All through my teens and twenties, I was so desperate to prove I was good, and good enough.
Barely a teenager when I became a Christian and gave my heart to Jesus, I was so very desperate to have the deep, horrible feeling of not good enough washed away from me. I hoped to find peace in obedience and surrender, but in the years that followed peace was just as often mimicked in the numbness of substances, or drowned in the shallow desires of others, as it was revealed on my knees at the altar.
Which was true? The numbness, the desire, or the repentance? I could never tell. I tried them all. The only truth I knew was not enough, not good enough.
I made some life-changing decisions in my relentless pursuit to feel loved in the deepest parts of me, but took responsibility for all the consequences, as a good girl should. And I prayed. I served. I changed everything that was deemed inappropriate, did everything I was asked to do. I hoped one day to simply wake up and feel like Gods love reached the dark place in me that felt so empty.
But that morning never came.
By the time I reached my thirties, I had over a decade of marriage behind me and four children to raise. I accepted the way I felt must be how it feels to be human and alive. I went into therapy. I started a business. I was willing to do whatever it took to feel like I was doing the work of being a worthwhile human. And then, one day, I found out my body was on another path from the rest of me. Wherever the hell I thought I was going, apparently it wasn’t coming with me.
I had cancer. A huge cancer, right over my heart.
The life I built around good and good enough went to pieces literally overnight. No more business, no more busyness. I spent months away from home having treatment to save my life; away from family, church, work, and everything else I built to feel safe and worthy. I went down into my darkness, down, down, down. There was nowhere else to go.
One thing I learned is the darkness is a place to be honoured, not feared. It has gifts to give us. When people told me to just think positive or that what didn’t kill me made me stronger, not only did I feel they were missing the point, I felt they were missing me. Few were willing to sit with me in that space, at least, not for very long. But I had no way to go but through it. I felt like Job. There was no avoiding the darkness, and looking at it through the lens of didactic theology or talking happy talk wasn’t going to make it go away. I didn’t want to go down into my darkness, but darkness was upon me anyway.
The darkness lifted slowly like a fog, the cancer cured, but before we knew what was happening, my dear husband, my best friend, began to slide into his own hell. Down we went again. The last remnants of everything we built or worked towards was let go, including the marriage. Our dreams were dust. Now, we were alone and apart – he, for the first time, me, once again. I knew better this time than to try and fight for the light. I made a home in the darkness and allowed whatever and whoever wished to come, to come.
They came, and brought their gifts, and departed, and I thanked them for their courage and faith in me. I took the shame others wanted me to carry like a cross for my sin of a failed life, and I nailed it above the door. I live here. I LIVE here. This was my life, as flawed and broken as it was. I grew to understand I could either love and accept it, or judge and reject it. The choice was mine.
God was there, sitting with me among the pieces of my busted life, when the conversation came up about good and good enough. This isn’t good, and it won’t ever be good enough, I said. And God smiled. What is a bad life, anyway? Every piece here is a piece of you, and I love it all, I love it all. God gently lifted and kissed every piece, blessing them before placing them back where they lay. God did not fix me. But God loved me, and that is kind of the same thing.
And you know, it is good enough.
There’s a temptation when bad things happen, to believe we somehow brought them on ourselves because we need improvement. We may believe bad things are lessons God visits on us because we were not good or good enough just as we suspected all along, and He wants us to be all-fixed-up so we can be good enough. Or we might believe bad things are a punishment, a consequence of our being not good or good enough, or being bad, or being very bad at organising our life.
When I had cancer, I worked very hard at first to pass the exam I believed God set me by giving me cancer. I wanted to make whatever improvements cancer was sent to help me make. It almost drove me insane. In the end, I concluded a good God who is love would not teach His children in such barbaric ways. God is either good, and not in control of things, or He is in control and so not good. Actually, an asshole. I decided God is not an asshole, and is good. God does not need to be in control, and so I can simply allow things to happen, without judging them as bad, or me as bad for having brought them about.
Our badness doesn’t make bad things happen to us. Things happen because God is good, and God is love, and everything God is in is conspiring together for our good, and for our freedom. Things we don’t like happen to us, and God lets them. Things we want to happen to us also happen, and God lets them. At all times, God wills and wishes us well, and allows things to happen. God, in everything, works all things together for our good.
“God works all things together for our good” doesn’t mean God made a bad thing happen to you so you have to work out why and fix that thing about yourself. It doesn’t mean bad things are a test you need to pass. It doesn’t mean if you call this sucky a bad thing instead of a good thing, even though it totally sucks, God will get mad at you, and you still won’t be good enough.
Some of the things you think are bad, you think are bad because you deeply suspect you are bad and deserve bad things, and you believe God being good means God trying to change you from bad to good with bad things. But that, my friend, isn’t what good means. And that’s not what God does.
“God works all things together for our good” means you’re good and God is good, and when you believe both God is good and you are good, “deserve” isn’t even part of the equation.
“God works all things together for our good” means God’s and your goodness ensure we no longer need to fear we are being punished when things happen to us, and just because something looks and feels terrible, and might even kill us, doesn’t make it bad. When death can’t scare us any more, my friend, we realise just how good God really is.
“God works all things together for our good” means ours and God’s goodness are always, always working together to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, which we know simply means, love wins.
I was always good enough, my friend, but sometimes, even now, I still don’t feel as though this is true. But my inability to feel it at times doesn’t negate it. We are good, and good enough, now. God is good, and when we allow the pieces to fall where they may together, kissing them and and blessing them with love, good things happen. Love happens.