What is “enough”? How to know if you’re doing your “best” in good times and bad.

I see the meme everywhere “You are enough”. And I agree with it. But as nice as it is to hear it from others, there comes a point where we all have to know—for ourselves—what our “enough” is, our “best”. While external validation is both needed and welcome, it is not always available. And even more common is that we simply don’t believe it (or are afraid to believe it), even when we hear it from those who love us, and even a few that don’t.

We’re scrolling social media on a tough day and we see the quote, bright and bold, “You are enough!”, and it brings a tear to our eyes and a tug to our heart. But how? Am I really? Or, we’re lunching with a friend, or a sibling, and after dumping out our frustrations, doubts, and worries, they tell us, “Don’t worry. You’re doing your best. Just hang in there.”. Then, our soul cries out in doubt. If I’m enough, how come I don’t feel like I’m doing my best? How come I don’t feel like I’m enough? How come I can think of all the ways I could have been better?

Recently, one of my college kids expressed concern that he wasn’t doing his best with the enormous amount of adulting, religious duties, and school pressures he had. He is very good at self-evaluating and had already identified areas where he could improve, and was making efforts. But he wasn’t as good as he could imagine himself being every day. Some days he did great. Others, he just got by. Some he felt were totally unproductive. It was those “getting by” and “unproductive” days that concerned him, and brought his spirit down.

This “being enough” and “doing my best” is something I struggled with for years. I eventually found my answers and my own personal peace that get me through when I’m tempted to despair. Yet, no matter how hard I tried to reassure my college son, I couldn’t seem to pass on my own testimonial to him. My witness to him that he was “doing enough” and “doing his best” wasn’t transferring. He didn’t believe it, or more likely he was afraid to believe it. It seemed to me that he felt that if he accepted an effort that was less than he imagined it could be, then he would fail, or get worse, or learn to ignore things that needed improvement. It appeared to me, that he felt that by accepting less than optimum efforts he was allowing himself to regress rather than to progress.

At some point, we all have to find our own answers and personal peace…how to know we’re enough no matter how good or bad our day.

After talking with my son, and knowing that so many people struggle to internalize this often-spoken truth—YOU ARE ENOUGH—I set out to interview many of my own family members. I wanted to know how they would have reassured my son, if it had been them talking with him instead of me. I asked them questions like: “How do you know when you’ve done your best on any given day? Is it possible for your best to be different depending on the day? How do you know when you’ve done enough, or that you are enough? Is it impossible to improve—or are you destined for failure and misery—if you are willing to accept a day’s effort that is less than you imagine it could be?”

How would you answer these questions for my son? How would you answer them for your loved one? How would you answer them for yourself?

The ENOUGH of an athlete

When I took these questions to my husband, Luke, he replied with an excellent parable. He talked about the idea of ENOUGH with regard to an Olympic athlete. Consider, a high-performing athlete trains every day. However, they do not train “the same” every day. They have days where they push themselves hard, testing their muscular and aerobic limits, in order to challenge and strengthen their muscles, increase their aerobic capacity, and to maintain and improve mental strength and confidence. They also have days where they rest completely, or train at a very low level. These low impact days are necessary to avoid injury and to allow the challenged muscles and aerobic capacity to recover. Without this recovery time, pushing themselves daily at an Olympic, or “best”, performance level would only lead to injury and regression.

Many high-level athletes cross train, spending time doing sports that are different from the one they compete in, at various levels of intensity. When these athletes cross train, they have a specific purpose: to work different muscles and to strengthen their entire body in different ways to support and enable their increased performance in their chosen sport. Cross training allows them to avoid over-training or straining the muscles they depend upon for competing.

The “best” or “enough” of a high-performance athlete is not the same every day. In fact, it’s very different on a day-to-day basis. If they tried to break records every day, never resting or cross training, they would actually get injured more often and spend more time recuperating than progressing. They would regress by trying to do their Olympic best every day, rather than progress.

Athletes also spend a great deal of time visualizing their competition performances. They spend time imagining what their “best” looks like: how they will respond to competitors, how they will take off, how they will finish, how they will deal with adversity during the competition, etc. They self-evaluate and visualize mentally as well as training physically. But this “imagining their best” is not about beating themselves up for not being able to perform at their peak performance on non-competition days. This visualizing is about pondering on their off days so that they are prepared for and can do their best on competition days.

I think of Moses, the prophet, on two different occasions. On one occasion, in Moses 1 in the Pearl of Great Price, he communed with the Lord and afterward passed out for many hours. How many hours? A few? A day or two? We don’t know. But upon waking up, he said: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (Moses 1:10). Directly after, Satan came tempting Moses and he felt the reality of his mortal weakness. He overcame Satan’s temptations, and then thereafter continued to commune with God. But it is important to know that Moses was not able to commune with God nonstop. He passed out. He needed a mortal break. His weakness was also brought to bear in the face of adversity and temptation.

Another time, in Exodus 18:14-24, Moses was visited by his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro noticed how Moses was sitting alone from morning till evening trying to help the people. There was from morning until evening and endless line of Israelites lined up to see and talk to Moses. Jethro asked Moses, “Why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning until even?” Moses answered Jethro, “Because the people come unto me to inquire of God. When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statues of God, and his laws.”

Moses was doing good things. He wasn’t sinning. He was doing daily, Olympic spiritual prophet work. But even so, Jethro said, “The thing thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.” Jethro was saying, “Look, performing at this spiritual level every day is going to cause eventual regression, not progression for both you and the people.” Jethro continued to counsel Moses to call other men to preside over groups of the people and to settle smaller matters, so that only the large matters came to Moses. He told Moses to have the Lord validate his suggestion. God did validate Jethro’s counsel. Moses was trying to do more than was spiritually and physically possible.

It is clear from my husband’s parable, and from Moses’ example in the scriptures, that none of us are capable of performing at our Olympic spiritual capacity 24/7. In Mosiah 4:27 we are told that “it is not requisite that [we] run faster than we have strength”. We may want to perform at that capacity at every hour of every day. We may even be able to imagine ourselves doing so. But we are mortal. And we cannot (Moses 1:10). Thus, like Moses, and like the Olympic athlete, we must understand that being at that Olympic spiritual, mental, and physical level requires divine grace from God. Moses had to be transfigured in order to commune with God! Thus, when we need it, God will help us have that high-functioning capacity. But on the days that we don’t have to run a spiritual or physical marathon or knock door-to-door looking to share the gospel, we are only asked to meet spiritual minimums as we maintain and occasionally test our spiritual limits. Our spiritual mettle is what we are seeking to maintain our current performance capacity and to also daily strengthen it, little by little. Then, there will be days where God will enable us to commune with Him and to represent Him at a higher level. And because of our regular, lesser, daily training, we will have the ability to be aided by Him.

Do you see an interesting comparison here between us and Moses, or the Olympic athlete?

The OPINION of God

Next, my husband and I took the questions above to another son, who has just recently graduated high school. His answer was rather interesting. I understood what he said as follows: “Well, since we can always imagine how we might have been better retrospectively (looking back at our day), our opinion will often be negative and inaccurate. So, the only way to know if we’re enough each day is to ask God’s opinion.”

James 1:5 teaches us: If any of you lack wisdom, let [him or her] ask of God, that giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given [him or her]. If we really want to know if we have given enough today, or any day, we can ask the Lord, “Was my effort this day acceptable to Thee?” And if we would like to do better tomorrow, or in the future, we can ask, “What lack I yet?” (Matthew 19:20) and He will guide us in ways to improve at a pace that we can handle.

My husband and I celebrated this answer from our high school age son, but then the point was made further in the discussion, “Often, we don’t want to hear from God that He accepts our day…especially if we don’t want to accept it ourselves.”

Here we are back at the main source of the struggle: us. If even God, Himself, tells us that He accepts our day and what we gave (no matter how poor of an effort we feel it was), can you and I accept it? Can you accept it when God says, “I accept your efforts today. It was ENOUGH.”?

Our discussion continued on this topic with our son. Why is it that we don’t want to accept what God accepts? Why are we so hard on ourselves even after our Father in Heaven tells us it’s okay? Why do we have to continue to beat ourselves up (a sort of mental “self-harm”) until we “feel” sufficiently punished?

One possible answer to this, that we discussed, is that we don’t have faith in, or truly believe in, the atonement of Jesus Christ. If we truly have faith in and believe in the grace of Jesus Christ, then we will accept God’s answer (Mark 5:36; 9:23-24, Alma 32:27). We accept that He accepts what we gave today. Unbelief is the only way that we can lose out on the comfort of God telling us we are enough (Alma 32:28). Belief and exercising our faith are the only way that God’s opinion of our efforts can bring us peace and comfort and enable us to “bear fruit” despite our imperfection (Alma 32:34-43).

Do you believe…really believe and have faith in…the grace of Jesus Christ? Can you accept it when God tells you that He accepts your efforts for the day? Can you accept it when He forgives your sincere repentance?

The FRIENDSHIP and PRESENCE of God

I took both of these responses to my college-age daughter, and was surprised that her conclusion—from her own struggles on this topic—was very similar. But her answer added to it just a little bit more. She more or less concluded, from her own experiences, the following, which I will paraphrase: “No matter how my day went, if I feel like God is still with me at the end of the day, then I know I did my best—that it was enough. If He hasn’t left me. If I can still feel His love and His closeness, then I know I was enough today.”

Have you ever had a really terrible day where you felt that you failed at almost everything spiritual and temporal, and yet you still felt God close? Did you wonder, “How can He be with me when I’m doing so poorly?” I have, myself, have often entertained my negative feelings about my weak efforts or mistakes to the point where I can’t feel God next to me because I’m blocking that feeling with my own self-deprecation and mental self-harm. I create my own pavilion, blocking access to His comfort and His reassurance (Where is the Pavilion? Henry B. Eyring, October 2012 General Conference).

The sacrament prayers are very clear that if we always remember Christ, and take upon us His name, that we will always have His Spirit to be with us (Doctrine and Covenants 20: 77, 79). If we are trying. Even if we can imagine a more optimum day, God accepts our efforts if we are trying. I think perhaps the only way to be unacceptable to God is to quit, for “I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end…he cannot be saved” (2 Nephi 31:16). God accepts our efforts not because they are perfect, but because we have not given up, and because we are willing to continue (despite our continued imperfection) because we have faith and confidence in the atonement and grace of Jesus Christ.

Being ENOUGH in good times and bad

It seems to me that it feels like in good times, when we’re performing at our spiritual and temporal “Olympic” best, we don’t struggle as much to feel that we are “enough”. It is, at least for me, during the really hard times that I struggle and doubt my enough-ness. Did I give my best today? Geez, it seems like I lost all the progress I’ve made in the last year just today. Maybe I’m not doing enough since my life is so hard right now, or because this trial isn’t ending. Maybe, if I were better, my life would have less difficulty. Maybe God didn’t grant that miracle because I wasn’t enough.

It is important to know that “feeling” like we are enough despite really rough days takes time; it takes consistent trust in, and willingness to accept, the comfort of the Spirit. When God says, “I accept your efforts today,” we have to practice saying, “Okay,” and not continuing to mentally self-harm ourselves. We have to take action toward accepting His opinion and His consistent presence by our side. We have to practice accepting God’s opinion. We have to purposefully recalibrate what we define as an “enough” or “best” day. We have to take into account our mortality. We have to take into account our need for rest, recreation, and recovery time.

I have often said the phrase, “Don’t waste grace,” because I used to waste it. I used to metaphorically throw my whole day in the trash can if I made mistakes in the morning, or afternoon, or right before bed; denying that grace could help me change my momentum and that the rest of the day could be, or was wonderful. When we are determined to deny that grace accepts our efforts, whether those efforts are pretty, or ugly—and most of mine are pretty ugly—we are wasting grace. We are wasting the joy that we have been designed to have (2 Nephi 2:25, 27).

Being “enough” doesn’t mean that we haven’t made mistakes or that we don’t need to repent and make plans for trying to improve each day. Being “enough” means accepting that “being enough” IS repenting and continuing to try to improve. If you trust in God and are willing to keep trying via repentance and accepting God’s gift of comfort, then that is what ENOUGH is—in good times or bad. Being ENOUGH is being sanctified, not perfect. You ARE enough.

BT

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