Brown envelopes have a way of raising my heartbeat. With slight trepidation I unseal the tab and brace myself for the contents inside. Brown envelopes: the choice of the tax office, the student loans company, and school reports!
For some pupils, the day of the school report is a day of confident anticipation. Proudly gathering the family to read over the words of praise, of encouragement, enjoying the nods and smiles over words like ‘good work ethic’ and ‘example to others’.
For others it’s a day of pure dread. Words of verdict, of ‘encouragement’, of veiled despair from the teacher, of mild disappointment. The crumpled letter, stuffed down in the depths of the schoolbag shoved into the parents’ hands before making a quick exit.
I’m ashamed to say I fell into the smug first category. That is until the day I read ‘sufficient’ from my Art teacher. The end of Year 8 report strongly advised I not consider taking the subject onto GCSE. A completely fair assessment. If anything, sufficient was an ironically unsuitable word to describe my complete lack of artistic and woodwork ability. But it still lay there on the page, a verdict of sub standard, enough but certainly not good enough, a sense of lack, categorically average, ok, adequate but not amazing, distinctly uninspiring, certainly not sufficient to my standard. You get the picture. This word has stuck with me.
School reports do contain words that can linger, repeat over in the mind, words that give us stories to tell, that can end up weighing us down, and trigger emotional responses later in life. Apologies to the teachers out there. I don’t mean to add weight to your workload. I’m one of you. I’m on your side and I have been there writing the reports. Writing words that are loaded with meaning and can be carried far into life.
Sufficient was such a word to me.
The problem is it’s a word that screams from every marketing campaign, every make up and car advert, even Disney films. It’s a word we’re told over and over to speak to ourselves, to boldly proclaim about ourselves. You are sufficient. You are wonderfully, gloriously self sufficient. Children are raised and educated on the strength of this world. You are enough, You can be enough.
Be self sufficient. Rely on no one else. It’s all about me, myself and I. You, yourself, you. You are what you need.
Our children are hearing this in Disney. Think of Elsa’s searching in Frozen 2 that leads her to herself, She is complete when she finds herself. She is what she needs. Don’t write it off though. Disney, and L’oreal, or Audi, have caught onto something worth considering. In proclaiming this message of sufficiency, they have reclaimed its positive connotations, the message of being enough, having plenty, of abundance.
There is, in sufficiency, a promise of satisfaction, of being enough for someone, for myself, of having enough and so not craving elsewhere. The danger is we have insufficiently and inappropriately searched for sufficiency in the wrong place. The world has preached and proclaimed the wonder of beauty of sufficiency but has left us all feeling ironically unsuitable, inadequate, lost, weighed down by this impossible standard of being not only enough for others but also for myself as well. We have looked for sufficiency in self. We have said of self, whether that is yours or mine, you are sufficient. In and of yourself, you can be enough. And we have all been left feeling desperately lacking.
I have worked hard to repreach the word sufficient to myself, not so I can change the verdict of my school report and become ‘more than’, become better than the negative ok and adequacy. Rather, God has re preached the word to me by the power of his Spirit in my heart, showing me that it is He, not I, who is wonderfully sufficient. Sufficient for all my needs. Not in the sense that he will do, he is adequate but not good or outstanding, not in the sense he is average. In the sense is he fully satisfyingly, abundantly enough for me. He is all I need and because of his sufficiency for me, I, along with every Christian in the world, can say, I not only have ‘enough’ but I have all. He is enough in the fullest sense possible.
He is sufficient to forgive every sin. Enough to satisfy your weary soul. Abundant in his goodness and provision for us.Sufficient to save, to uphold, to keep us. Enough to fight our every fear. Sufficient to remove all shame, guilt and condemnation. Abundant in worth for us to give our lives in praise and worship to Him.
We have all because we have God who has all things in himself, who gave himself for us. We have God for our portion, so we have enough. We are satisfied.
This is true ‘self sufficiency’.
The message of the world has a point. There is great news in the word of sufficiency. There is even truth in self sufficiency. However it can only be found when we seek first the kingdom of God, when we see that sufficiency is found in God, not in ourselves. When we see God as our all sufficiency, when we allow him, not ourselves, to fill our hearts, souls, minds, for him to equip us with all strength, rather than dig down deep into our ‘own’. He has filled us so sufficiently that he has placed the very kingdom of God within us. A heart filled with the kingdom of God has no need for the kingdom of the world. God has filled us with all the fullness of Christ. When God fills the heart with himself, there is no need for that heart to fill itself on disappointing temporary, far from perfect, distinctly average, and generically ‘ok’ satisfaction elsewhere.
If we seek for sufficiency in and of ourselves, we will be desperately disappointed as we find nothing but insufficiency. Without God, we have nothing. We are nothing. There is no sense of any adequacy when we come before our all sufficient, all holy God. We are not found sufficient in ourselves in any way.
But the message of true, powerful, wonderful, beautiful sufficiency is God’s to proclaim and preach to our hearts. Because He is self sufficient in himself, because he is sufficient for our every need, desire, and circumstance, because He himself is our sufficiency, we can say with all confidence, we have enough. We have all. We have received God himself.
Psalm 16v5: ‘The Lord is my chosen portion.’Jeremiah 31v5: I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint
Psalm 81v10: I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt. open your mouth wide and I will fill it
Jeremiah Burroughs, ‘A Christian can say I not only have enough but I have all. How did he have all? Because He had God who was all. God has all things in himself, and you have God for your portion, and in that you have all, and this is the mystery of contentment.’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment