I am not sweet. I should be, but I’m not.
That’s what I thought to myself as I pulled into the garage and closed it behind me, sitting safe in the cocoon of my home and free from the opinions of others.
I had just been thinking of someone who is sweet, and how much I love her, and how I wish I were sweeter myself. I couldn’t find a way to hide from all the thoughts, all the condemning thoughts of everything I am not.
If it sounds like I have been through this before, it is because I have. The thoughts speak so loud they seem real and true.
- I am not sweet enough.
- I am not enough for my friends and my husband. I should be doing more.
- I am not mom enough.
- I am too much of all the wrong things and not enough of the right things.
- I am not a good enough Christian for God to use.
- I can’t possibly step out in ways God has gifted me, because everyone will see my failures and weaknesses and take aim.
I have talked to enough women to know I am not the only one that gets stuck in the mire of the “not enoughs.” We are hard on ourselves, quick to point an accusatory finger inward, and prone to believe our condemning thoughts are directed by God himself.
Thinking About Thinking
So what do we do when the low-grade guilt that lurks around our mothering all day becomes loud and insistent? What do we do when comparison sneaks in suddenly and we find ourselves wishing we were something we’re not? What do we do when we’re overcome with feeling “not good enough”?
We must make it a habit to think about what we’re thinking about, in order to refuse to believe every last thought. One of the most helpful and soul-breathing truths in battling the “not good enoughs” is that the Holy Spirit convicts — we don’t convict ourselves.
There is a vast difference between self-conviction and Holy Spirit-conviction. When God convicts, he gets specific with us about our sin. For example: “You were wrong to withhold forgiveness when your friend asked for it.” He uses specific Scriptures. And his kindness toward us leads to a hopeful conclusion of repentance and dependence.
Self-conviction, and the conviction of the enemy, on the other hand, is wide-ranging, condemning, and defeatist. It leads back to self: “Try harder and do better.” I can make lists of action points, write sticky notes to remind myself of those action points, and vow to change myself, but I’ll only end up right back where I started — awash in guilt and condemnation.
Putting Off Self-Condemnation
When we feel condemnation our immediate response is to prop ourselves up with self-esteem platitudes or to turn to others who may offer us praise. These are crutches. The truth is we aren’t good enough.
Have you read in Scripture what Jesus asks of us? Be joyful always. Count trials as blessings. Love enemies. Put the needs of others always above our own.
So how do I put off self-condemnation and put on biblical truth? The hard fact is I can’t do it. I truly am not good enough.
It may seem counter-intuitive to battle the “not good enoughs” by agreeing that we’re not good enough, but this is the first step toward lasting joy.
But it’s not the last step. To find this joy we need help. Instead of cycling back to vows and self-effort, we must learn to look at our insufficiencies and then add two words on the end of them: But God or But Christ.
It works like this (in five examples):
1. I was spiritually dead in my sin, but God has made me spiritually alive.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4).
2. I am called to keep God’s righteous commandments, which I fail to fulfill, but God has given me the Holy Spirit to help me. I now have all the help I need and will call upon that help.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper . . . I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:15–18).
3. I am not good enough, but Christ in me makes me not just good enough, but justified and righteous before God. Because of Christ, I will never face God’s condemnation.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
4. I cannot live the Christian life by self-effort, but Christ gladly lives in me. I live by faith, not self-effort.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
5. There are things I will not be good at, but God has created and called me to joyfully serve him in specific ways.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
What sweet peace to rest in the work of Christ rather than parsing, evaluating, and self-defending our own abilities! What joy to know that God has made provision not just for our salvation but for our everyday lives! And these are the exact fruits — peace and joy — to watch for as we “but God” our “not good enoughs.”
As I pulled into the garage that day and sat prayerfully in the silence, I chose to release my fears borne from condemnation. I chose to turn my mind from everything I am not to everything I am — all because of the “but God” of grace.
By grace I was freed to look at my roles, my responsibilities, and my opportunities through eyes of faith and to trust him. I chose to believe that I have absolutely no reason to fear, especially other people and their opinions of me. I chose to believe the “but God” promises over the “not good enoughs” of self-condemnation.
Christine is the author of From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel, a new book offering biblical hope and freedom from the “not good enoughs.”