the crazy tension between "too much" and "not enough"

tightrope-walker

this past weekend i was in a conversation with some of my dear friends that i consider kindred spirits because we are all, in some shape or form, “ex-good-christian-women.”  for all kinds of reasons, we no longer fit the mold we used to try so hard to conform to.  these are courageous beautiful women who don’t just long for greater freedom but are actually moving toward it intentionally.  one of the thoughts that came up around the table was the paradox, the crazy tension between being feeling we are “too much” and “not enough.”   living this way is pretty much a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” and perpetuates a weird self-hatred that seems to rob us of life.   i can’t tell you the amount of time i have spent feeling bad for my loud-ness, spirited-ness, my passion for change, my messed up-ness, my opinionated-ness.  these thoughts don’t get as much traction as they used to, but they are unfortunately sometimes present nonetheless.  and on the same spectrum, a core message i have consistently wrestled with on my healing journey is the “i am not quite good enough.”   i have lived in the land of “if i only was more-this-or-more-that-i’d-be-a-better-christian-wife-mother-you name it” for many years.  (yes, remember that my blog is called ‘the carnival in my head’!)  both of these messages–“too much” and “not enough”–are so messed up, but after being around the block with lots of people over the years, i know they are prevalent not just for women but for men, too  (and especially those of us who are evangelical christians & have lived in fairly rigid systems in one way or another).

i know there are people out there who do not think that these kinds of questions are all that “spiritual” (some would even say “if we’d just focus on Jesus instead of ourselves, we wouldn’t have these issues”) but i would completely disagree.  i think these core beliefs about ourselves affect every area of our lives, especially our relationship with God.  i think our spirituality is weaved deeply into every part of us and we can’t simply & easily parse out what’s “spiritual” and what’s “emotional”, what’s “God-focused” and what’s not.  God knows our inmost thoughts as our parent, lover, friend, advocate, companion on the journey. the doubt, the confusion, the “feeling this way sucks” is all part of what we bring into our relationship with God & other people, too.   i believe that the more honest we are with what we wrestle with deep down, the greater the likelihood for intimacy & change.  many are on the journey toward a deeper understanding of what it means to “love God & love our neighbors as ourselves” and i think a greater acknowledgement of how these messages are guiding how we live our lives will only benefit the kingdom. as we heal, transform, change we become more free, more loving, more inclined to live unhindered by the trappings of the world, the limitations of organized religion.  we are more likely to serve freely, love better, give our hearts more readily. i think we become more comfortable in our own skin instead of staying stuck, isolated, limited.

so how did these distorted messages get inside us and what are we supposed to do about it?

most of these things got into our heads, our hearts from our life experiences (including our families, church, significant relationships). a subtle or sometimes direct message got communicated from people or systems we were part of:  “shut up, do what you’re told, dreams are stupid, you can’t do that, good girls & boys are supposed to…., those skills don’t pay the bills, you need more self-control, self-discipline,  you’re too emotional, stop crying, stop feeling, be responsible, get a real job, if you’re like that boys or girls won’t like you, you could do better, if you would only do this or that…”  oh the list is much longer than this & i am sure you could add so many more, but you get the idea.  i don’t think anyone means for these to mess with our heads, but the bottom line is they did, they do.

i think healing & greater freedom happens when we acknowledge where they show up in our lives and how they’re affecting our relationship with God, other people.  honesty won’t automatically solve anything but it will help, especially if we are in safe and challenging groups of people who understand & are willing to wrestle with the same thoughts that are floating around in their head.  something really free-ing happens when we say it out loud, laugh at it, cry about it, and are with authentic, real people whose presence alone points us toward God’s grace & heart for us.

we need to seek what God wants to say to us about these messages.   this sometimes gets distorted for me because i unfortunately have a tendency to think that “people who are considered ‘godly'” equal “God”.  um, two different things.  the crazy christian bar is not our measure.  what pastors, leaders, well-meaning friends, mean-people-we-have-been-connected-to say is not our measure.  we must hear from God in the quiet of our hearts for us & only us. this requires space, intention, time, and flexibility (i say this because i think sometimes we demand that God show up and then are mad that he doesn’t deliver the goods the way we want).  a simple & real way God has poured some healing into these messages for me is through the gospels, a reminder of Jesus’ wildness, craziness, counter-culturalness & how all of the people he connected with were basically considered “too much” or “not enough” by the powers-that-be.

ask ourselves the question “how much am i letting these messages get in the way of life?” how many times do we hold back from ministry opportunities, dreams, relationships, creative pursuits, adventures God is stirring up in us because we think somehow we aren’t good enough, healed enough, whatever enough?  how many times do we lay down our passions because we are worried people will think we are arrogant or self-centered for thinking we could actually give them a try?

live in the paradox that we’re probably somehow always both and that it doesn’t really matter.  yes, i’m probably too much sometimes.  and yes, it is often apparently clear how much i fall short.  it’s just part of being a living, breathing human being and it serves us well to let go of needing to fall into some perfectly balanced equilibrium that is nothing short of impossible.

i don’t think these messages will die easy. but i think they can and are supposed to lose their power as we come face-to-face with God’s true heart for us.  i see it more and more in my own life, in the lives of my friends.   life is too short to waste more time and energy letting other people decide what is “too much” or “not enough.”   the truth is there will always be people that think we are one or the other.  we will at different times actually be one or the other.  i think we have to be willing to live with our own paradoxes, our own crazy tension of strengths & weaknesses, and rest in a beautiful pocket of God’s amazing grace.

i love brennan manning’s words here from reflections for ragamuffins:

“when i get honest, i admit i am a bundle of paradoxes. i believe and i doubt. i hope and i get discouraged. i love and i hate. i feel bad about feeling good, i feel guilty about not feeling guilty. i am trusting and suspicious. i am honest and i play games.  [i am sometimes too much, other times not enough]. aristotle said i am a rational animal; i say i am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.  to live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life’s story, the light side and the dark. in admitting my shadow side, i learn who i am and what God’s grace means.”

amen.

ps: if you think of him, send a little prayer love up for my husband jose today & tomorrow. he is taking the bar exam. he has basically been studying nonstop since he graduated from law school in may.  our whole family is excited for him to be done so he can be back with us in the land of the living!

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

14 Comments

  • Kathy, I really don’t mind you reading through my diary, but I’d appreciate a heads-up warning next time before you publish my private thoughts on your bog. 🙂

    The “too much, not enough” sums it all up for me. For me, though, I never struggled with that at all before becoming a Christian (age 25). It was the messages that I got in the church that planted that tension in me of “too much, not enough” in my head, and I’ve spent the last decade trying to clear them out of my head.

    Love to you, woman. You are the third bear’s bed in the story of Golidlocks: Just right!

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  • I am growing increasingly comfortable in the inbetween-ness of a life lived honestly.

    Great post . . . and good vibes heading Jose’s direction. He’ll nail it . . .

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  • This is a wonderful post, Kathy. Hits right on what I have been/am going through. As I was reading, a thought came to mind.

    “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 (NIV)

    I think we sometimes get this backward and think that in order to get Him to love us, we have to love Him enough…. aaaiii!!!

    No, we love because He did. What this is beginning to mean in me is that I need to know – really know – that He loves me. Not just mentally agree to the concept, but KNOW – first hand experience know – before I even start trying to give that love to others, I need to know what it is. As we begin to really get a grasp on the largeness with which He loves us, it will humble and break and transform and… we become like Him – we love.

    And I am beginning to realize that we don’t have to try and ‘work our love walk up.’ We either got it or we don’t got it. And we have no power to manufacture it. It comes from God and relationship with Him and no other way. Hmm… the more I get to know Him and understand His love for me (and that He likes me), the more I want others to know that He loves them and likes them, too. Right here, right now. Just where they are.

    Hmm… I better quit or I will write a sermon. 😉

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  • Great thoughts Kathy – Thanks for opening our minds. When we accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we started a great journey. That journey started with a belief and a confession. He is Lord and God raised Jesus from the dead. We recognize that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We recognize the kingdom of God where the very authority and power emanates from the throne. Your comments cover flesh and spiritual issues. Well, aren’t we flesh and spiritual beings subject to gravity here on Earth or obedience to the Spirit?

    Your writings reveal that you have a great understanding of the kingdom of heaven where you entered as a child and wax even stronger as a servant of God until you become a son/daughter of God and an heir. Remember we are now on the back side of the cross and require less of milk and more of meat (the Word). Why are we just hearers of the Word and not doers? We have a responsibility as Christian. A lot of Christian’s are jumping back and forth across the very cross Jesus died on.

    Man is no longer our teacher but it is the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent who will teach us all things.

    I don’t think the Lord wants you to fit a mold or conform to a religious system. That would make us religious and we would become like the Pharisees.

    If we have the Holy Spirit then He gives us gifts. The gift of healings is one of nine gifts. God gave us dominion over the Earth. Satan deceived Adam & Eve and became Prince of this world. Jesus freed us from captivity. Gave us commandments to go ye preach/teach yet we fail and fall back to flesh. Why?

    Remember many are called but few are chosen. Answer: Continue to read the Word of God. This will strengthen your relationship with God.

    Maranatha,
    WJ

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  • The stronger my faith grows the more I see that I ACT out my faith rather than REACT my faith to the stimuli that constitutes the world in which I live. I try very hard not to allow others determine how I feel or how I behave – I must be careful though still to be conscious of those around.

    It is in tension that growth occurs ….

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  • Wow-the more I think about it EVERYTHING in my life seems to be a paradox. Really-EVERYTHING. So I started feeling real “dysfunctional” and thought I MUST be a superb actress and then I remembered 2 things. The Sermon on the Mount and Henry Cloud’s thoughts about not all is good and not all is bad.

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  • tracy – 🙂 yeah, i knew you’d get this. it is always so interesting to me that becoming a christian has created this message for so many, that there was more freedom before. how sad & not what Jesus ever intended, i am sure. glad we are on this journey together in heart & spirit…

    brian – the in-between of a life lived honestly is lovely, i am so with you. it feels so much more solid, real, compelling. thanks for the jose love, too. he is 1/2 way done, today’s the last day, yeah!

    katherine – sermon away, we need it! i love your thoughts here…and on the God liking us & loving us, oh i love that conversation & remember brennan manning talking about it. we can say over and over “God loves me” but the “but does he really like me?” question is the deeper question because it implies relationship, friendship, intimacy, a different form of connection that is so compelling…

    w. jones – nice to hear from you here for the first time and i can feel the sincerity and heart behind your words. thanks. how did you find the carnival blog?

    mark – yep, i am with you. i used to be so guided by outside forces, they tossed me and turned me all over the place and it was exhausting. it’s not that i never struggle with that still, but it has decreased in intensity as i’ve grown on my faith journey. i agree, it means we are anchored more firmly & more free to live unhindered, but with a deep consciousness & care for the people around us.

    ann – glad you figured out the comment thing! i do think life is just a big ol’ bundle of paradoxes and accepting it instead of resisting it brings so much greater freedom & hope & life. i love the sermon on the mount, my favorite piece of the gospels for sure, it so clearly embraces the crazy paradoxes and how everything in the kingdom is upside down and inside out..and yeah, that chapter on sorting out good & bad has always been so helpful, especially when i’m swinging way over one direction or another. both always exist. good, bad, ugly, beautiful, hard, easy, pain, joy. love ya, see ya tonight.

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  • “I think these core beliefs about ourselves affect every area of our lives, especially our relationship with God.”

    Yes! Yes!

    Sometimes I feel guilty about being introspective. I tell myself that spending time reflecting on myself (and trying to consciously rid myself of negative, untruthful self-talk) is wasteful and selfish (thus perpetuating the negative self-talk!). But, as Oprah always says, it’s hard to love others when you don’t have any love for yourself!

    I think that women have gotten so many mixed messages from both the Church and the broader culture about what our identity ought to be that we absolutely must take time to reflect and pray and find ourselves.

    Thank you for speaking boldly about this.

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  • Hi Kathy,
    I found your site using google as I was searching for information on healing for a class that I’m giving at an assisting living facility. As I read your blog, I thought you were very sincere and honest with your thoughts. That’s appealing in 2008!!!

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  • rachel- always good to hear from you here. yeah, we always forget the “as ourselves” part of jesus’ two commandments. i always love the topics you address on your blog. way to stir the pot and ask some great questions.

    w. jones – well, that is fun and not a typical way that people find this blog. would love to hear more about the healing class you are doing at an assisted living facility. very interesting.

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  • Hey Kathy, Running low on energy this week. As you can tell by my lack of comments on your blogging:) Great thoughts! It’s good to be in company with others that are aware of what goes on inside of each of us and who are willing to be honest.

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  • Love this stuff. I am working really hard to move the churches I serve into a real relationship with Christ. I am not sure how but trust the Lord to lead me.
    As I read this post it occured to me that many have heard this over and over throughout their lives. I am a commissioned lay pastor and have the feeling of inadequacy often. It is usually countered by a deep love of those I serve.
    When you speak of the messages sent us in so many ways I could not help but think about most church rule books. There are few rules that cause us to actively participate in mininstry. Most describe in detail how we are not allowed to work in ministry. I am PCUSA which I believe frees many and allows where many others don’t but am always amazed that the real message I get from those rules is what I cannot do.
    probably not what you were addressing but my carnival is running today :o) WaynO

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  • lisa – yeah, the company of honest people is all i am interested in these days, that is for sure! i am thankful, too.

    wayne – always so great to hear from you here! you so get it, that tension in ministry for sure. the messages we get sent by the powers that be are very strong & even when they are irrational, they do influence us and can rob us of peace. and the rules of what “can’t be done” well that is a whole other ballgame that can mess with our heads! i really believe in what you are doing out there, you are the real deal.

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  • Good stuff Kathy, I had to go back and reread this one a couple of times. As I read the first time I thought of Brennan Manning…then I get to your quote and cracked up as I realized you were thinking of him to! I’m reading his book The Signature of Jesus and it has quickly become my favoritezÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅÅ
    that was a message from my cat who felt the need to jump on the keypad…I’m sure there is some deep insight hidden in whatever that is!! ha Love you much!! Donna & Callie! ha

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