That was written on a scrap of paper pinned to the jacket of a man fished out of the river in New York. I wonder how many make their way through life with that mistaken conclusion pinned to their consciences. It can be a crippling conclusion to draw of oneself preventing relationships and normal personal development; when in company we hide in a corner tied up in knots. In the area of professional careers, intellectual appointments, or selection for sports activities if it is an accurate assessment the correct word to use is incompetent not good. To regard a person as ‘not good enough’ is a serious and mistaken conclusion to draw of human potential and dignity, in ourselves or others.
When it is the conclusion, or decision taken of a person it may have a toxic effect on their mental health. Being rejected as ‘not good enough’ has led some, through low self-esteem to addiction, anti-social activity, isolation, self-mutilation and even suicide. An even more serious effect occurs when it becomes the systemic classification of an entire community of a particular skin colour, or race. South Africa’s apartheid past contains stark and shocking evidence of the shameful consequences of such action.
In her book ‘The Church Cracked Open’ Stephanie Spellers, an Episcopalian minister, shows how the White Euro-church in America has a historic record of some complicity in drawing this conclusion regarding entire non-white populations; leading church leaders to approve white superiority, supremacy and the sanctioning of slavery, subjugation and mass killing. A shameful, horrific indictment that not only stains the record of church history, but has left lingering resentment and the communal festering abscesses of racism, gender discrimination, homophobia and xenophobia. She acknowledges that In America and elsewhere there have been some heroic individuals who recognized the wrong being done, Women Suffragettes, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and many more but it has taken a long time to collectively remove the tag of ‘not being good enough’. Sadly, pockets of discrimination still exist –in many churches, levels of government, business, education and society to the detriment of the progress and health of a nation.
When we turn from the national to the personal scene there is overwhelming evidence of the psychological and emotional dislocation this assessment causes. Low self-esteem is a deadly missile. Some choose to seek psychological counselling, others spend their energy in a fruitless, never ending search for happiness and acceptance. Even within the church many feel they just never measure up to the standard set by others. They are never satisfied with their own performance, and make the mistake of comparing themselves with others whose appearance deceives them (beneath the surface they too are paddling furiously to stay afloat) – so happiness and fulfillment escapes them both. Many sit in church fellowship, or prayer meetings, or study groups battling with and silenced by the specter of not feeling good enough. Sometimes, God forgive us, visitors with differing sexualities, styles of dress and social status seeking acceptance and fulfillment and struggling to define themselves have had this unjust tag pinned on them so they leave wounded in mind and spirit never to return.
We can turn to scripture and wonder if Moses the murderer, or David the seducer/murderer, or Thomas the doubter, or Peter the denier or any of the fishermen who gathered around Jesus would qualify as good enough for a selection committee on spirituality today. It was said of Jesus himself, by one who became a disciple, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ In his relationships with others Jesus excluded no one as “not good enough’ – the tax collector, the prostitute, the sinners, people of questionable public reputation, the Samaritan, even the man with a criminal record strung up next to him at Calvary were all accepted.
In Christ’s eyes our assessment of ourselves is understandable and forgivable. According to scripture we were born ‘good’ in God’s eyes. Why then do we believe ‘that we are all born in sin’? Why do we allow remarks made about our limited ability in certain activities, or personal appearance to destroy our self-worth? In so doing we separate ourselves from God, harm our self-esteem and block all possible personal and spiritual transformation. Not realizing God’s mercy adequately covers our shortfall.
We have to keep reminding ourselves of who we are in God’s eyes. Thomas Merton identifies our true identity, ‘Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you and offers you an understanding and completeness which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon’. Brennan Manning echoes that, saying, ‘God loves who we really are, whether we like or not’. We can therefore delete the phrase ‘not good enough’ from our mind’s computer. John Wesley went out among the roughest crowd of human beings, rode in the wagon carrying prisoners to the gallows with this clear message, ‘For all, for all my Saviour died’. His message includes every single one of us.