By Katie Hill
“You are enough. You are so enough. It’s unbelievable how enough you are.” Internet lore attributes this phrase to Broadway actress Sierra Boggess. At the very least she has popularized it. But it’s not a novel thought. Accomplished American poet Maya Angelou asserted, “You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” In You Are Enough: Heartbreak, Healing, and Becoming Whole, New York Times bestselling author Mandy Hale says, “Sometimes it takes being left seemingly with nothing to realize that you are everything. To see that you held the key to your own happiness and self-worth and belonging and wholeness all along.” The thinking behind “You are enough” originated farther back than the last few generations . . . we find a form of it in the Garden of Eden (but more about that later). These three words seem empowering, right? Unfortunately, the power behind them is as fleeting as a Snapchat moment. That’s not to say the sentiment isn’t super well-intentioned. Maybe this is why some part of us wants to validate it. However, we need to ask: Is it true? Is it true FOR YOU? Is it true for your neighbor?
THE GOOD INTENTIONS THAT PAVE THE ROAD
The main idea behind “You are enough” is to bolster your self-esteem. It’s to remind you that you don’t have to be dependent on what others think of you to be happy. From a certain point of view that could seem like good counsel. If you put all of your happiness eggs in one basket (or invest them in one person), then you are most certainly headed for disappointment.
There are other reasons people like to proclaim, “You are enough.” Sometimes it’s used to encourage someone who is single and is longing to be married. “You are enough.” Sometimes it’s proclaimed to counter the this-is-what-an-ideal-person-looks-like narrative. “You are enough.” Maybe you struggle with codependency–thinking your happiness is solely dependent upon another person or theirs is dependent on you. “You are enough.”
Again, the motivation is generally well-intentioned. The problem is that while you’re being told that things outside of you can’t make you happy, you’re being directed to look within yourself for your ultimate value and happiness. “You are enough” basically becomes a lie (happiness comes from within) attempting to counter another lie (happiness comes from others).
WHAT LIES BENEATH
The increasing popularity of sentiments like “You are enough” is in part because we live in a world fueled by social media which constantly sends the message that you should aspire to be something that you aren’t. Then you refresh the page and you’re told that even though you don’t measure up, you ARE enough. Platforms from Instagram to TikTok have a knack for ferociously tearing you down only to artificially build you back up.
What are some results of these mixed messages? According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 7 in 10 U.S. teens said they and their peers struggle with anxiety and depression. Experts who study teen depression say this is due in great part to academic and social pressures.
“You are enough” is meant to empower you but actually serves to pull the rug out from under you. That’s because deep down you know the truth. Any directive that points you toward yourself is going to take you down a road you don’t want to follow–a road headed in the wrong direction that was paved a long time ago with good intentions.
Remember how I hinted that “You are enough” goes back to the Garden of Eden? In Genesis 3:4-5, the serpent counters Eve’s initial reluctance to partake of the fruit: “You will surely not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” You don’t need God. You can be like Him. You are enough. But right away, God exposed it for the lie it was, for He covered Adam and Eve with animal skins, a sacrifice that pointed ahead to the One True Sacrifice. And in verse 15, He told Adam and Eve of the Messiah to come: the One who would be more than enough.
Since the Fall, we have had a natural tendency to look inside for validation, but this inevitably leads to despair. Martin Luther, likely inspired by Early Church Father Augustine, called it incurvatus in se (being curved inward on oneself). If we look inside ourselves, we see overwhelming evidence of that ugliness known as sin. We see our great inadequacy. Looking inward is not the answer. It doesn’t matter if the world tells you that you are okay. That you are enough. You know the sobering truth found in Romans 3:23. You aren’t enough. You fall short.
Ah, but you are baptized! Through God’s gift of faith alone, Christ’s righteousness is your righteousness. That means when it comes to your biggest problem–sin–He is more than enough through His perfect life lived for you and His perfect sacrificial death made for you. His resurrection is yours through your Baptism into Him. Jesus Himself promises this in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full (abundantly).”
Instead of incurvatus in se, we turn toward another Latin phrase: extra nos. The Gospel, the Good News, is OUTSIDE of us. Luther explains, “And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we depend not on our own strength, conscience, mind, person, or works but on what is outside us, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive” (Luther’s Works 26:387). The Father’s work through His Son, Jesus Christ, was accomplished for you without your help. That is true freedom from needing to trust or hope in yourself.
More than that, Jesus doesn’t just say He’s enough . . . He shows you in His Gifts of water, Word, Body and Blood. And when you know you aren’t enough, but you know Jesus is more than enough, you are free to love your neighbor and point her to Christ, who is more than enough for her, too!
So that’s the brutal truth: You aren’t enough. It seems like bad news, no doubt about that, but it really leads to good news–THE Good News: Jesus is more than enough FOR YOU! Your value rests in the person and work of Christ alone. And you have this in abundance. Jesus is enough. He’s so enough. It’s unbelievable how enough He is! Thanks be to God!
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
Katie Hill is the managing editor at Higher Things. She enjoys fostering and fine-tuning the writing of authors who deliver the sweetness of the Gospel to Higher Things readers and beyond. A Lutheran convert for 17 years now, Katie has been working for HT in some capacity for nearly that same amount of time. She relishes life in a small town in northern Arizona with her husband, Jeff, and five children, four of whom have left the nest.