God Will Be Enough

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

These opening words of Psalm 23 are familiar to most. But each of us can ask ourselves honestly: Do I really believe that?

Speaking for myself, the truthful answer is both “yes” and “no.” It is one thing to know at an intellectual level that God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving; or to state that I believe that he will provide for all my needs. And truly, I believe these things! But I also know the bind I sometimes feel. There can be that clutch of dread or panic about impending conflict, the crushing weight of responsibility (even if self-inflicted), or the suffocating feeling that those I thought I could trust are now pulling back and leaving me unprotected. In those moments, there are parts of me that urge me to hide and isolate rather than surrender unconditionally into God’s hands. It can feel so much safer to take matters into my own hands and to feel some measure of control rather than surrendering to God – what if his love won’t be enough??

In my own case, this inner resistance I sometimes experience isn’t so much in the form of words or thoughts as bodily sensations or deeply felt feelings. One way or another, I am quite familiar with the inner cry that screams out: It won’t be enough!!

I know I am not the only one.

There is a reason why Psalm 23 is so appealing. It speaks soothing and reassuring truths to so many of us who need to hear them again and again as we internalize them. We all need to know that God is abundantly good to us. We need to know that our hunger and thirst will find deep satisfaction in him. We need to know that we will be mightily protected by his rod and always guided by his staff – never abandoned in a place of powerlessness or stuck alone in a valley of death. We need to taste and see his goodness – even in this life.

Psalm 145 offers similar strong reassurance that the Lord’s love and care will always be enough for us, and that our deepest desires and needs will be met by him:

The Lord supports all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look hopefully to you;
You give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

If you are anything like me, you may find that you strongly believe the truth of these words, and desire to live by them – AND experience inner resistance. So… What do we do when part of us screams out, “It won’t be enough!!”?

I can rattle off the things so many of us tend to do in those moments – pull out our phones, scroll through social media, eat comfort food, binge on sugar or caffeine, fantasize about ways of getting away from it all, bury ourselves in busy work, fixate on the faults of those around us, and so many more. These days, there are no shortage of surrogates we can turn to in an attempt to replace real relationships. Then we reach a point of disillusionment and realize that these things we pursued to make sure it would be enough not only were not enough, but actually depleted us. We feel frustrated with ourselves and tend to trust God even less and to want to hide ourselves even more. A vicious cycle.

Alternatively, we can open ourselves to the kindness of God and other trusted companions, and become genuinely curious about the inner conflict. Rather than fleeing the images or feelings or bodily sensations that can be so unpleasant, we can follow where they lead us. In many cases, the reason why I am having trouble trusting and surrendering to God now is because my body is remembering what I felt like way back when. If I have past experiences in which I felt deeply deprived, neglected, abandoned, unprotected, or powerless, then it makes a great deal of sense that my body would warn me in the present moment that the same danger is immanent. The situation now is radically different – but my implicit memory doesn’t know any better; it’s doing it’s just doing its job by warning me.

The ultimate answer is to be found in an experience of genuine relationships, connection and communion, abiding in love and truth, staying present to others and God – and even to those parts of myself that try to tell me that it won’t be enough.

Ironically, I think many Christians have learned how to pray in a way that keeps God at a distance – especially from the ways in which we most need his loving presence. There have been seasons in my life in which I have looked at prayer much more as a “should” or a matter of being disciplined enough or getting it right. Rather than a close connection with God, many of us either avoid the vulnerability of prayer (and shame ourselves for being “lazy”), or we stay “busy” in prayer in a way that allows us to feel safe and in control, but hinders receptivity.

God invites us to come to him as we are and receive his blessings. I have written before about the prayer of lament, in which we open up our grieving hearts to God and seek connection with him in our pain and brokenness. Whether grief, anger, lustful fantasies, overeating, bitter resentments, panic, anxiety, or deep feelings of powerlessness – what would it look like to experience these things with God? If my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, why not tell the Holy Spirit he is welcome in my body (including where I happen to be feeling dread or shame or grief or loneliness)? Why not consecrate it all to God – giving him all the pieces? If we do not, how can we say we are loving him with our whole heart?

Similarly, what would it look like to cultivate relationships with trustworthy people in which I allow them to see and know the real me – including all the parts I’d rather hide away? Many of us were wearing masks long before this pandemic began! To be fair, we may have needed to do that for a long time. The pain of deprivation, powerlessness, or abandonment is simply too much to bear until we are in a position in life in which deep prayer and meaningful relationships are genuinely possible. When we allow ourselves to experience these relationships consistently in our lives and in our prayer, real change begins to happen.

Do you, like me, sometimes fear that God’s love or the love of others won’t be enough? Are you willing to let go of your surrogates and experience real relationships? I cannot encourage you enough to step out in faith, to renounce the lie that his love won’t be enough, and to permit yourself opportunities to receive.

Talents vs. Gifts

What are your deepest gifts? The answer may not be so obvious as you think. In our culture that values doing over being, achievements over relationships, and strength over vulnerability, our truest and deepest gifts can often be buried beneath our talents.

My whole life I have been recognized as a talented individual, and certainly have no shortage of accomplishments. So many of those moments feel hollow to me now – especially when I see truthfully how I was performing to please others and not always in touch with the deepest movements of my own heart. I hesitate to say it, but I am grateful for moments of futility and failure, powerlessness and pain. Agonizing though they can be, they provide an opportunity for the hard shell of my perfectionism to be broken open, so that I can discover God’s treasures buried within, where I tend to feel so much shame – but where in fact he has made me in his own image and likeness.

Most of my life, I tended to use “gifts” and “talents” synonymously. It was in reading the deeply wounded and deeply wise spiritual author Henri Nouwen a few years ago that I discovered a distinction: “More important than our talents are our gifts. We may have only a few talents, but we have many gifts. Our gifts are the many ways in which we express our humanity. They are part of who we are: friendship, kindness, patience, joy, peace, forgiveness, gentleness, love, hope, trust, and many others. These are the true gifts we have to offer to each other.”

As some of you know, this Dutch priest, brilliant yet troubled man that he was, found his heart repeatedly transformed by his experience in Ontario with the L’Arche community, together with his friend Jean Vanier. L’Arche provides a home and a dignified existence for those considered by society to be mentally disabled. Nouwen was amazed to discover that they were more in touch with their humanity than he was. He sung the praises of their beautiful giftedness: “But since my coming to live in a community with mentally handicapped people, I have rediscovered this simple truth. Few, if any, of those people have talents they can boast of. Few are able to make contributions to our society that allow them to earn money, compete on the open market, or win awards. But how splendid are their gifts!”

We certainly live in a culture that values talents, achievements, and accomplishments. Consider how absolutely devastating it is for so many people these days as they go through the aging process or watch a loved one do so. Obviously, these changes of season in our life are always the occasion for healthy grieving, and are never easy. But these days some people simply cannot bear it. They get stuck and struggle to see any personal dignity amidst the experience of not being able to do the things they used to do, or exercise the talents they once had, or do the fun things they once did. Seeing giftedness amidst vulnerability and weakness is especially hard for modern-day westerners. What John Paul II described as “The Culture of Death” has seduced us with a distorted understanding of the human person that exalts talents, doing, and achieving over and above giftedness, being, and relating.

Some of us who have cared for loved ones with dementia have discovered a deeper treasure. Amidst devastating sadness, we witness the long and relentless and inevitable decline of talents. The person becomes less and less capable of meaningful rational or verbal communication. But when we learn to look past the outward weaknesses and losses, we discover that emotional and spiritual connection are still very much possible – sometimes in surprising and deep ways. We are certainly invited to acknowledge our own fears and insecurities, our perceived need for control, as we experience deep feelings of powerlessness. It is often only then that we are really ready to receive and discover God’s gifts deep within ourselves, if we are willing to stay present and engage.

I am a man of many talents, but it was only in various moments of powerlessness that God invited me to rediscover who I really am. I’ve always loved the words of the poet T.S. Eliot, but these days they resonate with me more than ever:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

In my own journey, I am only beginning to rediscover my true gifts. Among other things, I am beginning to recognize that I am a sensitive, intuitive, empathic person, capable of connecting deeply and showing transformative kindness. I look back and see that these gifts have always been there, sometimes more in the forefront, and other times safely locked away and deeply buried beneath my multi-layered defenses.

No doubt, our areas of deepest gifting from God are also those that the powers of darkness attack early and often and (at times) with great malice and ferocity. The evil one sees God’s glory shining in us, and attempts to mar it. We often falter in allowing these deep treasures to emerge to the surface because we are held captive by the subtle lies that the devil has whispered to us from our earliest years: Others will always let you down. No one will really understand you. It’s safer to hide yourself. See what happens when you trust someone! You better stay strong and successful – if you fail, no one will love you…

I could go on and on. It is for each of us to discover and renounce these lies, allowing Jesus to rescue us and unleash our truest and deepest gifts.

We often feel safer and more comfortable donning our “likeable” talents like a mask, hiding our true self. In my experience, this spiritual masking is far more of a barrier than the physical masks most of us wear during this time of pandemic. With those physical masks, I have found (to my pleasant surprise) that the eyes are still the window to the soul, and deep human connection is still quite possible! But only if you and I are also choosing to open up and be present. It takes great courage to allow access to the vulnerable places of our heart, in which our true gifts are found. When we are ready to do so, God’s wonderful treasures await us.