It takes all kinds, my grandmother used to say, meaning that the world would be a dull place indeed if everyone were alike. She sometimes said it in a reproachful way, like when the young man I liked had a ponytail. (I grew up in the time of hippies.) We all-kinds are gloriously different, even though we are each made in the image and likeness of God, as the beginning of the book of Genesis tells us. “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.” (Genesis 1:31) That includes us.
Sometimes, though, we doubt this. We doubt ourselves. We want to be more like someone we admire and less like who we actually are. We are hard on ourselves, for not being good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, fit enough, funny enough, rich enough, kind enough. We fear that we are just not enough.
The good news from God, however, is that we are enough. God has faith in us even when — or maybe especially when — we don’t have faith in ourselves.
I once received this message directly in writing. I was to give a talk at a university gathering, and since public speaking is not my strong point, I was a nervous wreck. Right before the event began, I ducked into the restroom for the 10th time, just in case. I closed myself in the stall and there, written in Sharpie on the bathroom door, was the epiphany I needed: “You are enough,” it said. The handwriting was young, but the wisdom was ancient. I spoke with a bit more confidence that day, thanks to my unknown life coach.
I try to remember that lesson when I am judging myself harshly for some inadequacy. I imagine if we were all a little kinder to ourselves, the world would become kinder, too. If we try to reflect the image of God, the big picture will surely improve.
If we were to go with the proposition that we are enough, maybe we wouldn’t work so hard to prove that we are better than someone else. If you’ve ever known people who constantly build themselves up, you may realize that these are folks who do not believe, deep down in their hearts, that they are enough. By scrambling to cover up their perceived deficiencies, they are admitting that they doubt God’s premise, that we are made in God’s image, that we lack for nothing in the fact of our humanity.
The lovely new animated Pixar movie “Soul” has a supporting character who struggles with being enough. The soul known as "22" — the souls in the movie are numbered before they go to earth as a human person — is cantankerous and impossible to handle, but deep down, she doubts her own worth. She suspects she is not good enough or smart enough or likable enough to lead a human life, so 22 becomes a legendary troublemaker instead. If you’ve ever been a teacher (or a parent), you might recognize 22’s coping mechanism as one employed by kids with low or damaged self-worth. Spoiler alert: 22 eventually gets her act together with a little help from her friends. She is enough.
Thinking about the many ways we cheat ourselves of the security of knowing we are enough, I remembered a friend from my early twenties who used to introduce himself like this: “Hi, I’m Neil; I grew up in the shadow of my older brother.” Maybe he thought he was being funny, but the fact that this was the first thing he thought people should know about him surely pointed to Neil’s inner conviction that he was not enough. I sometimes wonder what his life has been like in the years since. I hope he found the grace and the acceptance to know that, in the eyes of God, he was always enough.
Of course we will all continue to have moments when we berate or disappoint or loathe ourselves, because we are human. How many of us feel glum for failing to accomplish our goal of become master chefs or proficient pianists or well-read essayists during our pandemic-induced time of isolation? If we could see ourselves through God’s eyes, however, we could take comfort in knowing, as the Psalmist says, that we are “wonderfully made.” (Psalms 139:14) We are enough, unique and miraculous, just as we are.