You Are Enough

 


This book is dedicated to my husband, whose belief in me changed my life, and to our daughter, our precious gift 

                                                                                                                - Allie Beth Stuckey.


CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

MYTH #1:

You Are Enough

MYTH #2:

You Determine Your Truth

MYTH #3:

You’re Perfect the Way You Are

MYTH #4:

You’re Entitled to Your Dreams

MYTH #5:

You Can’t Love Others Until You Love Yourself

Conclusion




INTRODUCTION

When I was seven, I explored the idea of following in Britney Spears’s footsteps. My parents wouldn’t let me buy her CDs (“Is she asking someone to hither??”), but I’d heard enough of her music at friends’ houses to know that I wanted to do what she did. I’d spend hours in my room after school practicing my singing and choreographing routines to whatever I had playing in my boom box. I was sure I had what it took.

As you can probably guess, things didn’t go that way. It turns out you actually have to be able to sing and dance to be a singer and a dancer. I eventually faced the harsh reality that I would never have what it takes to rock a red leather jumpsuit and a high pony in a music video. It was hard, but I coped.

I’d guess you have a similar story. You had your own wild aspirations, only to one day confront the realization that Tyra Banks wasn’t going to discover you at the mall while you were shopping at American Eagle with your mom and ask you to be on the next season of America’s Next Top Model.

We’re all stunningly confident as children. We’ve yet to become fully self-conscious, and we have little concept of the potential for failure. So we declare our aspirations, unafraid of embarrassment or the possibility that they won’t come to fruition. This self-assurance is part of the wonderful charm of kids. As we grow, it necessarily fades as we start the natural process of reconciling our plans with our actual potential.

I want you to imagine for a moment what it would be like if we didn’t go through that process. What if we clung to the out-of-the-realm-of-possibility dreams we had as kids and spent our lives pursuing them, no matter the consequences? I’d be selling EPs of my latest acoustic cover of “Toxic” on Instagram and you’d still be learning how to smize in your mirror at your parents’ house. It wouldn’t be pretty.

As we get older, we’re supposed to tell ourselves hard things. We’re supposed to grow up, assess our strengths, do things we don’t want to do, and realize we’re not as special as we think we are. We’re supposed to get out of our houses, get over ourselves, and create a life that’s productive and meaningful. The confidence we have in ourselves should change from juvenile blind adoration to grounded awareness.

A truth that we all come to terms with at some point in our adolescence is that we don’t have what it takes for one thing or another. In other words, we’re not enough. We don’t have enough talent, a high enough IQ, enough coordination, or enough facial symmetry to do the thing we were sure we would end up doing. Facing our inadequacies is crucial for appropriate development.

And so I find it silly—and downright dangerous—that we women are fed this phrase so constantly today: “You are enough.” The vast network of lifestyle bloggers, motivational speakers, fitness gurus, and spiritual Sherpas who live on our phones relay this message daily. We are enough for our kids, enough for our job, enough for our husband, enough for God, enough for ourselves. There’s nothing that needs to be added or taken away, we hear. We are perfect the way we are.

We know it’s not true. We realized this early on when we abandoned our dreams of pop stardom, and, in a different way, we realize it today. Just like I wasn’t enough to be the next Britney, I’m not enough to fulfill other roles either, even though they’re real. I’m not enough to be all the things I need to be at once: a good mom, a successful writer, a present wife, a solid friend, a faithful Christian. It’s just as crazy for me to think I’m enough for these things as it was for you to want to be a five-foot-two runway model. This time, it’s not just about talent. We may have the abilities to do most of these things well. It’s also about capacity.

We don’t have enough time or energy to be all that we need to be for the world around us. And when we don’t measure up to our or others’ standards, we drown in the dregs of self-loathing and insecurity. To numb the pain, we open Instagram, scroll for a few minutes, then click on our favorite self-help blogger and check her latest post, which reads “You are enough.”

Ahh. Balm for the weary heart. We’re flooded with warm feelings of gratitude as we read her caption reminding us that we’re strong, powerful, capable women whose dreams matter and whose stretch marks are beautiful and who are so much more than just moms to needy kids and wives to needy husbands and are perfect and wonderful just the way we are. “SO true,” we think to ourselves. “I am!”

We’re comforted, but only for a moment. The next second, when we look at the monitor and see our supposed-to-be-sleeping toddler wiggling just minutes after we’ve put him down, or remember that we have about fifteen pages left on the assignment due tomorrow, or look in the mirror and hate the body we see, our feelings of self-assurance quickly fade.

Many of us find ourselves in this cycle daily: feeling burned out, seeking encouragement from superficial sources, then feeling better only to feel worse a few hours later. This is exactly the consequence of getting sucked into what I call the toxic culture of self-love.

The culture of self-love tells us that we are enough. And that until we love ourselves into realizing our enough-ness, nothing in our lives will be right. We’re told a lack of self-love is why we haven’t started that company we’ve been thinking about. It’s why we’re settling for the guy we don’t really want to be with. It’s why we haven’t lost the weight or bought the car or done the thing we’ve been dreaming of doing. Because we have low self-esteem, struggle with self-doubt, and can’t kick this addictive habit of self-criticism, we’re unable to live the lives we were meant to live.

Dancer and actress Julianne Hough put it this way: “I think every girl needs to love herself, regardless of anything. Like, if you’re having a bad day, if you don’t like your hair, if you don’t have the best family situation, whatever, you have to love yourself and you can’t do anything until you love yourself first.” All of our successes, the thinking goes, depend on self-love.

I host a podcast called Relatable, where we analyze culture, news, and theology from a Christian perspective. Two years ago, a listener asked me to do an episode on what the Bible has to say about self-love. At that point, I had no idea the term was so popular. I was familiar with self-help, and I knew women were being fed a message of self-empowerment and independence, but I didn’t know how integral the idea of loving yourself had become to our cultural dialogue.

I quickly found through my research that self-love has been a hot topic for decades. Nearly a half century of psychology has focused on high self-esteem as the solution for society’s problems—from academic failure to crime. This made me wonder: If self-love isn’t a new phenomenon, if we’ve been taught for decades that our lives will be made better just by loving ourselves more and feeling confident, why hasn’t it caught on? Why aren’t we all happier?

In fact, it seems we’re less happy than ever before. Americans under forty are more depressed, anxious, lonely, and suicidal than any generation before us. We report stronger feelings of purposelessness than any other generation too. We are isolated and unsure of what we want to do with our lives. Many of us feel empty.

And it’s not for lack of self-focus. Most of us have been the centers of our own universe for as long as we can remember. Our most prized possessions all have the letter i in front of their names. We’re the generations of “about me” sections, personal profiles, and selfies. We are well acquainted with instant gratification, and we’ve come to expect the ability to personalize our experiences. We are keenly focused on ourselves and our needs. We spend hours studying our signs and personality types in an effort to gain the self-understanding we hope will bring us guidance and inner peace. Unlike our parents and grandparents, we are endlessly committed to finding careers we want rather than taking the jobs we need. We are the “everybody gets a trophy” generations, who were often given awards just for showing up. In general, our lives, for better and for worse, have revolved around us.

When it comes to committing to something bigger than ourselves, many of us would rather not. A 2019 Pew Research poll found that millennials make up the largest number of religious “nones” in America, falling far behind our predecessors in affiliation with Christianity.* An NBC / Wall Street Journal study from the same year found that young Americans are far less likely than older generations to care about faith, family, and patriotism.

We’ve spent our lives prioritizing ourselves, our wants, and our happiness, and, guess what. We’re still not happy. So how in the world could it be that self-love is the answer to our problems when there’s no evidence whatsoever that we’ve ever stopped loving ourselves?

These are the questions I considered as I studied the pervasiveness of the culture of self-love. And I started to wonder: Maybe our happiness doesn’t stem from the fact that we don’t love ourselves enough. Maybe we’re unfulfilled, lonely, and purposeless because we love ourselves way too much. Yes, many of us struggle with insecurities and even self-loathing. But these are just other indicators of self-obsession. Even when we don’t like ourselves, our perpetual prioritization of our wants, needs, problems, and dreams above all else proves that we still love ourselves a whole lot.

A couple of months into my research, I came across a video on my feed for Hillsong Church, where Hailey Baldwin Bieber gave a testimony of her faith. In it, she said, “I think that every person has had that feeling that they are not enough for something, someone . . . but . . . you are, because God took his time to create [you] and put you in this place.”

That’s it, I thought. That’s the essential lie young women are believing in this culture of self-love. Young Christian women, even. The lie that “you are enough.”

The idea that you’re enough is central to the culture of self-love. The logic goes: because you are complete, perfect, and sufficient on your own, you don’t need anyone else to love you to be content. All you need is yourself.

I totally get the appeal of this thinking. It’s true that we obsess over others’ approval and acceptance. We become distracted and detached from things that matter, like our families, friendships, and jobs. Instead of fulfilling our roles well, we’re stuck focusing on what roles other people have and how well they’re filling them. It’s also true that we shouldn’t fully depend on others for our happiness or allow their approval to define us. Acknowledging these things, it feels right to comfort ourselves with the mantra “I am enough.” And because I am enough, we may tell ourselves, all I need is my own love to be secure and successful.

But here’s the thing: our sufficiency isn’t the answer to insecurity, and self-love isn’t the antidote to our feelings of self-loathing.

Why? Because the self can’t be both the problem and the solution. If our problem is that we’re insecure or unfulfilled, we’re not going be able to find the antidote to these things in the same place our insecurities and fear are coming from.

Our self-love isn’t enough to make us confident. Our self-sufficiency isn’t enough to bring us peace. Our self-care, self-empowerment, self-help, self-whatever are only going to give us so many good vibes before we move on to the next self-betterment program. The self isn’t enough—period.

The answer to the purposelessness and hollowness we feel is found not in us but outside of us. The solutions to our problems and pain aren’t found in self-love, but in God’s love.

The God who created us, who created the universe, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, is the one who provides us with the purpose and satisfaction we’re seeking. While self-love depletes, God’s love for us doesn’t. He showed us his love by sending Jesus to die for our sins so that we could be forgiven and live forever with him. Self-love is superficial and temporary. God’s love is profound and eternal.

And his love compels us to something much better than self-obsession: self-sacrifice. While the thought of putting others before ourselves is considered blasphemy in the culture of self-love, it’s the joyous mode of operation for those who follow God. God’s love frees and empowers us to consider and serve other people before and instead of ourselves.

This is an argument I made in a podcast episode titled “Three Myths Christian Women Believe.” The first myth was that you are enough. My counter was this: you’re not enough, you’ll never be enough, and that’s okay, because God is.

I highlighted this passage from Ephesians: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. . . . But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us . . . made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” We are corrupted, helpless, and spiritually dead on our own, but God, through hispower, saves us, sanctifies us, and makes us alive in Christ. We are less than “not enough”; on our own, we’re nothing. But God.

The episode resonated. To my surprise, there were thousands of women who’d bought into this and other common lies without even knowing it. The day after it was published, a listener wrote to me in an email:

“I have struggled my whole life with self-hatred. It came from multiple places: my broken home as a child, my need to be successful for attention . . . the list goes on. I became a Christian in college, and since then I have read countless books by Christian authors trying to tell me how to ‘fix’ it and be ‘enough.’ The messages all kind of stayed the same: that I just needed to love myself more, because Jesus loved me, and that I was enough. . . . Your podcast opened my eyes. Who knew all I needed to hear was, ‘You’re not enough, you will never be enough, BUT GOD’?”

Similar messages flooded my inbox. I realized then that the culture of self-love and its central lie that you are enough wasn’t just a subject in a viral video or a blog post. It’s a mind-set that’s plaguing many of us.

And a lot of young women are looking for an alternative. For good reason: the culture of self-love is exhausting. While we’re telling ourselves we’re enough as we are, we’re also reading the next book, listening to the next podcast, or following the next ten-step plan to help us realize and manifest our enough-ness by finding our “best selves.” But if we were really enough as is, we wouldn’t have to try so hard to convince ourselves it’s true.

We’re looking for that one method or mantra that’s going to show us how to use self-love as the key to unlock our inner treasure box of talent and success. But every time we try, the lock changes. Today we think meditation will get us there. Tomorrow, crystals. Next week, organizing our closet. The week after that, cutting out processed foods. And if none of that works, then we look for a new book or podcast to give us the latest, greatest self-love strategy that we’re sure, this time, will help us finally achieve our truest self and help us live our best life.

We’re addicted to the thrill of it. It’s exciting to think that this shift in thinking could really be the game changer.

But the fleeting excitement is overwhelmed by disappointment. None of our methods work long term. No amount of yoga or sage burning or energy shifts or personality tests or essential oils or closet organizing or food prepping or booty exercises or whatever else the self-love stars say you need to finally, truly, be happy with yourself will ever convince you that you’re enough. Because you’re not. Neither am I. And that’s okay.

I want to make this clear upfront: when I talk about the damaging effects of self-love or the emptiness of self-care, I’m not encouraging self-deprecation or shame over getting our nails done. This book is about why the world’s answers to our very real feelings of self-doubt, self-loathing, incompetence, and insecurity aren’t sufficient and how God’s solutions are better.

This book is about good news. While the admission that self-love won’t satisfy us may feel counterintuitive (it’s certainly countercultural), it also gives us immense relief. We get to remove this crushing burden of trying to muster up a love inside us that just doesn’t hold up under the weight of life’s demands. We get to rely on a sovereign God to be our sufficiency, our confidence, our guide, and our giver of purpose.

This book is about dismantling the lies the toxic culture of self-love has fed to us and replacing them with God’s truth. We’ll dig into these five myths:

1. You are enough.

2. You determine your truth.

3. You’re perfect the way you are.

4. You’re entitled to your dreams.

5. You can’t love others until you love yourself.

You’ve heard these popular mantras propagated in the world of self-love, and while they sound inspirational on the surface, they lead only to confusion and desperation. Just like leaving some of our childhood dreams required us to confront hard truths about ourselves, accepting our limitations today will require us to take some tough-to-swallow pills. As we do, the mirage of self-sufficiency will fade, and along with it, the false hopes “you are enough” promises. Any time we let go of a false hope and replace it with a hope that’s real, we grow up a little bit. That’s what this book aims to do: to help us grow up by replacing the empty hope we have in ourselves with the satisfying hope we can place in God.

I learned how to do this the hard way.




MYTH #1

YOU ARE ENOUGH

I WANTED TO BE ENOUGH

“You’re going to die,” she told me, leaning forward on the edge of her seat. Her elbows rested on her knees, and her hands were clasped as if in prayer. “This is going to kill you.”


I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t want to admit it was serious. I just couldn’t kick the habit of throwing up my meals. What started out as restricting my calories and working out twice a day turned into a cycle of bingeing and purging that, as hard as I’d tried, I couldn’t get out of.


It had started to affect my life. I’d be at a restaurant, having just finished dinner and unable to enjoy the conversation with my friends because I was thinking about how badly I wanted to get rid of the food I’d just eaten. Once, when I was working at a conference for work, I lied to my coworker about needing to get something out of my room so I could go throw up. Another time a friend caught me in the bathroom, my head over the toilet. I thought she was downstairs. She walked in and asked if I was okay. I said I was fine. She didn’t push, but she knew I was lying.


I wanted to stop. It was embarrassing. It was inconvenient. More than that, it wasn’t who I wanted to be. I’d never struggled with any kind of addiction. Before that year, I had never gone to extreme lengths to lose weight. But here I was, in a counselor’s office, hearing that what I was doing was killing me.


About a year earlier, I’d been through a bad breakup. I dated a guy for two and a half years who met all my criteria: a Christian from a good family with solid friends and a nice personality. We met my freshman year, and I thought for sure he was the one. But things got rocky two years in, and both of us were having doubts. But I was determined to hang on because I was convinced I couldn’t find anyone better.


The fall of my senior year he broke up with me. Though I was devastated, I knew I didn’t want to spend my last semester sad. So I rebounded—but not in a good way.


I started going out more often and drinking more heavily. Single for the first time in my college career, I had a slew of new dating prospects. I was hanging out with people I considered the “party” crowd. They welcomed me and encouraged me to live it up these few months before the last year of college ended. The newness of it all helped numb my pain.


I also restricted the calories I consumed and spent multiple hours a day working out. The more weight I lost, the more alcohol I drank, and the more guys who paid attention to me, the easier it was for me to ignore the haunting fear the breakup had left me with: that I wasn’t enough.


Things got worse. Eventually I missed food too much to keep skipping meals, so I started to eat again, only to throw up an hour later. At first it was just once or twice a week. Then it became an addiction I just couldn’t break. I’d started to binge. When I did, I’d feel guilty and afraid I would lose all the “progress” I’d made, so I’d get rid of the food as quickly as I could.


Fast-forward to a few months after I graduated from college, and I was in a new city in a new job, and I was stuck in the same cycle. I was still going through guys and drinking too much, and I was still throwing up my meals. But I started to feel like I could no longer keep up with my own addiction, and, honestly, I was getting a little worried. I’d thought I had the power to turn it all off after the semester ended, but I didn’t. This “season” was turning into my actual life. It was one thing to me to have some college “fun,” but I wasn’t okay with this behavior becoming who I was.


So one morning at work I called a number I’d found on a list of recommended Christian counselors on a local church website. I thought the process would be simple: I’d get a few tips on how to live a better life and some mantras or mind games that would break this binge-and-purge addiction.


I believed that because that’s the popular message today: you already have everything you need inside you to solve your problems. The idea that while outside tools like therapy, medication, meditation, yoga, hypnosis, or crystals can help unlock your innate potential for health and happiness, you are ultimately healed by the inner power you naturally possess. But this isn’t reality.


Rarely does Teen Vogue publish helpful articles, but in July 2019 its site published an insightful op-ed critiquing modern wellness culture titled “Being Diagnosed with a Chronic Illness Taught Me That Health Isn’t a Meritocracy.” The author wrote:


“Women have been conditioned to believe both that our bodies are our self-worth and that our bodies are under our own control. As wellness culture would have us believe, health is a meritocracy in which ‘fueling’ your body and ‘detoxing’ and holding crystals can rocket you to the top.”


Her debilitating fibromyalgia showed her that no amount of self-care could completely heal her, and that the road to coping with her sickness was going to mean dependence on others rather than self-sufficiency. She realized that healing, whether mental or physical, isn’t a quick fix accomplished by unleashing our inner power.


We’re not enough to heal ourselves. I don’t mean that natural remedies and positive thinking aren’t at all effective; I’m saying that we don’t have some inherent mystical force inside of us ready to solve our life problems or physical maladies.


I learned the same lesson in my counselor’s office. Though I reached out to her because I knew I needed help, when we started, I thought the process would be one of self-empowerment. I figured she’d give me the keys, and I’d unlock my own capabilities to stop overdrinking, ditch the unhealthy relationships, and quit the bingeing and purging.


I was a product of the mainstream messages of our day. Though my mess of a semester should have taught me that “doing me” led to a dead end, I didn’t want to give up control and I didn’t want to decenter myself from my world. I still wanted to believe I was enough.


But the counseling sessions weren’t as straightforward or as focused on self-empowerment as I would have liked. At first the counselor just listened. Then over the course of a few weeks, she helped me peel back the layers of defensiveness and delusion I’d used to bury the sting of rejection and fear of loneliness. She helped me see that underneath all my behavior was my crippling fear of insufficiency. The attention I was getting from new friends and flings made me feel better about being rejected by my longtime boyfriend, and I’d convinced myself that being skinny was the thing making these new friends and flings possible. If I lost the “progress” I’d made, I wouldn’t be wanted or accepted anymore, and I’d have to face the pain of being rejected. That would mean I have to answer the question I didn’t want to ask: Am I enough?


I knew I wasn’t enough for the guy I thought I was going to marry, so I wanted to at least be enough for myself. I’d prove that I was fine on my own by doing the things that made me happy in the moment. And when the things that made me happy eventually made me miserable, I still assumed I had the power to take back control of my life and get myself on the right path.


It was clear that I didn’t. I was actually enslaved by my lifestyle. While my fear of insufficiency fueled my addiction, it also changed me for the worse. Before that last semester of college, I professed and lived Christianity. But after the breakup, I put my faith on the back burner to “focus on myself.” I feared that if I turned to God after the breakup, he would make me sit in my sadness while he healed me. I just didn’t have the patience for that. It hurt too much. I wanted quick relief, even if it was fleeting.


I’m grateful for a counselor who pointed me back to God and his Word and told me that not only was what I doing sinful, it was also dangerous. Her four words—“you’re going to die”—stopped me in my tracks after a few months of meeting with her.


After that appointment I got into my car, put my head in my hands, and broke down. I cried out to God with a million questions: How did I get here? And how do I stop? Can I? Can I really let go of this? What will happen if I do? Are you going to be with me? Will you help?


And he did. After that day the binge-and-purge cycle stopped. While I know this isn’t everyone’s experience with eating disorders, it was mine. God graciously and immediately gave me the grace to let go of the thing I thought was holding me together. In reality, it was tearing me apart.


I’d been deep in the culture of self-love: doing what I wanted and focusing on my wants in an effort to live my “best life.” Ultimately my self-centeredness blinded me to the damage I was wreaking on my life.


I don’t know what you’re facing now. Whether it’s more or less serious than what I faced in college, I can tell you for sure: you’re not enough. Just like me, you don’t have what it takes to heal yourself: from the addiction, the rejection, or the depression. Your self-contrived solutions to your problems won’t work, and your attempts to fill your emptiness with more of yourself will fail. Your insistence upon “doing you” by choosing only what feels good in the moment will only defer the pain until it becomes a crushing burden.


The first step to getting out of whatever unhealthy cycle you’re currently in is realizing just how not enough you are. That means letting go of the responsibility to be your own source of fulfillment—a responsibility that was never yours in the first place.

THERE’S GOOD NEWS

The world tells us self-love will solve all our problems, but it can’t. Lizzo is a popular artist whose calls to self-love characterize her brand. Last year she posted on Instagram a question from one of her followers that read “How is it possible that I listened to the great Lizzo tell me how important self-love is and I still somehow hate myself?” Lizzo responded by saying that self-love takes time, and even she’s still not there yet.


But that’s not the real reason. Neither Lizzo nor her fan feels content despite focusing on self-love because self-love is inherently unsatisfying. It depends on our feelings, which are subject to constant change based on our circumstances, our performance, and other people’s opinions. Self-love is unreliable, conditional, and limited. Chasing after it always brings us to a dead end.


For me, the dead end of self-love looked like a counselor’s office hearing that I’m going to die. In my last semester of college, I thought I was doing what freshly single college girls are supposed to do: be “free” and “find myself” by doing exactly what I wanted and when. I looked happy and self-assured, but on the inside, I was rotting. I wanted to find the answer to emptiness inside myself, and it just wasn’t there.


I’m not alone in my experience. For a generation obsessed with personal happiness and self-discovery, we’re startlingly unhappy and lost. Our rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are staggering. Even the memes we make highlight the problems that ail us: social anxiety, insomnia, insecurity, a fear of “adulting.” At best, we’re discontent and confused. At worst, we’re totally hollow.


The reason we, a generation living in the most prosperous era in the most prosperous country in the world, still can’t find fulfillment is because we’re looking for it in the wrong places. We keep hearing that if we just love ourselves a little more and check a few more things off our personal list of goals, we’ll finally be okay. This tactic isn’t working, and it’s keeping us miserable.


Our desperation is exacerbated because of a reason we’ve already named: the self can’t be both our problem and our solution. If the self is the source of our depression or despair or insecurity or fear, it can’t also be the source of our ultimate fulfillment. That means loving ourselves more doesn’t satiate us. We need something else—something bigger. Simply, we need Jesus.


There’s a reason Jesus describes himself as Living Water and Bread of Life: he satisfies. The searching for peace and for purpose stops in him alone. He created us; therefore only he can tell us who we are and why we’re here.


And aren’t these the questions everyone’s trying to answer: Who are we and why are we here? The world’s answer to these questions is “You.” Youdefine your identity, your purpose, your value, your truth. Jesus’s answer is “Me.” He defines your identity, your purpose, your value, your truth.


Who do you think is a more reliable source for the answers for which our souls are begging? Jesus—the Maker of the universe—or us—the same people who can barely remember what we had for lunch yesterday?


When we place ourselves on the throne of our lives, giving ourselves the authority to define who we are and why we’re here, we inevitably end up where I did in college—exhausted and confused. Why? Because if we’re honest with ourselves, we just don’t know. We don’t know who we’re supposed to be, and our ideas of what our purpose is are both changing and elusive. The standards we set for ourselves are ever evolving, so we’re never fully content with who we are or what we’re doing.


But when Jesus is on the throne of our lives, he has the authority to give us our identity and purpose, and in him, these things never change. In his life he set an example of kindness and love. In his death he paid the debt we owed for our sins so that we could be reconciled to a holy God. In his resurrection he conquered sin and death, so that those who believe can live forever with him.


If we were enough, we wouldn’t need Jesus to do these things for us, but we do. Without him we’re hopeless, purposeless, and dead in our sin.


When Jesus saves us, we are made new creations and children of God. As such, our goal is to glorify him in everything we do. We don’t have to wonder what it’s all about anymore. This is it. In exchange for the confusion and exhaustion that comes with trying to be enough, he gives us peace and relief. In exchange for superficial confidence and unsatisfying self-care, Jesus offers us steadfast assurance and trust in his faithfulness.


That’s why the fact that you’re not enough is not just okay—it’s great. You aren’t meant to be enough, and neither am I.


When we miss this truth, we stay stuck in a vicious cycle of trying to measure up to impossible standards while simultaneously convincing ourselves that we’re good enough the way we are. The consequences are always dire.

THE END OF OURSELVES

The tough season I went through in college taught me a lot about the damaging effects of self-love and self-sufficiency, but I’m grateful that it was only a short season. Others have been learning this hard truth their whole lives. I went through a breakup and a subsequent eating disorder. Others have been dealt much harder blows.


Cecily’s parents got a divorce a few months before she was born. She and her sister lived with their mom and her boyfriend, Greg.


One of Cecily’s first memories is of Greg beating her mother in the bathroom of their apartment. Just four years old, she watched from the hallway as he slammed her mom’s head against the tile wall and shoved her limp body to the ground. She remembers thinking she should run and tell someone, but she was scared that if she did, she’d be next.


When the couple wasn’t fighting, they were in their own world. They would talk openly about their eagerness for the girls to leave to be with their dad so they wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore.


One day Greg left and said he was never coming back. That afternoon Cecily found her mother passed out on the floor by the toilet after overdosing on painkillers. Her sister called their grandmother to tell her their mom was sick. The police arrived within an hour and searched the apartment, discovering dozens of empty pill bottles in the bathroom cabinet. Cecily was only five. The girls were ordered to live full time with their dad, who did his best to raise his girls well. He took them to church, helped them to stay on top of their schoolwork, and encouraged them to be well rounded. He wanted a better life for them than the one he and their mother had led.


Cecily loved her dad and was thankful for the stability he provided. But she still struggled through the aftermath of living with a mom who was unable to love her and her sister. She’d lie awake at night asking Why doesn’t my mom want me? Why am I not enough for her?


As she grew up, she learned to push these questions away. She lost touch with her mom in her teenage years and moved through life with relative ease, graduating from high school and then from college, building on the firm foundation her dad had worked diligently to lay out for her. When she was twenty-five, she married a man she knew would love her unconditionally. She felt whole for the first time in her life.


Cecily and her husband welcomed two children, a boy and a girl, within three years of their wedding. When she found out she was pregnant the first time, her immediate excitement was quickly replaced by the heavy weight of responsibility to be a better mom for her children than hers had been. Anxious determination consumed her: This child will never feel the way I did—unwanted, unloved. I’ll be everything he wants and needs.


She quickly learned what a defeating endeavor this was. Their first baby had colic and torticollis, inconsolably crying for five to eight hours a day and sleeping for only an hour at a time at night. But because Cecily insisted upon giving her baby everything she’d never got from her mother, she refused to accept help. She didn’t want him to wonder where his mom was when he needed her.


She was worn thin, worry ridden, and depressed. Why couldn’t she be all he needed? She couldn’t console him, couldn’t get him to eat well, and couldn’t ease his pain. Every hour of every day was dedicated to being there for him. Why wasn’t that enough?


Three months into motherhood, when Cecily finally felt that she had started to get things under control—his colic, her emotions—she found out she was pregnant again. This time, she told herself, she wouldn’t be such a mess. She’d learn to master meeting her babies’ needs, and she’d finally be confident in her ability to be enough for them.


But it didn’t happen that way. Cecily found the demands of caring for a newborn and giving attention to a one-year-old nearly impossible, and she battled guilt because she couldn’t give them both all of her attention at the same time. She felt crushed.


She followed Instagram pages and joined Facebook groups dedicated to motivating worn-out moms. She savored the posts that reminded her to take charge of her life and put herself first. They gave her a sense of control she found comforting. Maybe she’d given too much love to her family, and it was time to give some to herself.


So she tried. She shared her struggles online with strangers who told her that she deserved praise and a break.


Mom bloggers and Instagram influencers told her she was discouraged because she was burned out. She was trying too hard. She needed to get rid of the negativity in her life and the toxic people who made her believe that she wasn’t enough. She was enough, they assured her, and anyone who told her otherwise was wrong. She was not just a mom, she was reminded. Who she was before she gave birth was important too, and she needed to love herself more to get that identity back. Motherhood is a defeating, thankless job, they said, and it was important to prioritize other pursuits to make her feel like her “true” self.


She tried her best to apply their advice. She took more time to herself—shopping, working out, getting her nails done, going to dinner with friends. She believed she was beginning to regain her sanity. But she soon found that her renewed feelings of assurance weren’t reliable. Some days she would feel competent and confident, and on others she would feel inadequate and alone. Even with the increased time dedicated to self-care, she was still overwhelmed with the responsibility of motherhood. On her dark days she would spill out her feelings to her Facebook friends and scroll through Instagram to gain inspiration, hoping to lighten her burdens. The anxiety would wane, only to return a few hours later. She found that attempting to love herself as she’d been ordered by the self-help gurus actually drained more of her energy than it gave.


After months of trying and failing to effectively manifest these messages of self-empowerment, she’d reached a dead end. One day she stopped to get gas, and when she finished pumping, she realized she’d locked her keys in the car along with her six-month-old daughter. She erupted in tears, screaming and hitting the windows until a stranger stopped to help her. Driving home, she realized she was broken.


Cecily thought about killing herself that afternoon. She didn’t know how she’d do it, but she did know that someone else could take better care of her children than she could. Surely someone else could be enough for them, even if she couldn’t. She hadn’t been enough her whole life—not when her mom rejected her, and not now. She couldn’t deal with it anymore.


As quickly as the thought of suicide came to her, it left. It was hard for her even to believe she’d gotten to that point. That night she confided in her husband, who hugged her and prayed for her. She slept longer that night than she had in a while. She woke up the next morning horrified by how low she had sunk. In obsessing over her happiness, she realized she’d made herself miserable.


Over the next few weeks Cecily cried out to God for help. She started to read her Bible again—a part of her morning routine that she’d replaced with scrolling through social media. She prayed constantly for God to replace her old self-centered thoughts with new Christ-centered ones. She trusted Jesus to carry the burdens she now knew she couldn’t bear.


It took reaching her breaking point for Cecily to learn she would find peace not in conquering her not-enoughness, but in embracing it. She realized that God made her not enough. She would never have what it took to be everything she and her family needed, and she would never win the affection of her mother. No amount of self-love or affirmation would change that. She needed to go outside of herself for strength, not within. It was by drawing her strength from her Creator that she found peace—even when she couldn’t obtain perfection.


Cecily wasn’t only attempting to be enough for herself. She was trying to be enough for others. She’d bought into the idea that if she could increase her self-love, she could create a less chaotic life for her family. And yet her family needed more than she could give.


Cecily came to the end of herself, which is the destination for all of us on the road to self-fulfillment and self-love. We’re small, frail, and finite, which means we don’t have what it takes to love ourselves to wholeness. And we have exactly one comfort: that we serve a God whose reign never ends, whose faithfulness never fails.


Because of that, we are free to empty ourselves rather than build ourselves up with meaningless platitudes about how great and adequate we are. We are led by a Good Shepherd who promises to never let us go thirsty, to ultimately shield us from danger and lead us along a path that is steady and replenishing (Psalm 23). What a relief it is to know it’s not up to us to be enough for ourselves or those around us. We have the privilege, as children of God, to “cast all our anxieties on him, because he cares” for us and to allow his power to be perfected in our weakness (1 Peter 5:7).


Whatever your circumstance or struggle, know that you can’t make that ache of emptiness go away on your own. No amount of self-care or self-love will get you out of your misery. Even at your most rejuvenated and most lovable, you will still find yourself waking up in the early hours of the morning haunted by the question of what’s missing.


You, your plans, and the promises made to you by those peddling self-empowerment will never be enough for you, but Jesus is. In the upcoming chapters, we’ll dive into what that God-given purpose looks like as we break down the myths that can prevent us from seeing it.


While the truth that we’re just not enough is simple, it’s not easy. Unfortunately, young people are bombarded with this lie on a daily basis—and many of us don’t even know it.

THE CULT OF SELF-AFFIRMATION

I don’t know what your low point looked (or looks) like, but chances are you’ve been tempted by the superficial comforts of what I’ve not so affectionately dubbed the Cult of Self-Affirmation—just like Cecily and I were.


The Cult of Self-Affirmation is composed of a ubiquitous network of self-help gurus, self-development experts, and even Christian teachers who pervade social media, line the top charts of Amazon and the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and populate many of our pulpits and even the halls of Congress, all working to affirm the supremacy of the self.


The cult promises peace and salvation if you adhere to its doctrines and assures destruction if you don’t. Once you’re in, you must abide by its rules. Otherwise, you’re out.


In the cult, the god is self, “doing you” is the standard of righteousness, and “following your heart” is the way to salvation. The two key tenets of the cult are Authenticity and Autonomy—being true to yourself and maintaining control over your life. Anyone or anything that attempts to limit who you believe you are is immediately categorized as “toxic” and “judgmental” and is thus pushed to the side.


This is not just a catchy Instagram slogan we’re talking about here. The Cult of Self-Affirmation seeps far deeper than social media into our cultural and political spheres, affecting the moral decisions we make and how we view the world around us. It demands we worship the god of self— a merciless ruler that will stop at nothing to get the service it craves. This is how the god of self demands to be worshipped.

THE HIGH COST OF “DOING YOU”

The cult’s clutches extend far beyond mommy culture into the realm of politics and social issues. Its emphasis on autonomy and authenticity as our chief values shows up most apparently in the increasing glorification of abortion.


Shout Your Abortion is an organization that exists to create a space for women to talk about their abortion experiences without guilt or judgment. The hashtag #shoutyourabortion has been used hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter and Instagram by women opening up about their abortions. In 2017, Oprah’s website published a post by Shout Your Abortion’s founder, lending significant exposure to the viral movement.


The organization anonymously publishes the stories of women who are proud of their choice to end the lives of their preborn children. Theirs is an unapologetic stance, insisting on their website that “abortion is normal.” For instance, you won’t read accounts from any women who’ve suffered complications, regretted their decision, or who have since changed their minds about their pro-choice stance and the integrity of Planned Parenthood. Their goal is to remove the so-called stigma surrounding abortion, thus making women feel as comfortable talking about their abortion as they are talking about their trip to the dentist. They embrace authenticity and their unabashed commitment to their bodily autonomy is meant to be seen as liberating.


One of the blog posts on the group’s website is by a woman named Sarah. Sarah had an abortion when she was twenty-seven. She was in a committed relationship and had a steady job, but she felt that she wasn’t ready to have a baby. She writes:


“The abortion wasn’t the difficult part. The difficult part was keeping this secret as if it were some deep, dark thing I had to hide. I became anxious and depressed. I went to therapy. I often cried myself to sleep. Not because I thought I made the wrong choice but because other people made me feel I made the wrong choice. . . . And, as it turns out, the average woman who has an abortion is all of us, including me. And now, I live my truth.”


In Sarah’s story, we see the destructive nature of the Cult of Self-Affirmation and the hollowness of authenticity and autonomy as supreme values. What happens when we place too much importance on “being yourself” is that we justify choices that hurt us and other people simply because it’s “true” to who we are. We convince ourselves that as long as our choice falls in line with who we claim to be, it’s good.


This is seen in other cultural conversations of the day as well, such as in the topic of gender and sexuality. Mainstream thought dictates that biology has nothing to do with how we identify, going against basic science and millennia of human history that proves the contrary. But when the god of self rules, none of these facts matter. All that matters is what we want.


This presents serious societal confusion. In 2019, there was a seven-year-old boy named James Younger, who was caught in the middle of a custody battle between his divorced parents. James’s mother insisted her son identified as a female and preferred the name “Luna.” She planned to encourage James on a path toward puberty blockers and hormone therapy within the next few years. James’s dad objected, insisting that he, like his twin brother, identified as a boy and only dressed up as a girl when he was with his mother in an effort to appease her.


The Texas case received little mainstream media coverage but solicited outrage from many parents and commentators on social media, appalled that a mother would subject her son to an irreversible, irrevocably harmful treatment. Whether he believed he was a girl or not was largely irrelevant to those who, like me, were angered by this story. His God-given biology indicates his gender—period. Every compassionate effort, then, should be made to help him reconcile his mind with his body, not the other way around.


The fact that we know so little of the risks associated with pumping cross-sex hormones into a child’s still-developing body to block puberty should give us pause enough. The Mayo Clinic reports that such treatment could have damaging effects on a person’s fertility. This is a permanent consequence endured by a child, who, statistically, will probably grow out of their gender confusion after puberty.


This is the world ruled by the Cult of Self-Affirmation: one where the only standards of morality are doing what you want to do. So if this little boy did insist that he was a girl and wanted to “become” a girl, what justification do his parents or anyone else have to stand in his way? If all that matters is affirming the self, who gets to draw parameters around what’s okay and what’s not when it comes to someone’s—even a child’s—identity?


Another example of the dangers of extreme authenticity and autonomy is a recent trend in marriage and relationships called ethical nonmonogamy, which describes the practice of openly and honestly engaging in multiple sexual or nonsexual romantic relationships at once. Here’s how Brides.com describes it:


There is nothing inherently wrong with being in an open, non-monogamous relationship. There is only something wrong if your partner doesn’t know you are in an open relationship. You guessed it: Cheating. . . . When a relationship is open, in whatever form that takes for the couple in question, everyone involved knows what is going on. And everyone is happy with the setup. The honesty is the key.


This is the how “morality” within the Cult of Self-Affirmation works: the only standard of right and wrong is how you feel. In the cult, there is nothing inherently good about fidelity or exclusive commitment to a single person. All that matters is that people are happy. This is why, for many people, the Cult of Self-Affirmation is much more appealing than normal religion. It encourages people to do what feels good and removes restrictions and responsibility to others. It values self-love over sacrifice, self-care over service, and self-interest over selflessness. It asks us to give up only that which doesn’t please us, and in exchange, it lends us a sense of righteousness.


This is why Christianity and the Cult of Self-Affirmation can’t coincide. The values of the Christ follower aren’t authenticity and autonomy. They’re Christlikeness and obedience. We have an objective standard of right and wrong found in the Bible, which means we’re not ruled by cultural trends or our feelings. God’s moral standards lead to peace. The cult’s lead to chaos and pain.


Authenticity and autonomy certainly aren’t bad at all times in all ways, but they must be subjected to God’s objective standards to produce anything good. Otherwise, they’re just trendy-sounding excuses to sin.


Maybe you’re thinking the madness caused by the Cult of Self-Affirmation doesn’t apply to you. You don’t condone the craziness of our current culture, so you feel like you’ve escaped the cult’s clutches. Not so fast. It may be showing up in ways you don’t suspect. As important as it is for us to see the cult’s effects on the world around us, it’s just as important—if not more so—to see how it’s manifesting itself right in front of us.

THE CULT’S COMING FOR YOU, TOO

The Cult of Self-Affirmation doesn’t offer us a sustainable value system, not as a society or individually. If you’re a single woman, the cult’s emphasis on authenticity and autonomy will lead you where it led me—to the dead end of “doing me” and control. If you’re a mom, the cult’s directives to “take back your life” will leave you discontented and bitter.


Here’s what I’ve learned since having a baby: the cult loves to recruit new moms. Its tentacles are all over mommy media: mom blogs, breastfeeding Instagram pages, parenting podcasts—you name it. As a mother of a newborn, you’re tired, you’re hormonal, you’re vulnerable, you’re insecure about your postpartum body and worried about your inability to keep your baby alive, which means you’re just the right audience for messages of self-affirmation.


Feeling overwhelmed and maybe a bit underappreciated, we moms gravitate toward the insistence of well-meaning mom-fluencers who tell us what we “deserve”—we “deserve” a break. Praise. Recognition. To take our lives back and to remember that we’re more than just a mother. We’re told we deserve to be “authentic” selves by reclaiming “autonomy” over our lives and taking back the identity we had before we became moms.


There’s some truth in these assurances. We do need a break. It would be nice for our husbands to acknowledge our hard work. We do have roles in addition to being a mom. But the deceptive premise in each of them is that we’re entitled to a tangible reward for simply doing our job. In that way, motherhood is subtly depicted as something that happened to us rather than something we chose and that God graciously gave us.


The Cult of Self-Affirmation wants its members to center their world around them and their feelings. So it makes moms feel like we are victims of motherhood rather than what we are: blessed beneficiaries of it. Despite what the cult tells us, Christian moms don’t need to build our lives on worldly authenticity and autonomy. Pursuing these things as an escape from the responsibilities of motherhood is the pursuit of the god of self, not the God of Scripture. Motherhood is the calling God has placed on our lives now, and we fulfill that calling for his glory, not for our own recognition.


The cult tells us that the only way to recharge is through self-care and “finding ourselves” outside of our obligation to our families, but that leads nowhere. The only lasting joy we can find in the chaos of parenthood is in the knowledge that even the most mundane, trying moments of motherhood are meant to bring us closer to Christ. When we depend on him for strength in the midst of weakness, for peace in the midst of anxiety, for help in the midst of desperation, when we aim to mimic his unconditional love and self-sacrifice in all that we do for our families, we can rejoice knowing that our effort and exhaustion is never wasted—it’s being used for God’s glory, for our children’s good, and for our sanctification.


Are we not allowed to take time to ourselves then? Of course we are. I’m a new mom and certainly not a parenting expert, but from what I see biblically, there’s nothing wrong about trading parenting shifts with our husbands or calling babysitters so we can take naps or get our nails done. God designed us all to need rest. But the mentality surrounding our breaks matters.


John Piper tackled a question from a mom on his podcast, Ask Pastor John: “Should stay-at-home moms take a day off?” His answer was multifaceted but simple: yes. Moms need rejuvenation. We need a Sabbath. We need help from our husbands, parents, friends, or Sunday school class. Because as much as is expected of us, we’re not superhuman. In the episode he reminds us all that it’s not selfish to ask the question: “How do you find the pace to finish the race?”


Life is a marathon, not a sprint, which means all of us have to find the rhythms and patterns of activity and rest that allow us to live out the work God has called us to do efficiently and effectively. For me, I’ve learned that that may mean taking a walk, reading a book, going to bed thirty minutes earlier while my husband puts the baby down, or waking up thirty minutes earlier to make sure I have time to read the Bible before the baby gets up. When our reason behind our rest is to ensure better service to the Lord and to others, we don’t have to worry whether or not taking needed breaks is self-centered. It’s not.


The Cult of Self-Affirmation encourages us to grab hold of our lives so we don’t “lose ourselves” to motherhood. But when we follow Christ, we are never at risk of “losing ourselves,” because our identity is eternally found in him. Who we “really are” isn’t some mystery we need to solve or path we need to follow. Our sole aim is to honor God by gratefully executing the tasks he’s put before us with his help.


What’s the connection between the effect the cult has on the world, manifesting itself in the glorification of things like abortion and gender fluidity, and the effect it has on us moms, manifesting itself in everyday selfishness, resentment, and pride?


They’re all matters of worship. If we worship the God of Scripture, we trust him. We trust him with unexpected pregnancies. We trust that he made us in the body he meant to make us in. We trust that he has called us and will equip us to be mothers. We trust that his commands are better and more trustworthy than our feelings.


If we worship the god of self, we’ll sacrifice anything on its altar to satisfy its demands. And the god of self is relentlessly demanding, pushing us even to kill unborn children, damage our bodies, or reject the responsibility of being a mother.


The cult will have us constantly fighting for control and vying for the worship we think we deserve. God asks us to surrender control and to redirect the worship we’d like to give to ourselves to him. This is great news. The yoke of the god of self is difficult and its burden heavy, but God’s yoke is easy and his burden light. What a relief to know we don’t have to expend our precious energy serving ourselves. We make terrible, unworthy gods.


And because we make unworthy gods, we do one thing really poorly, no matter how hard we try, and that is to come up with our own truth.


The next myth explains why.






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