“Feeling inadequate is an occupational hazard of motherhood.” says Harriet Lerner. I think she’s right. Motherhood has a way of bringing inadequacy to the surface in a big way, but, I’d argue that it’s really more than that, it’s part of the human condition. When I started to think about the feeling of “I’m not enough,” of being insufficient for a purpose, parenting is an easy place to start.
As a new first time parent, I remember feeling the weight of the responsibility for a life. I’d never done this before, it’s years and years of actions with eternal consequences. It’s caring for and shaping a human being. It is an incredible privilege, but it’s an incredible responsibility as well. I was sleep deprived from a battle with sickness my whole pregnancy and I was dealing with the needs of a newborn that I didn’t even understand. I don’t remember much about my son’s first year, but we obviously survived. And learned as we went along.
Unfortunately, around every turn of raising kids comes more things to learn, more mistakes we make and more fingers to point out our inadequacies. Sure, we learn as we go, but we make mistakes, too. You’d think that by child #2, we’d have it figured out. But, this second child is completely different than the first! We make some of the same mistakes, but this child is different, so we make new mistakes, too!
And we’re left with feeling insufficient for the purpose of parenting. Add to that work and relationship struggles and we can feel not just insufficient for parenting. But, for all of life. Feeling insufficient for life is not a small thing. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the US in 2015, there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides that year. I’d be standing on a very shaky limb to say that those two things have a cause and effect relationship because I have no evidence to back that up, but it makes sense that a deep sense of inadequacy in life can contribute to the hopelessness that can propel someone to suicide. Or excessive alcohol or drug use. Or, workaholism. Or, your escape tactic of choice.
How Can We Fix It?
Much of the talk about reducing feelings of inadequacy begins at the place of encouraging us to believe that we are enough. When I was looking up some background on this, the idea of “Remember, you are enough!” is at the top of all the lists. And hearing can be very real refreshment for our hearts. It has brought tears to my eyes before. And I don’t cry easily.
But, here’s my problem. I don’t believe it. And I think it’s unhealthy to tell ourselves that lie. I don’t think I’m enough. I don’t think I’ll ever be enough. And I don’t think you’re enough either.
I know this flies if the face of the self-help industry. And it’s probably not the most encouraging thing you’ll hear today. But, I’m not enough. By myself, I’m not enough
Here’s the encouraging part. We don’t have to be enough.
Being Not Enough…Together
We have to be willing to be imperfect and try anyway. We have to learn to live within a community that knows us and helps each other. We have to be willing to both give and receive that help.
In short, we need to expand our lives in such a way that they encompass community. If we live our lives broken, but alongside other broken people who are filling in the gaps for each other, we begin to change the story of not being enough. It begins to be instead a beautiful picture of humanity. What are are the heartwarming stories of hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastation? They’re pictures of community. Of people helping people.
I’m not enough to do it all myself, but I’m enough to share these words with you while a friend helps me produce the show…so that I can write other words to more people in a way that I’m called to do. I’m not enough to parent alone. But, my parents, family and friends help me out. I’m enough to take care of a friend’s son for the weekend so that she can recover from surgery. Would she do the same for me? I have no doubt that she would. I’m enough to share with a close group of women that the last time I made a significant financial commitment to a cause I cared about, I lost my income for six months and I just realized on the verge of another commitment, the two are tied in my heart and I’m afraid. But, when they struggle with their fears? I’ll be there for them too.
When we live among people–both our families and friends, but enclosed behind our own silo’d walls, we forfeit a powerful antidote to inadequacy. Yes, true community requires vulnerability. it requires knowing and being known. It requires caring enough about our soul health that we allow others to see that soul, the good and the bad in it.
We are a relational species. We are made to live in community. True community knows, loves, supports, heals, and cherishes. It also corrects and disciplines. But, we’re not good at it. We tend to live in community the way we live on social media, in one of two extremes. We either vomit too much at inappropriate times and places. Or, we never go deeper than the perfectly groomed facade that’s presented to Facebook or Instagram. Real community is neither of those. It’s a real life, gritty, inconvenient mess. It’s helpful, kind and loving in ways that move beyond words into actions. It’s the hard work of accountability and forgiveness. It’s offering hope in tangible ways.
Real community is sharing your life with a group of people in such a way that everyone together becomes enough.
I was at a conference this week that was a crazy amazing experience. You’ll hear more about it in the coming months because I’m sure I’m going to be unpacking lessons found there for a long time. One of the things that happened in a transition between sessions was a song that the audience participated in. We linked arms and sang a refrain while she sang melody. It was a picture of us supporting her as she supported us in a community of melody.
But, before we sang, she said this, “when you have no faith of your own, you can borrow some from others.” It struck me as exactly what I’ve been talking about today. And I was so impressed that she used the word borrow. “Borrow” faith from others. Because you need to pay it back.
May you both look to your community for faith and pay it back this week.
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