Over the last year or so, I have noticed one phrase cropping up again and again in posts and articles by many well-known bloggers. It has become almost a mantra for these encouraging, often-Christian, bloggers and their followers. The phrase?
I am enough.
Or, when speaking to their readers: You are enough.
From the very first time I heard that phrase, it nettled in my consciousness like a burr that won’t let go. Something seemed off about it. Something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
The “You Are Enough” Phenomenon
And, as a woman, I get it. We are often wrecked by self-doubt and insecurity, asking ourselves, “Did I do this right?”, “Am I being a good mom?”, or “Am I good enough for this job/ this career/ this work of being a wife and mother?”
This phrase, this “I am enough,” is said as a means of comforting women and assuring them that they can do the job before them. That they can parent their children. That they have something to offer their families, friends, and the world.
It is also a counter-argument to the idea of perfection. A cry to stop trying to have the perfectly clean and organized home that could be featured in a magazine. A cry to stop beating ourselves up if we don’t live up to the whole-food serving/ breast-feeding/ craft-doing/ homeschooling/ insert other ideology here idea of the “perfect mother” that pervades our culture.
Stop chasing after perfect and embrace who you are because “you are enough.”
And so, I understand the appeal.
Orthodoxy and Repentance
However, I just don’t think that the phrase fits into an Orthodox understanding of who we are and who we were created to be.
In fact, the entire season of Lent seems to run counter to the idea of “you are enough.”
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Sundays before Lent are weeks of preparation–called the Triodion. The Gospel readings are the same each year, and they all have the same theme: repentance. As I’ve been reflecting this year on repentance, I have come to realize that it is the exact opposite of “I am enough.”
In each of the Gospel readings during these weeks of preparation (and in the week of Zaccheus Sunday that precedes the Triodion), the repentant person is held up as our example, as the one we should emulate as we begin our Lenten journey.
–Zacchaeus changes his life after an encounter with Jesus–giving back all that he had taken from others (and more). He acknowledged his sin and unworthiness before Christ, changed his ways, and went out to lead a righteous life. In fact, Church tradition tells us that St. Zacchaeus accompanied St. Peter on his missionary journey to Caesarea and was made bishop of the city.
–The Publican does not even lift his eyes to heaven, but cries over and over, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” His unworthiness and sin so overwhelm him that he can do nothing but ask for the mercy of God. And, we are told, he went away justified.
–The Prodigal Son, after squandering his father’s fortune, returns to ask if he can become a hired hand. He knows that he is not worthy to be called the son of his father, and hopes only for job and food like the other servants. He finds himself welcomed back with open arms as the fattened calf is killed and a celebration ensues.
–The sheep seem almost surprised at the reward given to them, as they do not think they have earned it. After all, when had they ever seen Christ naked and clothed him or hungry and fed him? They are welcomed into Heaven because they, in humility, served the very least of these.
All of these people humbled themselves before God–relying on His mercy. They knew that they were not enough.
In each of these Gospel readings, we also see another person or persons who are held up as an example of what not to do.
-The Pharisees, haughty and self-satisfied, grumble because Jesus has gone into the house of a sinner.
-The Pharisee’s prayer sounds more like a bragging list, and he thanks God that he is not like that sinner over there.
-The elder brother whines to his father, saying that he has always served the father and received nothing for his good works.
-The goats are sure they would have seen Jesus and helped him if they had known it was him.
All of these people have one thing in common: They think they are “enough.” They don’t recognize their complete and utter need for God’s forgiveness, for His mercy, for His love.
Why I Am Not Enough
And so, that is why I know that I am not enough. I desperately need God’s mercy and forgiveness.
I need the healing sacrament of Confession. I need to partake of the healing and saving Eucharist. I need Great Lent as a time to slow down, to recognize my sinfulness and my dependence on God. I need to fervently cry “Lord have mercy” dozens of times every Liturgy. I need Christ’s love to transform my selfishness.
I need Christ.
And so, my dear sisters, today I want to tell you that I am not enough. And, you are not enough.
Oh, let us thank God for that.