In order to feel loved, you must feel worthy of love. And in order to feel like you belong, you must first feel worthy of belonging. At bottom, you have to believe you are enough. This is Brene Brown’s incredible conclusion after years of research. If you aren’t familiar with her work, you can see an amazing TED talk she gave last year below.
But it is quite apparent that Christians, at least evangelicals, are very uncomfortable with this message. I was taught growing up that there is nothing good about me. Without Jesus, I am not enough. And, as it turns out, even with Jesus, I am not enough. I will only be enough when I die and become perfect in heaven. Along with this message typically comes an immense amount of shame and guilt for never living up to the expectations of your heavenly parent (perhaps mirroring our relationship to our biological parents).
This message is part of what I call an economic of scarcity. In this system, I am told I am not enough and in this way I am willing to do almost anything in order to belong. If I am not enough then I will follow the rules of anyone who tells me how to become enough. Too often this is the message of the church and then we are told they hold the keys for how to become enough.
Of course, they never mean to slip into this system on purpose. But the sad fact is that in our world, this system is just known as good old advertising.
But the message of Jesus seems to be the exact opposite. He seems to preach an economic of abundance, one that leads to love, rather than an economic of scarcity, that leads to fear. In his words and actions I find the message, “You are enough, so stop listening to the religious leaders who keep selling you religious products.”
His ministry seems to be one of letting people know that they are worthy of connection, regardless of gender, occupation, skin disease, or even religious background (John 4). They are not outcasts but they belong, if not to society, then in the family of God. Because they are created by God they are worthy to be redeemed by God.
Sadly, however, if we do not first accept Jesus’ message for ourselves then we will find it difficult to proclaim to others that they too are enough, worthy of belonging to body of Christ.
Perhaps our response will be: But if people are enough then why would they become Christians?
But this is exactly the type of question that belongs to an economic of scarcity. The real question being asked is: if we do not perpetuate the lack in people’s lives won’t they stop wanting to buy our product, Jesus, who fills the lack? This very subtle switch in the message of the Christian Gospel is quite dangerous. That question, it seems to me, is based on manipulation rather than good news. It is based on an economic of lack, scarcity, and fear.
The good news about Jesus Christ is based on an economic of abundance, grace, and love. There is not much good news in the message “God loves you as long as you jump through these hoops” or “You belong in the Church as long as you follow our rules and believe our doctrine.” That just sounds like all my other relationships. In our proclamation we should not withhold the product and advertise that without it they will “not be complete” or that without it they “do not belong.” That sounds like marketing manipulation.
The good news seems to be that “God loves you because you are you and nothing you can ever do will lessen his love for you.” We should never motivate change with the fear that God will love you less if you don’t change. That is serious relational dysfunction.
As Romans 2:4 tells us, it is God’s kindness that leads us to change. Paradoxically, it is this message that you don’t need to change that will lead to change. Why are 12-step programs so successful? It’s because it is founded on a dictum of acceptance. Real growth happens in spaces of safety and belonging.
It is acceptance that leads to repentance, not exclusion. It is abundance that leads to love, not lack.
Of course, acceptance is risky. It takes courage to let someone in and believe that the Spirit of God will change them rather than ask them to change before we let them in. But this is the risk of love and acceptance. We cannot get around it if we are to live in a world where “perfect love casts out fear.”
In an economic of scarcity feelings of fear are created (usually a fear of being left out) in order to control people. In an economic of abundance feelings of acceptance are created in order to connect people.
May the church begin to abandon the economic of scarcity and recapture an economic of abundance that is shown in the life and work of Jesus, where you are indeed enough.