March 13: Good Enough – So Much is Out of our Control

Scripture Reading (CEB) Luke 13:31-35

31 At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.” 32 Jesus said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. 33 However, it’s necessary for me to travel today, tomorrow, and the next day because it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. 35 Look, your house is abandoned. I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.”

Why does ‘good enough’ feel like failure? 

We started our Lenten journey contemplating Jesus’ own struggles with being good enough, having to live up to the declarations made over his baptism, and dealing with those persistent whispers that calls to us all – that promises power and privilege on the other side of doubt and insecurity.  It doesn’t happen right away…or without anguish…but Jesus makes peace with idea of being good enough…being good enough for God in his time in the wilderness.  He finds strength not in his own power, but in God’s.  He discovers unconditional love and acceptance.  And he returns to the world to ensure others feel that same acceptance.  He deliberately seeks people good enough to follow: fishermen, tax collectors, even Judas Iscariot – the one who would eventually give into those persistent devilish whispers that exaggerated his own doubt and insecurities.

But these days ‘good enough’ conveys ‘less than’ perfect or even ‘less than ideal.’  For example: I’m the master of ‘good enough’ snowshovelling.  It never seems I spend enough time, at the right time, to clear the driveway so it’s not long into the season that the driveway narrow so that it feels like the Death Star trench run, terrified of hitting the snowy sides as we navigate our car through what feels like shrinking space.  Eventually I accept it for what it is – a good enough job that will inevitably melt – or maybe I just give up. 

Is there a difference between acceptance and giving up?

31 At that time, some Pharisees approached Jesus and said, “Go! Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.”  32 Jesus said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Look, I’m throwing out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. 33 However, it’s necessary for me to travel today, tomorrow, and the next day because it’s impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. 35 Look, your house is abandoned. I tell you, you won’t see me until the time comes when you say, Blessings on the one who comes in the Lord’s name.”

Does it sound like Jesus has given up on Jerusalem?  Or accepting it for what it is?

When so many sermons have been preached using the Pharisees as the classical antagonist against Jesus, it’s restorative to see them depicted here as trying to protect him.  Go – hide, they tell Jesus, in order to either protect him, or merely prevent a senseless loss of life.  They don’t even tell him to stop his mission or ministry – just go.  Jesus’ response to them is less wilderness wandering than it is full of confidence.  He’s accepted himself and his mission and ministry of throwing out demons and healing people, knowing he cannot control either Herod or Jerusalem.  As the old prayer goes, Jesus accepts the things he cannot change, prays for courage to change the things he can, and years for the wisdom to know the difference.

There is so much of our lives, that is out of our control.  If I made that statement two years ago you might have nodded along half remembering that one time in your life when something unexpected changed your life.   But saying that now – after the last two years – I can almost feel my blood pressure rise. 

When told you literally cannot leave your home, or see those you love, or worship how you want, or shop in certain aisles of the dollar store because the items there were not deemed ‘absolutely necessary,’ it’s no wonder we saw protests, eventually bubbling over into the demonstrations in Ottawa.  One new study out of the U.S., Civic Virus: Why Polarization Is a Misdiagnosis, prepared by The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in partnership with the Kettering Foundation, explores the result of these losses (particularly about the U.S., but I think here too…)

‘People are experiencing a profound sense of loss of reality and control, leaving them dizzied, disoriented, and feeling helpless…everyone seems to be struggling nowadays. This thread runs throughout all that we learned from talking in-depth with Americans from many walks of life. People are in a desperate search for an antidote to these prevailing social and psychological conditions. At the heart of what people seek is acceptance and belonging. Though feelings of intense isolation undoubtedly surged during COVID-19 times, this search didn’t just begin as a result of the pandemic. [1]

We can see symptoms of this virus everywhere we look. We see more heated fight-or-flight responses to minor disagreements, attractions to charismatic leaders promising easy answers or top-down control, and interest in conspiracy theories that supply a feeling of belonging to a group that is “in the know” about a grounded theory that explains everything.[2]

Feeling out of control pushes us to act drastically – even though so much of our lives we have no control over.  Gas prices, value of homes and properties, the weather…we live in a world we cannot control, and yet we try anyways.  Though that pray comes back:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can change;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The last two serenity free years (when there was so much we couldn’t control) lacked the wisdom to know the difference.  We tried controlling one another, rather than move to a place of acceptance and belonging.  It might have started from a well-meaning place – but those good intentions quickly turned into disdainfully looking at someone without a mask in the grocery store, to flat-out approaching them mask in hand.  We encouraged each and all to get vaccinated, and we struggled deeply when we discovered we each have someone in our lives that wasn’t going to be.  When others didn’t take our advice, when they didn’t gather under our wings, we turned on them – when we couldn’t control others, we fell into judgment of one another.  From both sides.  We started assuming that those who didn’t do those things that we did therefore didn’t care about others.  We adopted a self-righteous attitude when we perceived selfishness in others. 

It’s like the episode of Seinfeld[3] where Kramer signs up to join an AIDS walk[4] raising money and awareness.  On the day of the walk when registering his name and donations, he’s encouraged to wear a ribbon (for those that remember back – red ribbons were worn as a sign of support) and when Kramer refused, those around him fell into judgment, perceiving selfishness (and forgetting that he was literally there to raise money and walk).  Now substitute the walk with what we experienced over the last two years and the ribbon for masks and even though that episode aired in 1995 it doesn’t seem all that long ago.  And it was done with the best of intentions…we don’t crave conformity, we crave acceptance and belonging. 

Even Jesus struggled with this notion of acceptance and belonging – for while he struggled with the Pharisees and Herod, he knew those with demons and those needed healing.  But he got frustrated because the caution extended to him feels like betrayal.  And his feelings are not directed at the Pharisees so much as it is anyone trying to control him, but the Pharisees didn’t say he shouldn’t be healing or working – just not here.  Just not now.   Instead, Jesus wants the Pharisees to wonder, why not here, and why not now (taking into account the risk).  For it was still a good enough time for Jesus to act.  

How much harm do we do ourselves when we convince ourselves that there’s never a good enough time, or good enough effort, believing if we just try a little harder, if we’re just a little nicer, if we say the right thing, we start believing that life will always go our way.[5]

I struggle with those feelings – for the first few years of ministry saw me write a sermon early in the week, only to toss it all out by Sunday because it wasn’t (in my mind) ‘good enough.’  I caused myself so much undue stress because of expectations I thought were there.  For my own mental health, I adopted the ‘good enough’ sermon writing: for there will always be things I wish I said differently, or grammatical errors left uncorrected, or corners of the scripture left unexplored.   In practicing acceptance for what I struggled to believe was good enough, God was better able to fill in the gaps.  Accepting the imperfect leaves room for God, where expecting perfection does not.  Accepting good enough situations, good enough people, and a good enough world, frees us from waiting for a perfection that will never come.  It releases us from disappointment when the uncontrolled comes along.  It’s accepting things and people for what they are and not what we want them to be.  Even Jesus was resurrected with holes in his hands. 

Caveat: Moving to acceptance doesn’t mean accepting harmful or dangerous situations.  Jesus’ acceptance of Herod’s threats aren’t permission for Herod to seek Jesus’ life.  They aren’t even the reason that Jesus goes to Jerusalem. Instead, acceptance of an uncontrollable situation, restores the power of all that Jesus can still do.  He can still cast out demons.  He can still heal.  He doesn’t give up on either Jerusalem, or even Herod.  He can still wrap his wing around Jerusalem in love – love for even those who wished him harm. 

For though the world is filled with uncontrollable uncertainty, this is not reason enough to abandon our call to ministry, for no person,

no place stands exempt from God’s tender compassion and persistent love.  Those who seek to follow Jesus must learn to view the world with no less compassion, no less forgiveness, and no less love.[6]

As we seek to follow Jesus…let us do so with no less compassion, no less forgiveness, and no less love.  May it be so.    


[1] page 39 – https://www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/product-downloads/civic_virus_report.pdf

[2] Quotes from an email from Cameron Trimble, Convergance

[3] From the ninth episode of the seventh season, entitled The Sponge

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSnB9XCMRaI

[5] adapated from words by Marcia McFee

[6] Koontz, Lee, Reflectious, 2010. from https://web.archive.org/web/20130725215649/http://reflectious.com/2010/02/21/first-look-luke-1331-35/

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