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May 28 2016

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On good and good enough.

EchoI had to get a new car. I loved my old car. She was a Toyota Echo, and I’d had her since she was born in 2000. She was perfect, as though made for me—cheap and basic, reliable, little and economical, built for a short person, with a soft comfy seat and lots of storage and a cute little droopy nose, and we carried each other through everything, through trouble and crises, across the continent, under breathtaking skies. She was my green girl. But my parents and I now have one car for the three of us, and I am the only driver, and my Echo had only two doors and a broken A/C… She was a wonderful car, but in some very specific ways she just wasn’t good enough anymore. I miss her, but I’m making friends with the new puppy car.

Last Sunday at my church, the head of Eucharistic Ministry got up to the ambo after Mass to encourage parishioners to participate as Extraordinary Ministers. Most of you know what that means: these are lay people who distribute the Eucharist along with the priest and (if there is one) the deacon. After outlining the Extraordinary Ministers’ responsibilities, he paused, then surveyed the pews and said something like this: “I know a lot of you stay back from this ministry because you don’t feel you are good enough. I hear it from people all the time. That’s how I felt, too. But, you know, no one is good enough. We’re all sinners. Being aware of it is a good thing. If you don’t think you’re good enough, you are exactly the person we need.”

I am already a music minister and a lector, so I was listening with half an ear, but when he said this, my whole body went taut because he described verbatim the experience I’d had back at the monastery in Minnesota, where I spent some time discerning my religious vocation two years ago.

It was in my second month at the monastery. I saw my name on the schedule under “Extraordinary Minister of the Cup #2” and froze. It meant that every day that week, once a day at Mass, I would stand holding the chalice and offer it to the Sisters who’d step up in a queue, and I would say, “The Blood of Christ.” And wipe the edge with a towel. And say it again. blood of ChristThe chalice with Precious Blood would pass through my hands to be delivered to the faithful, and the formula that completed their awareness of the Sacrament would pass through my lips. To them, I would be the immediate source of the Eucharist. I would be the channel of the Mystery. I felt nauseated. It just felt…wrong.

I went to my vocation director. “Sister,” I said, “I don’t think I am ready for this. I don’t feel I’m good enough.” I was expecting she’d let me out of it, or at the very least she’d sit down and offer me the wisdom in which she, if anyone, would be an expert. She did not. “No one is good enough,” she said. “It’s fine.” I didn’t realize then this was wisdom enough.

I moped around for a couple more days, tried to wrap my head around it and couldn’t. When the time came, I took my place, dreadfully and shaking, hardly believing what I was doing, and did it. By the end of the week, I was shaking less, and I believed it. Still didn’t think I was good enough. What didn’t occur to me then was how many Sisters must have felt the same way. It occurs to me now.

“Good enough” is a fine expression when it comes to things concrete, measurable: the sturdiness of chairs, the precision of instruments, the suitability of cars for a purpose, even the competence of professionals. But worthiness… What does it mean to be worthy of something real, something big that has to do with love, with service, with being connected to the Grand and Overwhelming? When we take vows, be they in marriage or in citizenship or in religious life, are we “worthy” of the trust that is placed in us? When we serve someone in pain, which of us is “good enough” truly to become the hand of the Divine that heals? How many parents haven’t doubted themselves again and again? Really, when it comes to the important things in life, looking in the mirror in our most honest moments, do we know in our hearts that we are good enough? How would we even know?

This awareness is not exactly new to me, but obvious thoughts crystallize at odd times. Such is the nature of the human mind. It is my Eucharistic Minister’s last sentence that precipitated my reflection: “If you don’t think you’re good enough, you’re exactly the person we need.” This is one aspect of what is commonly understood as humility—a realization that ultimate Good is so enormous that our best can be only the striving for it. It is the same as saying that the only “good enough” would be “perfect,” and come on, we all know where that lives. It’s a liberating realization, isn’t it? If there is no “good enough,” all there is, is “good.” We cannot measure or reach “good enough,” but we know good when we see it.

touching hands

I’ve been jolted into this thought several times in my life, and every time I feel light and airy, burdenless, ready to fly. We don’t say a human being is “good enough” even as we pay a highest compliment. We say he is “good.” This is right. There is not enough good, not enough of anything in this whole universe to fill the mystery of love, of service, of its unfathomable interconnectedness. It goes beyond what we can access, for we are part of a greater whole. But we are part of the greater whole, and that’s all we need to have the right to it, for it is our birthright: the Good.

So let us not ask ourselves as we look in the mirror if we are good enough—to serve, to do great things, to be loved or cared for. We will always find a way to say no. Because no one is good enough. Let us ask if we are good. And the answer will always be yes. Because goodness—the nature of God—is our birthright, the crux of everyone, and if you’ve asked the question, the answer is yes.

 

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4 comments

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  1. Leonard Swidler

    Lovely! I resonated with your feelings about your old car–my 25 year old Mercedes 190 very slowly disintegrated, and finally could not move.
    But most of all, I felt at home with your words, thoughts, and feelings at the end. In my case, I add the overwhelming feeling of Gratitude–including your Friendship.
    Len

    1. River Adams

      Thank you, Len.

  2. Terry Wasinger

    Thank you so much for sharing this,! It , goodness, is a concept so often overlooked, but you have portrayed it so clearly, and appropriately to my situation, and most likely to most of us! I am so happy to be reading your blog again!

    1. River Adams

      Thank you, dear Terry! So glad to hear from you…

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