my home. We live and laugh and love and also fight a lot, day in and day out. I’m stressed out in front of them too much of the time and I have to apologize more than I wish I did. Is that enough?

We sponsor children who depend on those of us in the middle class a continent away for their education and medical care. But we’re not going there in person and digging wells. We haven’t taken a vow of poverty. We haven’t moved to the inner city. My kids wear Nikes instead of generic sneakers. We’re not sponsoring as many kids as we’d like to sponsor.

Our contributions to the kingdom of God feel painfully meager.

My friend asked me, “What does it look like, Marian? What does kingdom living look like here in the middle of the American Dream?”

“It looks like showing up,” I told her.

The words left my mouth before I was really aware of what I’d said.

“Every day, you simply show up. You be the wife, the mom, the daughter, the sister, the friend, the employee, the neighbor that the day invites you to be.”

Micah 6:8 comes to mind as I write this:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

To act justly may look like social justice and it may look like meting out truth in your own home between two squabbling siblings.

To love mercy may look like a move to an impoverished area or becoming a fostering parent. But it may also look like rescuing the child who calls from school in tears and needs to be picked up and bailed out, even though the situation is of their own doing.

To walk humbly with your God, well, isn’t that simply the posture of a life in Christ? A life that’s defined by love and grace and rescue?

Humility is about availability, to God and to others.

tab and nomi

It means accepting the chance conversations as opportunities to listen. And sometimes to speak.

It means running forgotten lunches to school because we’re all forgetful sometimes.

It means seeing people in their very obvious sin and first identifying with them as a fellow struggler instead of quickly judging and then elevating yourself by comparison.

I write as one who doesn’t live this way. Not really. There are moments of beauty but far more moments of harshness and entitlement. There are moments I’ve rescued others with lavish grace that surprised even me and moments when I’ve muttered cuss words and condemnation over said forgotten lunches.

Yet He continues to use me. And I don’t think it’s coincidence that He uses me when my own efforts have been lackluster. That chance conversation with a friend? It came after not having had a quiet time for days and lots of traveling and missing church and too much stress and feeling far away from God.

I read an e-mail just this week from a reader who had stumbled across my blog and scanned a post I wrote months ago. She said she’d found hope here. Not because I’m doing a stellar job of cranking out regular posts and prioritizing writing like I should. This is my first published post here in weeks. But I cried as I read her e-mail because this is God’s work, not mine. I simply show up. He takes care of the rest.

petals

When will I ever learn that it’s not about my own efforts toward righteousness? It’s about the One who is perfectly righteous, the One who perfectly met the requirements, the One who continues to act justly and to love mercy. The One who came and lived and died in a perfect posture of humility. The One who came back to life in order that we might have life and that all things can be made new.

Jesus is with me as the living God. He is the sovereign king over my life. And as He reigns in my little kingdom, we show up together in ways that feel mostly mundane to me but that matter to him. Not because I’m accumulating tally marks but because He simply delights in me.

Of all the things we’re called to do as Christians, being impressive isn’t one of them. We came up with that ourselves. And I for one am tired of the American church’s obsession with impressive Christians. Can we just stop it already?

God’s kingdom is in the sandwich-making and the speech-making. It’s in the nooks and crannies of middle-class suburbia and high-rise big city. It’s in Bible study and biology. It’s in the late-night stories and the Hospice care hand-holding. It’s in the bottom-wiping and the table-cleaning {though hopefully not in that order.}   : )

Because if God is everywhere, then He calls people everywhere. The ministers aren’t more important in his kingdom than the mothers.

This world is his and from the beginning, He’s asked us to take dominion, to cultivate richness and beauty and knowledge and relationship from the fields and the fairways to the boardrooms and the classrooms.

barn

Wherever we are, God is. We show up and his love spills out. Disagree all you want but I’ve come to believe that it’s this simple and also this difficult.

Overflowing with the love of Christ isn’t something we manufacture; it’s something we receive. We know that we’re loved not because of anything we do. God knows our propensity to find security in our own righteousness and efforts. It’s why he reminds us of this:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works so that no man can boast. {Ephesians 2:8-9}

Whether it’s a pastor’s voice or the refrain of your own familiar inner task-master, when any voice accuses you of not doing enough as a Christian, here’s a response:

“Agreed. I’m not doing enough. The bad news is, I can never do enough. The good news is, I don’t have to.” 

“Doing enough” is life under the law and the law is powerless to save anyone.

God’s ways are holy and beautiful and we can’t fully look upon them without trembling. To think that we can lasso the law — whether the God-made kind or the man-made kind — and live it out perfectly takes a rather high view of ourselves and a rather low view of God’s perfect ways.

Christ left the riches of Heaven to make his home on the dusty roads of Earth. He is the only one who has ever done enough and once his work was completed, He cried out, “It is finished!”

He is the perfect fulfillment of the law that is God-written on the most feeble tablet of all — the human heart.

It’s unfathomable really. And now, He makes his home in us. It means that when we show up, He shows up. The One who is enough on our behalf, the One who multiplies our scant offerings and feeds a multitude, even if that multitude is just a bunch of hungry kids gathered around my kitchen table.

If you’re a bit broken-down under the weight of expectation and comparison, might I invite you to look up so that I can look you in the eyes and say this to your face?

If you are in Christ, your life is enough. You are not necessarily called to go where someone else has gone or to live the life someone else is living.

You are called to receive your own life, to show up with the love and light of Christ, whatever and whomever the day brings. Trust not in your enough-ness but in the finished work and life-giving power of Christ alone.

 

Simply show up. And know that it counts.

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Comments

  1. Sarah says

    God spoke to me through this blog post, I actually can’t stop thinking about it. Thanks for being available for His use!

  2. says

    Wow! Our oldest is named Micah, and when I told my doctor what we were naming him, he quoted Micah 6:8 right there in the delivery room! Your words here really touched me… spoke to me… because God has been giving me strength and courage to show up. One day at a time. The thought of showing up everyday is so overwhelming to me right now. Family, children, church, work, ministry… but God has helped me by reminding me not to “focus” on all of that, but to focus on HIM, and He will take care of all of that. Thank you for echoing God’s words to me, and reminding me to focus on Christ. He is our perfect example in heaven (and here on Earth) because after all, what did He do? He showed up!

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