A few weeks back I found a new song on my Spotify Discover Weekly while jogging around the park.
The music was peppy enough at first and the lyrics straightforward and catchy. However, when the chorus came, I found myself a bit haunted by its repeated questions:
When am I ever gonna be good enough, for anyone?
When am I ever gonna be good enough, for anything?
They’re all ten thousand steps ahead of me
Everything I’ll never be
When am I ever gonna be good enough?
I am a pretty driven person. I have always been motivated to pursue the highest and best. For most of my life this has manifested itself in school and sports. Now as a young adult, I see this in my professional aspirations, personal drive to always be learning and growing, and internalized pressure to keep up with my peers in terms of life stage.
Some days, I love this drive inside myself. It keeps me accountable. It helps me challenge myself to be better. It equips me to dream big.
Other days, this same ambition leaves me hurting. It makes me aware of all the things I thought I’d be doing or have accomplished by now. It makes it particularly painful when I hit a barrier in my professional life or see peers hitting major personal milestones such as engagement, marriage, and having their first child, making me feel left behind and worried I will never catch up. It leads me to put intense focus on all of the things I want to change about myself. It gives me an acute awareness of all the ways I am not enough.
Something I am both fearful of and comforted by is the fact this feeling of “not enough” isn’t going away. Even the most accomplished people encounter this feeling and have to reconcile it within themselves. I recently finished “The Ride of a Lifetime” which is a book by Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Corporation. This man, who is in charge of what is arguably the most recognized and beloved brand in the world, described his reflections after having an anxiety attack that he thought was a heart attack in the season he was being vetted to be named CEO:
“I’d always thought myself as somewhat impervious to stress, able to stay focused and calm in tense situations. The strain of this process was taking a bigger toll than I’d admitted even to myself, much less to my family or close friends, and a bigger toll than it should take. . . It was a big job, and a big title, but it wasn’t my life.”
The book goes on to describe the previous CEO, Michael Eisner’s, last day as CEO of Disney before handing the reins over to Bob Iger. Michael was ousted by Disney’s leadership in a painful and public way. Iger writes, “On September 30, 2005, Michael spent his last day as CEO of the company he’d run for 21 years. It was a sad, awkward, day. He was leaving with no ongoing connection to Disney-no seat on the board, no emeritus or consulting role. . . I can’t imagine what he must have felt. He’d come in two decades earlier and saved the company, and now he was driving away knowing that his era was over and the place that he turned in to the largest entertainment company in the world would keep going on without him.”
These anecdotes are useful because they point out a core truth: no matter our level of power, success, and influence, we are not protected from the threat of not being good enough. In fact, you could argue the more power, success, and influence we acquire, the higher the stakes and the greater the likelihood we will find ourselves in a place of not being enough.
When am I ever going to be good enough?
I ache to be good enough – good enough for my boss, good enough for my students, good enough for my friends, good enough for my family, good enough to be chosen, good enough to be loved, good enough for myself, good enough for God.
I love the season of Lent because it brings out the part of me I wrote about above – the part of me that wants to constantly improve and grow. I often view Lent as a time of spring cleaning for my soul. Sometimes though, I am tempted to turn my Lenten journey into a season of being good enough. Good enough at prayer, good enough at sticking to my fasting, and good enough at being generous. A few weeks before Easter, the priest at my church said something that caught me off guard. He said if we hadn’t failed or come up short on our Lenten commitments yet, he hoped we would soon.
His comments made me laugh in a “I am being seen by the Lord through your words right now” kind of way. I had a shambly Lent. Promises and resolutions were not adhered too. I tripped up. I gave in to weakness. And before I heard these words from my pastor, a small part of me believed that maybe I hadn’t been good enough to fully receive the renewal, joy, and new life of the Easter season.
The reality is, I seek to be good enough not because I think I have to earn God’s love. I chase the idea of “good enough” so fiercely because I think that if I am good enough, I will finally be satisfied. I will finally be free from insecurity. I will finally live in full contentment. I will finally have my needs met. I will no longer thirst.
I have been praying recently with John 4 and the story of the Samaritan woman. She says to Jesus, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep, where then can you get this living water?. . . Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
In prayer recently, I was listing to Jesus all the ways I was thirsting, all the ways I was longing, and all the ways I felt as though my efforts to be good enough should have been more fruitful.
All He replied was a simple line from a favorite poem of mine: “Leave that broken water jar daughter. Don’t you know I have fountains for that parched soul?”
All of my efforts to be good enough felt exactly like that description – an attempt to fill a broken water jar. My heart is a broken water jar. Everything I try to fill it with, even good things like reading a certain number of books, exercising a certain amount, praying for an allotted amount of time, falls out the bottom of my heart and leaves me thirsting.
There is one thing Bob Iger and I have in common: we both have hearts that thirst, hearts that believe we can be satisfied if we are good enough, hearts that are found to be broken in the bottom and empty when our efforts to keep it full fall short.
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”John 4:15
What a beautiful prayer. Jesus, I don’t want to be thirsty. I don’t want to keep relying on my feeble efforts to be good enough in order to be satisfied.
In these words, Jesus gives us what we need to be good enough. It is not a nicely designed instagram post reminding us, “You are enough, you are so enough, it is unbelievable how enough you are.“ It is access to a life-giving spring of living water that wells up in our hearts and never runs dry.
As we live in to the joy and renewal of this Easter season, I want to have the response of the Samaritan woman after she encounters the living Christ and discovers the truth about the living water He provides:
“The woman left her water jar.”John 4:28
I, too, am trying to leave my water jar. Sometimes, I still find myself carrying it, filling it with various actions and attempts to be good enough, believing I have what it takes to fill it. I do not know if it is realistic to believe I can set it down permanently this side of heaven, but I pray to grow in my belief in my absolute inability to fill it. I pray I am quicker to set it down in the future. I pray Jesus continues to teach me that while I may not be enough, He is.