When We Need More than Enough
There’s a lot of talk out there about being enough. I’m enough. You’re enough. We’re enough. These statements are meant to be encouraging, but they’ve always bothered my theology. If these statements were true, I wouldn’t need the gospel. I’d be good to go. I’d be fine. I’d be enough. Maybe some Christians say these sorts of statements within a framework of the gospel: “I’m enough because I’m in Christ.” But that’s not how it comes across. It usually comes across as a dose of self-help like a shot of cold-pressed wheatgrass juice from a hip health food store’s juicing counter.It’s so easy to swim in the waters of enoughness because that’s where our friends and family and neighbors are.
I was pleased to see David Zahl include this concept of enoughess in the introduction to his new book Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It. He introduces his ideas on enoughness when discussing definitions of religion saying, “Our religion is that which we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness.” He continues with this:
Listen carefully and you’ll hear that word enough everywhere, especially when it comes to the anxiety, loneliness, exhaustion, and division that plague our moment to such tragic proportions. You’ll hear people scrambling to be successful enough, happy enough, thin enough, wealthy enough, influential enough, desired enough, charitable enough, woke enough, good enough. We believe instinctively that, were we to reach some benchmark in our minds, then value vindication, and love would be ours—that if we got enough, we would be enough.
Zahl goes on to explain that we never really get enough of anything though. The more we get, the higher we raise the bar. So maybe everyone who talks about being enough has realized this truth, and they have settled with just proclaiming, “We’re all enough just by being human.” Which is fine for us to plaster on our Instagram feeds and get engraved on our gold cuff bracelets if it makes us feel better, I guess. But it’s not true. We’re not enough. We never will be. And we are all probably still striving to be enough and have enough of everything listed in Zahl’s paragraph above anyway because this is how our culture operates. It’s so easy to swim in the waters of enoughness because that’s where our friends and family and neighbors are. It’s comfortable and we recognize everyone around us. We fit in.
Throughout the rest of his book, Zahl talks about different ways we swim in these waters. While looking at busyness, romance, parenting, technology, work, leisure, food, politics and what he calls “Jesusland,” he explores the seculosity we regularly engage over the course of our days and weeks and months. Zahl defines seculosity as “a catchall for religiosity that’s directed horizontally rather than vertically, at earthly rather than heavenly objects,” a word that means turning good gifts from God into things we worship, things we gain life from.
One of my favorite chapters is the one on parenting, maybe because that’s the chapter that was a mirror for me so many times while reading it. I’ve avoided parenting books for most of my 16 years as a parent, and I try to not be an over-involved helicopter parent, but giving my attention to those things doesn’t protect me from falling into the seculosity of parenting. This chapter hit home for me the most when Zahl wrote about being a good enough parent. He writes:
The quest for rigorous parenting can be grueling. We start to worry less about the dangers posed to our children and more about what other parents might think about our parenting decisions. My friend Sarah writes about the barrage of judgment she faces daily from other mothers, both online and in person. “Questions about vegetable intake, academic rigor, and quality time lead us from one anxious moment to the next.” These questions, however well meaning, turn into referenda on our parenting performance with remarkable velocity, the implication being that if we’re not up on the latest info, we care less than those who are.
Yes. This. This is what I’ve struggled with for years. I have worried so much about what others think about my parenting decisions because I know they’re judging my parenting decisions. How do I know? Well, usually, they tell me. Or, they ask me. You’re sending your kids to school there? You’re moving there? You’re letting your son do what? You’re buying what for your daughter? You let your kids listen to that music?
With all of the questions that are really statements heavy with judgment and condemnation, it can be hard to hang on to what you really think you need to be doing as a parent, what you really think God is calling you to do as a parent. It can be hard to get away from the attraction to be enough.
Zahl later explains that the cure for our grasping to be enough and have enough of all of the things is to experience Christianity as a religion of grace rather than law, to follow Christ’s lead by thinking more about human motivation, and to be Christ-centered rather than consumer-centered or church-centered. These suggestions get to the heart of the matter—our sin.
We need Zahl’s explanation of the gospel and the law—and how our understanding of both can lead to more freedom and turn us away from our seculosity, from our desire to have and be enough. And this is the only message that can free us from the never enough reality we all live in.