‘I’m Not Enough’: A Missionary’s Battle with Insufficiency

One Saturday when my husband was out of town, our baby girl was recovering from hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and I had an impossible decision to make. Her fever spiked a few minutes before our middle daughter needed to be at her best friend’s birthday party. The party was three bus stops away—an eight-minute ride. Despite the fact that my baby wasn’t feeling good, we headed out to catch the bus.

While waiting at the bus stop, I noticed my baby did not look well. I was helpless carrying her in a front-facing baby wrap when she began to throw up—everywhere.

Then the bus showed up. “What should I do?” I wondered. I knew my older daughter would have a huge meltdown if she missed the party, and I didn’t want to experience the embarrassment of having to parent a very upset child in public. I also felt anxiety as the external and internal pressure built to be on time in a culture that highly values punctuality. So I wiped off what was visible of the mess as we got on the bus and rode three stops.

Although I’m sure others on the bus would have helped me, I hid myself. I stood with my back facing the other passengers, never making eye contact or looking up to see who might be watching me. I hid my shame, embarrassment, and pain as I held back the tears welling up in my eyes.

After I got my daughter to the party, I decided to walk home. I carried my baby, still covered in vomit, and finally released my tears. It was all too much. The sickness our family was facing, the embarrassment of feeling like I didn’t have it all together, the loneliness of living far away from family and old friends, the discouragement our family was facing in ministry, the physical exhaustion of parenting little ones. I just couldn’t do it.

Where Is the Boat?

Thirteen years ago, God called my husband and me to follow him into the great unknown. Our hearts long to see disciples of Jesus being made and churches planted among the nations. For that calling, we have traveled to many countries and made our home in a few of them. But most days, as I follow this unfamiliar path, I feel like my feet fail me. During this time, the lyrics from the Hillsong’s “Oceans” resonate with my heart.

I don’t often want to walk upon the waters of faith. I want to stay in the boat close to shore, where it’s supposedly safer and secure. Walking on water requires skills that I just don’t have. I often feel that I’m not enough for the task before me. On more days than not, we’ve had to fight for joy and contentment in the onslaught of health concerns, ministry setbacks, and the loneliness that comes from being cultural outsiders despite having lived here for eight years.

It’s on days like this, when I’m physically, emotionally, or spiritually covered in a mess of anxiety and helplessness, that I want to pull myself back into the boat.

For His Glory and Our Good

Yet, God has chosen me—he’s chosen all of his children—to be in the water. And he doesn’t ask us to be there so he can watch us drown. He promises that he will use us for his glory and his renown, and that his sustaining grace will see us through the task (John 15:16; Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 12:9).

“It’s for God’s glory and our good when we ask him to help us in the difficult task he’s given us.”

I am usually not aware of God’s great grace and love on stress-free days when it seems I can manage everything on my own. Yet, when my inadequacies are exposed, and I can’t hold it all together—when I’m covered in a mess and want to hide—it is then that I’m aware of my need of a Savior. I try to swim, but I fail. The waves are too high; the ocean is too strong. As the current pulls me under, and I realize I can’t save myself, I stretch out my arms and cry for help. As I admit my need, I find God near.

Isn’t this a picture of the gospel? When we are not enough, when we are weak and can’t save ourselves, God draws near and is the boat. It’s for his glory and our good when we ask him to help us in the difficult task he’s given us. Like Paul, we can boast all the more gladly in our weaknesses because that’s when Christ’s power is shown to be perfect. When we are painfully aware of our insufficiencies, God graciously makes us strong in Christ (2 Cor. 12:9–10).

Come, Let’s Get Back in the Water

The Christian life is both good and hard. In order to experience beauty, we have to get our hands dirty, often with tears of sorrow and tears of joy. Yet, we can strive to place our hope in the promise that our labor won’t be in vain (1 Cor. 15:52), and one day we will witness people from every nation and every tribe worshiping before the throne of God (Rev. 7:9).

Until that day, let’s take courage and rejoice that it is okay to feel like we are not enough on our own. As we admit our need for help, we come to experience God’s presence on a deeper level, and our faith in him is made stronger. Even when life is hard, even when it hurts, his grace will meet us in the messy places. He is enough, and that’s becoming enough for me.