They Do Exist.

Boundaries: On Being “Not Enough.”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Emily. Last week I asked what the definition of “boundaries” was to her, and she answered: ‘courageously owning your limited existence. As a life-long religious addict and people pleaser, learning boundaries was both an incredible struggle and one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever received. Boundaries, for me, are essentially tied to the word enough.‘ In this post, she expands upon that. It’s fantastic. Emily tweets at @emelina. – Lauren

The past two years in particular have been filled with fears. Fears of not being enough for my family, my friends, my job, my romance, my church, my dreams, my city, and my God.

But my name means ‘Diligent One,’ and I’ve always lived under the label that I just have to work harder to achieve anything. I kept trying to be fun enough, big enough, kind enough, generous enough, self-controlled enough, patient enough, fit enough, strong enough, sexy enough, educated enough, woman enough, diligent enough, faithful enough, smart enough, good enough, beautiful enough, spiritual enough, enough enough… And I was exhausted. I was completely spent and still hadn’t met my goals.

I thought the problems were in my relationships, my job, my experience, my past, my knowledge, my faith, my family… But really, all of that spinning around the different spheres of not being enough were because I wasn’t willing to confront the idea that I might not be enough. I wasn’t willing to let my existence be based on the goodness of God and His love, so I was trying to be everything. I spent all my time taking care of other people, ineffectively at best, because I never asked for help. When I did attach, it was to people who masked my insecurity and fed the control monster inside me. I was living without boundaries and at every whim of circumstance. I lived desperate for things to settle down so I could regain a sense of hope, but life, it seemed, never cooperated. No matter how hard I worked, moving external things around never truly shored me up on the inside.

Photo by Laura Pett / / Design by Lauren Dubinsky

Do you feel like that?

Do you work tirelessly to fix every part of your life, your friendships, your family, your career, your dating life, your marriage, your finances, yet live in the exhausted land of imminent collapse?

The first thing I want to say is: I can’t fix you. This blog can’t fix you. A mentor can’t fix you. BUT: you don’t have to live for the goal of finally getting everything right in your life. You don’t have to do enough or be enough.

It’s crushing to not be enough.

Really, truly, gut-wrenchingly, devastatingly, powerlessly, impossibly, adverbially, crushing. I am in no way denying that.

But it’s debilitating to spend life trying to be enough.

In the midst of my exhaustion, I learned about boundaries and the ways they could free me. Then I realized I was going about life all wrong. What if being enough isn’t the ultimate goal of my existence? What if, in all of this trying to be enough, I’ve been seeking the unattainable thing in an impossible manner? What if I’ve been trying for something I never had to try for? What if that pressure was never mine to take for myself? What if I don’t have to be enough? What if Love is just waiting for me to accept it? What if Love, in fact, shows up best in the midst of that very act of recognizing that I am not enough? What if by admitting: I AM NOT ENOUGH to the impenetrable heavens, I might actually find them opening?

Because the one thing I really want: Love, by its very nature, cannot be earned. It may be accepted, but it cannot be forced or bought or manipulated. And for me, I can start accepting Love the minute I realize that I am not enough, that I never had to be, and that all my attempts – even at good things – brought me no closer to Enough. When I started accepting my finite self and living from a reservoir of Love rather than control, I felt a little more internal peace. And when everything in life starts spinning out, I can still cling to the fact that I was never meant to hold up the world and everyone in it. Boundaries have allowed me to become more of the Emily I am made to be because I stopped trying to be everything.

Boundaries are me courageously owning my limited existence.

Here’s the craziest thing of all: when I stop trying to be enough and I am loved in my not-enoughness, that’s where I find the ability to love, give, have fun, and be a kind, generous, fit, self-controlled, patient, strong, sexy, educated, diligent, faithful, smart, good, beautiful, spiritual, and yeah, just enough woman. And I find more of that ability than I ever did while I thought all those things would make me enough!

Boundaries are about letting go of my desire to save the world, and instead joining with a God who has and is actively redeeming every situation and person. So I just get to be me. My identity is no longer consumed with being enough. And I don’t have to demand any other human be enough to mask my own not-enoughness. My old desires show up now and then, but I can recognize that urge to “be enough” for the lie that it is, and continue healing. I don’t have to be enough for you, my family, my friends, my job, my romance, my dreams, my city, or my God.

I just get to be me. Silly, ridiculous, free, friendly, small, diligent, strange, loving, fit, clever, average, learning, creative, sexy, confident, fantastic, intelligent, strong, lovable, smart, flawed, beautiful, not-enough me.

Because Jesus is enough. Because God’s love for the world is enough. Because God’s love for me is enough.

And that’s the most freeing limitation I’ve ever believed.

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22 Responses

  1. leeleegirl4

    Wow! I feel like I could be reading about my life. I have cried and struggled to be enough, but nothing I did was ever enough. Nothing, until I learned to surrender it to Jesus. Thank you so much for sharing.

    April 10, 2012 at 1:50 pm

  2. overlapped

    Oh, Emily. Your words have blessed me immensely. I've never commented here before (though Lauren, I just found this site and I love it to death and thank you for speaking words and truth and blessing) – but I just had to leave a note of encouragement to say the timing is incredible. This is something I'm seeing in my own life, struggling and fighting with, and not quite sure how to let go and live in not-enough-ness. All I can see is that whatever I'm doing now is a disaster. And especially today, when things are slipping out of my control and I simply cannot meet everyone's expectations for me, my expectations for myself – I needed to be reminded that I don't need to live to be enough or control everything. That's not even the point.

    I pray I'm learning this. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement!
    – Megan

    April 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm

  3. Ashley

    Thank you for sharing, Emily! Your words speak immensely to me and I’ve needed to be reminded of boundaries for a long time now. It’s so easy to get so caught up in being good enough everywhere that we forget to even remember we don’t have to be. It’s almost freeing. It’s very encouraging to hear other women out there. A true blessing!

    April 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm

  4. daringrecorder

    Thank you for this! I've never commented before but have read various articles and liked the words of encouragement but few have spoken so directly to me. I have definitely needed to be reminded about boundaries, especially pertaining to wanting to be enough. I've never really put a word or thought to why I feel discouraged but this post made complete sense to my life. So thank you for writing and explaining why boundaries are so good!


    April 10, 2012 at 8:48 pm

  5. Ali Farmer

    What you write is so true. It's hard for my heart to understand but my mind does comprehend it. I struggle with this while thinking that I am someone who has great boundaries in my life. Such a wake up call. I hope I can remember this wisdom because I feel it is something that truly will free me from my need to control situations, people, relationships, etc all while thinking I am a victim because I am never "enough." I think my new mantra will be "I am not enough but His love is." Thank you so much for sharing. :)

    April 10, 2012 at 10:32 pm

  6. Katie

    Wow! I've never posted here before either but I just have to say thank you for what you've written – this really spoke to my heart. Tears were flowing down my face as I read it, knowing that this is something that I struggle with…not feeling like I'm enough. I know that Jesus is enough and He reminds me of this but sometimes I forget and I always feel like I need to do more. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This was a beautiful reminder to me – I just wanted you to know that God has used your words to speak to me.

    April 10, 2012 at 10:46 pm

  7. Katie,
    Enough-ness feels like an overwhelming struggle for me, but then I remember that Jesus is on my side. When I talk to Him about what I feel, He never scolds me. It's amazing to know a God who is tender with my weaknesses!
    Also, read the book of Galatians. Over and over again, Paul confronts his friends about trying to "do more" for God rather than just accepting what He's already done! It might encourage you even more. I read it constantly. :)
    Thanks so much for commenting!

    April 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm

  8. Nicola

    I spend a lot of time both trying to be enough – work hard enough, be productive enough, be strong enough, be brave enough. Often I feel like an imposter – that eventually someone is going to find me out, and discover that actually I’m not as smart or as capable as people think I am. Thank you for reminding me to let this feeling go from time to time :)

    April 12, 2012 at 7:15 am

  9. 2nd Corinthians 12: 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast [b]about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

    Spot on, thanks for the post.

    April 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm

  10. Charlotte

    I felt so touched reading this because I felt understood. I've been struggling really hard in my relationships particularly friendship. I'm always haunted with the feeling of not being enough – smart enough, funny enough (not to say I'm totally boring but it's my nature to have a larger portion of serious side than funny side but God has put me in a group of friends who are generally the opposite), beautiful enough, strong enough, hardworking enough etc. etc. And this sense of not-enough, sense of insecurity due to inadequacies, brought one issue after another, sometimes I just feel like giving up all hopes of having Godly and healthy relationships.

    Thanks for sharing this with us… I certainly need to be reminded that Jesus is enough.

    May 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm

  11. Sherc

    Thank you for this article for it bears so many gems of truth. I, too, struggle with being 'Not good enough'. Thank you for reminding me that if God is my creator, I am good enough as I am, and I don't need to strive to achieve an imaginary goal of not being enough. Thank you also for reminding me to just let things go, and let God be my supplier of Grace. Brought some tears of relief to me, reminding me that I am already loved, for who I am, not who I 'should' be.

    December 7, 2012 at 9:35 pm

  12. Carissa

    Thanks a lot for writing this. I definitely needed to hear this. Sometimes it feels hard to find that balance of how to follow God and but not by striving for perfection. Thanks again for reminding us that God is enough and that He already loves us for who we are when we're around people and by ourselves. He is always with us and will never stop loving us.

    December 31, 2012 at 6:07 pm

  13. Michelle

    Thank you for this. Being/doing enough has been a super-touchy thing for me personally in the past 3 1/2 years. I suddenly fell ill in 2009 with fibromyalgia, and the debilitating fatigue and pain it causes has stripped away my once very active lifestyle. Now I constantly struggle with whether I am a good enough wife, mother or homemaker (despite a very supportive and loving husband). This article helps me see that I need to daily accept the grace freely offered of Christ Jesus, and do my best with the energy He supplies!

    February 6, 2013 at 12:25 am

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