Five years ago at Christmas, God spoke to my heart this message:
You are not enough. And you don't have to be.
I was at an advent prayer service, on my knees both literally and psychologically. At the time, one of my best friends was going through a brutal divorce. She was living in my neighborhood, and had been left with her five (!) small children, and hardly any money left in the bank. My husband and I helped a lot. We sold a bunch of her furniture on Craig's List, and even made deliveries. We helped with the kids. I started a Go Fund Me account and rallied friends.
But more than that, I took on her family emotionally. I was devastated by her divorce -- as though it was happening to me, which was not ultimately helpful to her. I couldn't bear the injustice of it. I couldn't see a long-term solution. And I was heartbroken for her children, who had lost security, and it seemed at the time, the love of their father. I carried the grief of it in my own soul, and was trying to hold them up with my love and energy.
It was at this point that I fell to my knees and God met me.
"You are not enough," does not initially sound like an encouraging message. "You are enough," is actually a phrase we use to encourage one another. I see it on Instagram, on t-shirts; one of my friends has it tattooed on the back of her neck.
But put "You are not enough," in this context. You don't have to be. Because God is.
That Christmas five years ago, I was trying to be God for my girlfriend in pretty extreme ways. (It was this relationship, in fact, that helped me realize finally that I needed a support group for codependency. For an explanation, check out this podcast interview I did this fall: Journey of a Fearless Female.) And God, in His loving kindness, reminded me that the solution for this family did not lie with me. He had them in his hands. He had a plan. It might not look like mine.
God's plans rarely do look like ours.
Christmas is God's rescue plan for the world: the celebration of God with us, and He came to us because we were not okay on our own. We were not enough to save ourselves, to love enough, to fix this world. We become safe and enough because of God's love for us. As the David Crowder Band sings, "if grace is an ocean we're all sinking." We sink down in grace to rise up to our true selves: beloved children of the God who came near. We no longer try to be perfect but accept our loved state in all of our not-enoughness.
And so this is what Christians really mean when they say "You are enough." They mean, "You are safe. You are loved. You can have grace. You don't have to be enough all by yourself." Knowing God, we should be rooted in reality: that in this world we will have trouble, but Jesus overcame the world.
I tend to forget that Christmas isn't the end of the story, isn't "all our troubles out of sight," as the song goes. The griefs and injustices of the world stand out to me more at this time of the year. Broken relationships bother me more. Mood swings and bad days seem worse than usual. I suffer from insomnia in December, I lose weight (don't be jealous, it all comes back in January) and I often have a crying meltdown around the 15th. Stay tuned for details.
And I'm always a bit susceptible to unreasonable expectations of myself, and being a mom at Christmas really brings that dysfunction into flower, like a big red amaryllis bulb of issues.
So maybe I am not the person to give advice on how to get through the holidays in a state of peace. I have, as of yet, never achieved it.
On the other hand, I have a theory that those who struggle are the best teachers. So I offer you these statements to cling to throughout advent, that I hope will help us all. Share them with your best friends and ask them to encourage you this way through the season:
You are not enough to make everyone you love happy.
You are not enough to reconcile all the family relationships that are strained or broken.
The gifts you buy are not enough to bring everyone joy.
The lists you make and organization systems are not enough to make every day peaceful.
The celebrations and outings you plan are not enough to sustain frivolity for 25 days.
You are not enough and you don't have to be.
You are loved.
You are safe -- you will be ushered into ultimate peace.
You are accepted in your not-enoughness.
You are swimming in grace.
God is with you.
May peace attend you this season.
For more help and tips on surviving the holidays, check out my Self Care Advent Calendar, which I wrote three years ago. Print and display in your house to remind you how to care well for yourself in the high-demand season.
Also, check out my book All My Friends Have Issues. In Chapter Six of my book "Sabbatical Sisters: Encouraging Our Besties to Take a Break," I emphasize how important it is to remind each other to stop trying to be all things to all people. Give it to someone you love and encourage them in this unique way.