When my wife Nanci and I were writing our book Help for Women Under Stress, we learned that according to research, the major stress vocations are health workers, waiters and waitresses, and nurses.  They are constantly serving people—all wonderful callings, but all exceptionally difficult.
An article called “The Most Stressful Jobs of 2012” featured these: Enlisted Soldier, Firefighter, Airline Pilot, Military General, Police Officer, Event Coordinator, Public Relations Executive, Corporate Executive, Photojournalist, and Taxi Driver.
Don’t the jobs on both those lists, cumulatively, sound remarkably like the job of a mom? She is health worker and nurse to her children, and often her husband. She is event coordinator, waitress, taxi driver, police officer, and yes, sometimes combat soldier and firefighter!
There’s nothing quite like being a mom. (I’ve seen this in watching my wife Nanci raise our girls, and now watching them raise their own children.) Motherhood can place constant and challenging demands on women. Yet those very stressors can be the pathway to greater dependence upon and fellowship with our Savior.
Although moms are the primary focus for this article, the principles Susan Narjala shares apply to all of us. On our own, we are weak. We are not enough. But we serve a Savior who is more than enough and promises to be our strength. This is very good news! —Randy Alcorn
By Susan Narjala
“Mama, you got this. You are enough.” My heart sank when I read the last lines in an article on a leading website for Christian mothers. My heart sank, because it was my article.
The article was intended to encourage moms in the trenches of raising little ones and overwhelmed by trying to do it all. When I saw the article online, though, I noticed that the last lines had been altered. The original, unedited version read, “Mama, you got this, because he has got you. You are enough, because he who is in you is enough.” The published article had left out God.
One message women, including Christian women, have heard on repeat is these three words: “You are enough.” Christian authors and speakers have been incorporating this phrase in sermons meant to encourage women, especially moms, who are bogged down by guilt and plagued by self-doubt. The words often seem perfectly acceptable and, perhaps, empowering. At worst, it appears trite, but harmless.
But what does the seemingly innocuous phrase really mean?
“You are enough” is a well-intentioned way of saying, “Life is hard, but you got a handle on it, because you’re a fierce, independent woman.” When you forget your child’s kindergarten orientation (true story!) or lose it when your toddler throws a tantrum before you’ve even brewed your coffee, don’t beat yourself up, because being a mom is undeniably challenging. And don’t give up, because you are strong enough for motherhood — you can do this.
While that seems uplifting, as Christian women, we’re hearing less than the full truth. The message is slowly diluting the gospel. This may sound disenfranchising to women, but you and I are not enough. No one is. The calling of motherhood — and of the Christian life — is a high and overwhelming calling for anyone. None of us is good enough, kind enough, right enough, or strong enough. And that’s why each of us so desperately need Jesus in the trenches every single day.
The idea of being inadequate is unpopular in our earn-your-way-up culture. We would rather lap up nice-to-hear platitudes than grapple with what God says in Scripture. The Bible is not undermining our worth. It is simply pointing out that we find our true worth in Christ alone. With him, we are free to acknowledge that we are flawed.
When you’ve finally tucked the kids into bed and still have to load the dishwasher, it’s okay to recognize that you are not always gracious enough to respond kindly to a little voice that hollers, “I need water.” That’s when you and I have the beautifully freeing option of confessing, “Father, I just don’t have what it takes. I need you.” That may be all it comes down to: acknowledging our never-enoughness, so God has the chance to pour out from his endless reserves of grace.
God often lets us walk in paths that are far beyond our ability to endure. When you’ve been awake every night for a week, toggling between a nursing baby and a toddler with the flu, you understand what “beyond your ability” means. But in the midst of our exhaustion, when we whisper, “I can’t — God please take over,” that’s when we can build our dependence on the one who won’t ever let us down. When Paul and Timothy faced situations that were beyond their ability to endure, they learned to “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
Later in Corinthians, Paul speaks of his weakness. He doesn’t just mention it in passing. He seems to advertise it, revel in it, even boasts in it. He tells his readers that he rejoices in his weakness. Why? Because in Paul’s weakness, Christ’s strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The Beatitudes also turn the world’s definition of power on its head. Jesus calls the ones who are meek, the ones who mourn, the ones who are poor in spirit “blessed” (Matthew 5:5–11). When we hear the mantra that we are “enough” on repeat, we are likely to stop rejoicing in our weakness, we don’t celebrate our poverty of spirit, we lessen our dependence on God. When I truly grasp that I’m not enough in my own strength, I don’t try to dig deep into myself to pull out resources that are running on empty. Instead, I dig into the word of God and pull out promises I can lean on.
When I am overwhelmed and have to count to three more times than I can actually count, I remember that his divine power has given me everything needed for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). When I feel isolated as a mom, buried under an avalanche of wet wipes, I rest in his promise that he has engraved me on the palms of his hands (Isaiah 49:16). And when I mess up as a mom, I don’t just brush away my sin with self-glorifying platitudes. Neither do I beat myself up. Instead, I go to the one who redeems my mistakes and gives me the grace to carry on (Psalm 103:12).
While articles or sermons telling women that we are enough are intended to vanquish self-doubt, perhaps they are misguided. “You are enough” puts the onus back on “you.” It’s a me-centric idea, where we’re called to scrape out every last bit of our so-called inner strength. But pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is not how we tend to our souls.
John Piper tells young mothers, “Constantly pray, pray, pray, pray for whatever you need. That is how you make your days an act of worship. And then there may not be in your mind such a huge gulf between tending to your child and tending to your soul.” We need to take it — all of it, from the sheer exhaustion to the certifiable insanity of raising little people — to the Lord in prayer. We look outside of ourselves to a God who wants to strengthen us and give us rest.
He promises to gently lead those that have young (Isaiah 40:11). The more liberating and empowering message we need to hear is this: Christ in you is more than enough. It’s a message that doesn’t hinge on self-reliance, but on God-dependence. It gives us room to discover that he is an all-sufficient God.
Susan Narjala is a freelance writer, and lives with her husband and two children in India. She writes regularly at Alliteration Alley.
This article originally appeared on Desiring God and is used by permission of the author.