I ran across a quotation this week that is worth sharing. I found this in a book by Brene Brown, but the quotation comes from Lynn Twist, who is a fundraiser for global non-profit organizations, and in this paragraph she is describing a mindset of scarcity, which she calls “the great lie.”
“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’ Whether true or now, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of….Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack….This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice and our arguments with life…”
Sound familiar? It seems like most of us carry around a scarcity complex—a voice inside our heads that rattles off the ways we are not good enough, not healthy enough, not patient enough… you can probably fill in the blank with your own versions of not-enough-ness.
Throughout this season of Lent, we are exploring the ways that Jesus teaches us about Love. We’ve looked at what it means for love to choose to be vulnerable. We’ve faced the reality of how painful love can be, especially when it is rejected. This week, we will look at a facet of love that I think is sometimes grossly overlooked—learning how to love ourselves.
This might seem a little bit counterintuitive to some. After all, isn’t loving ourselves part of the problem in our world? Don’t too many people love themselves a little too much? Isn’t narcissism rampant? Isn’t self-interest and self-absorption drawing people’s energy away from community life and the good, virtuous things like loving one’s neighbor? Why would Jesus teach us to love ourselves?
Let’s look at today’s parable, and consider what Jesus is saying.
Jesus tells a story of a man who has a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and when he discovers that after three years, it still hasn’t borne any fruit, he gets impatient, and is ready to cut it down to make room for something better—something more productive, presumably.
But then the gardener intervenes, and persuades the vineyard owner to give the tree one more year—to let the gardener tend to the tree and feed it well, and see what happens.
It’s an odd little story, isn’t it? It is tempting to turn it into an allegory—to try to make one-to-one parallels, and figure out which character “represents” God, and what the fig tree stands for. But that’s not the way parables work. Parables are more mysterious, and more simple than that. Parables usually have one idea they are trying to drive home, and parables are meant to get us processing that one idea in new and unexpected ways—ways that touch our hearts and imaginations.
And what is the one idea in this parable? Wait. In the face of the harsh, critical voice—the voice that wants to give up and cut down, there is another option. Wait. Give it time. See what happens.
Now, there is a good chance that in its original context, this parable was meant to address some of the harsh words that Jesus’ disciples and others had for their own nation and its leaders. Maybe this was a more moderate response to the push for violent revolution.
But I think that the parable has power for us, today, in light of the not-enough-ness—that critical voice that most of us carry around with us all day, every day.
When we see some part of our lives that doesn’t seem good enough, what is our response? Do we long to cut it out and be done with it? If we attempt something new, and it didn’t go as well as we wanted, do we vow that we will never try that again! Or, do we want to ignore and neglect the not-enough-ness, and hope it goes away? How much of our entertainment and snacking and gossiping is a distraction from those parts of ourselves we don’t want to examine, or acknowledge? Or, do we obsess over the not-enough-ness, getting frustrated when things don’t improve? When we just can’t lose the weight, or get up earlier like we want to, or keep the house clean, or eat less red meat…
There are lots of harsh ways we can respond to that sense of not-enough-ness.
But is there an alternative?
How does God respond to our not-enough-ness? Does God even see it as not-enough, or does God have a whole different perspective?
Here’s how I see God responding: I see God touching each of those insecurities—each of those places where we feel like we are not enough of something—and God smiles. God says, “You are always enough. Not perfect, sure, but enough. So give it time. Wait. Be patient with yourself. See what happens.”
Earlier, I posed a bunch of questions about why Jesus would teach us to love ourselves. Isn’t love of self instead of love of others one of the problems with the world?
Here’s what I think. I think all the self-absorption and narcissism is not actually love of self, but a mask for self-loathing. I think those times when people curl in on themselves and focus only on their own needs are the times when they are most aware of their own neediness—their own not-enough-ness. I believe that when we truly learn to love ourselves, just the way we are, flaws and all, we not only learn to have patience with ourselves, we also learn how to extend patience and compassion to others.
Think about it. Have you ever watched someone make a mistake just like one you made when you were younger? If you learned from your mistake, and learned to laugh at yourself, you were probably able to smile at that younger friend or family members, and say, “Yeah, I’ve been there. Don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world.”
I experience this all the time with Susanna. She is so much like I was as a child that it is kind of frightening—especially to me, because I have to come face-to-face with things about myself that I don’t always like. I can tell when Susanna is behaving in ways that I really don’t like about myself, because I lose my patience more quickly. If her behavior is something I’ve learned to accept about myself, and laugh about in myself, then I have more patience with her, and I can grin and trust that she will come out okay.
Learning to be gentle and kind to ourselves, learning to look at all those insecurities and wait for God to do something good in us, anyway—that is how we learn to be kind and gentle and patient with others.
I think there is a reason that that great commandment from the Old and New Testaments says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We have to learn to love ourselves—not obsess over ourselves, or become preoccupied with covering our weaknesses with glossy strengths, or promoting our self-interest, but to truly love our whole selves, flaws and mistakes and insecurities and all—before we can love others well.
So, can we do it? During this season of self-examination, can we look at ourselves honestly, face those places where we hear the “not-enough” refrain, and instead of panicking or seizing control, can we hand those parts of our lives over to God, and wait? Wait to see what God will do? Wait to see what might still grow? Can we begin to love ourselves that way? God, help us wait.