Do you ever sit on the beach and run your fingers through the sand or scoop up handfuls of it just to watch it sift through the crevices between your fingers? Maybe you've noticed that, no matter how tightly you squeeze your fingers together, the sand always finds a way through the cracks. Even if you scoop up a big handful and clench it in your fist real tight, without fail it will find its way out and back to the ground; in fact, the harder you clench, all the more quickly the sand runs out from between your fingers.
This reminds me of myself. It reminds me of my anxiety-prone, stress-addicted heart, and the insufficiency of my feeble hands. They scoop up more than I can carry and the tighter my grip gets, all the more quickly those things seem to slip out of my control. I want to do everything, and I want to do it all perfectly, and I want to do all of it in my own strength. And in this mindset, I clench so tightly that even the things that really matter get squeezed to death and fall out of my grasp like that sand. If I can't control a handful of little rocks, what makes me think I can carry the weight of life on my own shoulders without dropping a thing? What makes me think I have to?
Maybe for you, taking on more than you can handle is also a perpetual pattern in your life. You overcommit at work, you find it hard to refuse when people ask you favors, you volunteer to fill every need at church, you overbook your weekends, you just don't know how to say no. Maybe this results in a continual cycle of burnout or energy and emotion breakdowns. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you do this? Your response might sound something like, "Well, things need to get done and so I just do them." But that's not really answering the question. What makes us convinced that we have to live that kind of lifestyle? What make us think we can?
There is something in all of us that speaks a similar lie. You have to do X, Y, or Z in order to be enough, it says. Or maybe it tells you again and again that you have to prove your strength. Maybe the lies are more specific in your heart: This will win me love and acceptance, or worse, this will win me favor with God. Oh, dear friend, don't listen to these lies anymore. Catch them when they come and reprimand them in your mind and heart. They are so endlessly far from the truth. You have to replace them with that truth.
The fact is that we cannot earn the Lord's favor, and the beautiful truth is that we don't have to. The endless fight to try to "be enough," for ourselves or for other people, is really just the fight for a cheap lie. And all the attempts to earn the Lord's favor or grace are just as futile. This isn't easy to say, and it won't be pleasant to hear, but the hard reality of it all is that you are not enough, and on your own you never will be–not for others and never for God. No matter how hard you try–in work, or school, or parenting, or your marriage–your finite and fallen, sinful self will never be enough to merit the favor of others, let alone God's approval. But friend, that's the whole point.
This is where we meet with grace. I'm not glad that I struggle with the sin of thinking I can and must do "all the things" all of the time, but I am ever more thankful for the Lord's gentle and sometimes not-so-subtle reminders that I am not in control. I'm glad because as the Lord reminds me of my insufficiency, He points me to His never-ending supply: I am limited but He is limitless; I am weak but He is strong; I am small but He is big; I can't do it, but He can do all things. It is a joy to be confronted in this way because as I meet with His sufficiency, the lies in my heart that talk of self-sufficiency crumble to the ground. But as they melt, I don't look down and find that my hands are empty; I find that they are full of true grace–the kind you can't earn.
This is the gospel, beloved. The gospel is God's message of your insufficiency and His abundance. It tells the story of the endless fight we humans have to "be enough" on our own, to achieve everything apart from God, and to save ourselves without His help. The gospel confronts these misconceptions with the truth of our sinfulness, frailty, and desperate need. It only takes a single glance at the world to recognize the reality that everyone is fighting for themselves and wreaking sinful havoc in their wake. Even as Christians, we can get caught in the lie that grace is a purchase that we pay for and not a gift that we receive.
The Lord has to confront me often about this tendency of mine. The sand slips through my fingers as He sovereignly ordains for it all to fall. But when I then look down at my hands, I see that not only are they empty of the lies, but as a kind Father who always provides for His children, God has again filled my hands with His truth–one that can't fall through my fingers because He holds it in His own hands. He tells me the truth that I don't have to do everything in my own strength, because the truth is that I just can't do it all, and even if I could, it would never be enough to pay for my sin. My task, and yours, is to rest in Christ's work. I have to fight only to believe His word of grace and His declaration that through faith in His Son, I am still not enough. But Christ is enough for me.