When I first moved to the States in August I tried a church. I went purely because I was staying in a hotel with no car and this particular church was within walking distance. The church was the size of a hotel – in fact, it actually was an old hotel. It was big. I went to the service, and then I went back the following week and the week after. I joined a small group of people my age. It was nice. But sometimes nice just isn’t enough.
Finding a church can be tough. I’m so blessed to have grown up in a church that feels like home. Even when I have lived elsewhere, coming back to those wooden pews always feels like home (even if they are uncomfortable on your back!) Perhaps that’s why finding a new church in some other place has always been difficult. When I moved to the seaside a few years I found a lovely church. The people were great, the services and worship were wonderful – I couldn’t find fault in any of it. But still, it wasn’t quite home.
I stopped going along to that big, hotel-sized church a few weeks after I started last year. For months, I didn’t go to church at all. But at Easter time I changed that. I tried another church.
This new church is great. Really. It still doesn’t feel like home – if I’m honest, I don’t know whether any other church apart from my childhood one ever will – but it’s as close as I’ve felt since I arrived 9 months ago. And last night I went along to my first Life Group.
Life Groups can be an adventure! My life group/Bible study/fellowship/small group back home – it seems there’s as many different names for these things as there are books in the Bible! – is small. And we’re good at going off topic and sharing stories from the week and drinking tea and complaining about something or other and spending more time talking about prayer points than we do actually praying for them! Whatever anyone says, church folk are just like other folk – some you get along with, some you don’t; some senses of humor sync, some just don’t mesh well; there’s always someone that can bake a mean cake and there’s always someone who will eat the last three slices with the pretense of not being impolite. Some nights at these small groups can be fun, nights where you end up in tears of laughter. And then there are some nights where you end up in tears of another kind, the kind borne of raw, unflinching spiritual honesty. Those nights might not be fun, but there are what these things are about: life and love and faith and God.
The current message series at church is about labels. We are discussing the labels that we wear, labels given us by society or peers or the world or even ourselves. And then we are taking a look at the labels God gives us and how we can wear those everlasting labels instead.
I’ll be honest: God really is at work right now! The message of labels is one I really need to hear. It is the message of my current devotional and of my current read and of the current writing project I am working on. Maybe that is why God moved me to go to church again, so He could speak to me even more about this thing He has put on my heart.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. – Ephesians 1:3-8a
These verses from Ephesians were the focus of the discussion last night. On Sunday we had talked about how, through Jesus, we exchange the label of ‘Sinner’ for ‘Saint’. We are no longer bound or broken, but whole and saved and free. We exchange death for life. The speaker asked us to take a card with the label of ‘Sinner’ on, and write whatever label we were personally struggling with over it. In an act of physical symbolism, we screwed up that paper, threw it on to the stage, and took in its place a card with our new label through the cross: Saint.
What is the label that most of the group shared? ‘Fearful’. What is mine? ‘Not enough’.
I have been spending more time with God and with His word this past few months than I have perhaps ever done before. But, in a way I do not understand, I have also come to feel more inadequate. Perhaps because I am so far from home, perhaps because I am in a stressful situation, or even perhaps because God just needs me to feel this way right now; whatever the reason, I feel overwhelmingly unworthy. I am trying hard to change this feeling, to wear a different label, and yet each day the labels I seem to wear are many, but all of them follow that same pattern: I am not enough.
Not pretty enough. Not slim enough. Not brave enough. Not honest enough. Not patient enough. Not cheerful enough. Not smart enough. Not tough enough. Not spiritual enough. Not careful enough. Not thoughtful enough. Not talented enough. Not fit enough. Not strong enough. Not prayerful enough. The list goes on.
Anyone else feel that ‘not enough…’ creeping in? I think we probably all do at some point. Sometimes only for a brief moment, sometimes for a season, sometimes for too much of the time.
That feeling of being unworthy is something others voiced last night. But as Ephesians 1 tells us, we are loved so unconditionally we really don’t have to linger on that unworthiness. Unconditional love like that is hard to comprehend, impossible even. It’s in our nature to want to repay gifts – if you’re anything like me, you usually greet a compliment with a raised eyebrow and a thought along the lines of ‘they must want something…’! People cannot love that unconditionally. We can talk of unconditional love, but could we really honestly say that there is nothing someone could do to diminish your love for them? Even the most evil of deeds – would that love remain unchanged? God’s does. Always.
But it is more than unconditional love. It is grace. And boy is grace so much more powerful than love. Grace changes us. Look at those verses again: we are chosen to be ‘holy and blameless’. Blameless. I had a bad day and ate three chocolates in a row; I’m not feeling especially blameless! But in God’s love and the power of the cross, I am. That’s a wow moment, right?!
Read on: we are redeemed, forgiven, all ‘in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us’.
Those aren’t small words. Those are big words, big promises, big emotions. We might not be deserving of God’s grace, but we have it because God values and loves and cherishes us. We were sinners: now we are saints.
Last night, as we read these words, we said our honest fears, in small voices of ‘So why do I still feel like I am not enough?’ And there was this response: who are we to say we aren’t good enough? God chose us, adopted us, loved us and loves us. Who are we to say to Him that grace is not enough? To say, ‘Well that’s a lovely gift, God, but I could do with a bit more to feel better’.
I came home and cried. I cried because so often, daily even, I think just that: I am not enough. Wow – how does God feel every time I say that? Every time I throw His lavish, rich gift back in His face and convince myself that my own voice, my meagre human emotion, has more power than His. Every time I look at His creation and think it is inadequate. How much do I diminish God in my life, and His gifts, every time I do this? How much do I hurt Him – do I hurt myself – with my feelings of worthlessness?
My small voice says I am not good enough. God’s big voice says I am good enough. Redeemed, freed, blessed, loved, adopted, chosen; enough.
Because God’s truth is this: we were sinners, now we are saints; we were apart from Him, now we are reconciled; we might be unloved by others, we are always loved by Him; we might not pass the tests of this world, but there is no test to pass for God except to love Him; we might not fit the image of this world, but we are made in God’s beautiful image. God’s truth is this: we are enough.