Reflection for Western Heights Uniting Church
28th of June, 2020
I don’t know about you, but I am tired. We have now been in some sort of lockdown since the fifth week in Lent, through Holy Week and the entire season of Easter, and now we are several weeks into the season after Pentecost. And just as we thought we might be coming out of physical distancing, we have had to retreat again. It is exhausting.
This has been a difficult year. It began in fire as we watched many parts of Australia burn; even here we were affected by the bushfires’ smoke. Then COVID19 appeared. We have been living through a long-drawn-out natural disaster, and we know from other natural disasters that this means we will be functioning at much less than 100%. Simply living through a crisis takes an enormous amount of energy, and I am sure that many of us are experiencing ‘crisis fatigue’. What can make a pandemic especially difficult is that so many of the ways that we would usually support each other in a time of emergency are impossible. We cannot visit each other. We cannot gather for worship. We cannot bring food to church to be distributed by Uniting. Resources like Zoom and Vimeo have helped us keep in touch, but they cannot replace the literal touch, the hug or handshake, that we would usually use to express our care for one another. For church members, people who are used to being ‘helpers,’ that we cannot offer so many of our usual types of help can add to our feelings of frustration. We can feel that we are not doing ‘enough’.
As some of you know, I live with depression. While I would never say that having a mental illness is a good thing – when the depression isn’t managed living with it is absolutely horrific – it does mean that I have spent a lot of time reflecting on not feeling ‘good enough’. One of the books I have found most helpful was written by Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who works on vulnerability, shame, courage and empathy. In Daring Greatly Brown writes about the culture of scarcity in which we live today in which we are not only told that there will never be enough (time, money, health, housing, jobs) and that we will never have enough (that there isn’t enough to go around) but, even worse, that we are not enough. As part of her research Brown gives people the phrase ‘never __________ enough’ and has them fill in the blank. She says it only takes a few seconds before they fill that blank with what their inner voices tells them:
- Never good enough
- Never perfect enough
- Never thin enough
- Never powerful enough
- Never successful enough
- Never smart enough
- Never certain enough
- Never safe enough
- Never extraordinary enough
One of the things that depression does is make that voice so loud that it is impossible to hear anything else, but as Brown shows even otherwise mentally healthy people can hear that voice niggling away at them. I suspect that in this time of COVID19 that voice is lying to a lot of us.
Brown’s book is called Daring Greatly because she is writing about people who are willing to be brave. Her description of this bravery, this daring, is that these people demonstrate it by simply showing up and letting themselves be seen in all their vulnerability. They are willing to do this because they know that they do not need to be perfect. Brown writes that ‘the opposite of “never enough” isn’t abundance or “more than you could ever imagine.” The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness … vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.’
One of the things that the church should be reminding all of us is that we are enough. We are enough because we have been made in the image of God, and God loves us as we are. We can, in Brown’s words, show up and let ourselves be seen in all our imperfect vulnerability because we know that in God’s eyes we are always already enough. The Apostle John tells us that ‘God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (John 3:17). The Apostle Paul reminds us that the whole story of Christianity is about love: ‘God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8), and that nothing is ‘able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39). Members of the early church are addressed as ‘beloved’ over sixty times in the letters sent by the Apostles that are collected in the New Testament, and we, members of the church in the twenty-first century, can be sure that we are equally beloved. As today’s reading reminds us, we are so close to God that whoever welcomes us welcomes Jesus. The new commandant that Jesus gave his disciples was ‘that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’ (John 13:34), and ‘as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love’ (John 15:9). We are loved by God; we are called to love one another; and we are also to love ourselves. If we were not expected to love ourselves the command, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39) wouldn’t make any sense. We are the beloved children of God, made in the image of God, those for whom Jesus demonstrated his love by dying for us – of course we are always enough!
We might know this with our heads, but sometimes it is hard to feel this in our hearts and our guts. This year I have been reading through a collection of writings by George MacDonald, the 19th century Scottish author, collected by C. S. Lewis. I suspect that George MacDonald lived with depression, because he so often writes about ‘dryness,’ about the inability to feel God’s love. There is one line of his that I have underlined in the hope that I will remember it next time the depression gets out of control: ‘God has an especial tenderness of love toward thee for that thou art in the dark and have no light, His heart is glad when thou dost arise and say, “I will go to my Father”’. In the midst of COVID19 many of us may have times of feeling that we are in the dark and that we can see no light, and it at these times, MacDonald tells us, when it is hard to feel ourselves loved, that God especially loves us.
We are enough. Whatever we are doing in this time of COVID19 is enough, even if at the moment we cannot do anything. We are God’s beloved children, always. Amen.
 Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead (Penguin Random House, 2012).
 Daring Greatly, p. 25.
 Daring Greatly, p. 29.
 C. S. Lewis (ed.), George MacDonald: An Anthology (1946), p. 19.