Monday, May 25, 2020

Enough Already: The Wisdom of Brene Brown and why it's not Working for us in Lockdown.

Frankly, I admire Brene Brown. The renown academic, best-selling author and celebrated podcast host has an earthy, unforced wisdom that reaches way beyond the ivory tower of academia and into the worlds of Ted Talk and Netflix. She has a unique way with words and seems comfortable in her own skin, which may be the key to a career that has unlocked its own industry. If you google Brene Brown, what pops up first is 'Etsy quotes by Brene Brown.' That's telling.  Her quotes have sparked an Etsy craft craze which is a sure sign that her truisms have found a home in our collective psyches. They seem to resonate broadly with men and women while avoiding the shallow cliche' of a Hallmark card.

I was surprised to hear that Brown's teachings had reached the shores of my homeland, South Africa. I suppose I shouldn't have been. While listening to a podcast by our old physiotherapist friend turned life coach, his guest referred to Brown's concept of worthiness.  "As Brene Brown has said, too often we connect our self worth with our net worth. This Covid-19 pandemic has robbed most of us of our net worth and therefore we feel robbed of our self worth. But we need to realize that earning lots of  money, having a big retirement,  a big house and a new car should not define our self-worth. We are enough without those things." The podcast guest was referring to the more pithy saying by Brown, "I matter because my story matters. I am absolutely enough." Brown's quote explores our universal yearning for a sense of worthiness, insisting that humans do not need to achieve or acquire in order to be deemed worthy. "No matter what gets done I am worthy of love and belonging and joy."  

Being absolutely enough is a beautiful, Etsy-worthy idea. In fact, it's a Biblical idea that humans are endowed with value and beauty because they, more than any other species in creation, are unique image bearers of their Creator. Their worth cannot be achieved or earned any more than a pot could tell the potter what price tag it should carry. Our worth is determined by our Creator and cannot be negated or diminished by created beings. In that sense, Brown has unearthed a great truth for our striving, self-worth culture. In that sense, we are absolutely enough.

The problem is though, that Brown's mantra about being absolutely enough is a half truth, because it underplays the nagging sense of unworthiness we all feel to some degree. Why is it that so many of us have felt frustrated by our lack of productivity in lockdown, unable to breathe and enjoy the slower pace of life forced upon us by quarantine?  Of course, there are the obvious reasons of  economic loss and uncertainty, but deeper reflection will reveal a low-grade hum not silenced by stimulus check or payment protection plan. Our self-worth is so tightly bound up with our work, our planners and our vision flip charts. Being absolutely enough is a nice idea until the laces get ripped out of the boots of progress.

We see it most clearly in athletes, don't we? I'm reminded of the line from the movie, Chariots of Fire, in which Eric Liddel's rival said before his 100 yard Olympic sprint, "I have ten seconds to justify my whole existence." More recently, in the final episode of The Last Dance, the ESPN documentary about the Chicago Bulls' championship team of the 1990's, the interviewer asked Michael Jordan,"Were you maddened or gladdened by retiring after winning your sixth NBA championship? Jordan's response. "Maddened. I should have won seven."
Would one more really have been enough though?

Apparently, feeling absolutely enough is more illusive than Brene Brown would have us believe.
 Our need to justify ourselves, not so much through one more good work as through one more great achievement, is a stubborn streak in the children of Eve.

I find I lack the authority to convince myself that I am absolutely enough. My self-talk sounds hollow to my Jordan-shaped soul that feels unworthy no matter what I achieve. I need the Author of my life to silence my repeated strivings to justify my existence and prove my worth. I need Him to speak a better word than the word of Brene Brown. I need Him to justify me with Jesus' work so that I can finally rest.

 John Greenleaf Whittier, the Quaker poet, wrote so poignantly about our need for God to silence the hum of our strivings to be enough in his 1872 hymn, "Dear Lord and Father of all Mankind."

"With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess,
The beauty of Your peace."

I am not absolutely enough. But when Jesus drops the still dews of quietness into my striving soul,
I am able to whisper, "He is enough for me."
Which may not get onto any Etsy store wall hanging, but it's a truth I'm willing to hang my hat on. 

1 comment:

  1. This. 100%.

    We see it most clearly in athletes, don't we? I'm reminded of the line from the movie, Chariots of Fire, in which Eric Liddel's rival said before his 100 yard Olympic sprint, "I have ten seconds to justify my whole existence."