Written by Jessica Ponder on February 19, 2013
Most days of my life have been plagued with guilt—guilt that I’m not doing enough, not loving enough, not hoping enough, not including enough, not giving enough, not listening enough, not sweet enough, not dependable enough, and on my worst days just not enough at all.
Sometimes it seems the whole weight of it comes and sits on my chest. It’s hard to breathe, think, or eat without feeling my overwhelming sense of obligation eclipsed by my own inadequacy to love people the way they need to be loved.
I am, as my husband says, my own Oskar Schindler. If you’ve seen Schindler’s List, then you know that at the end of the movie, Schindler makes a very poignant statement. After a life of what most people would characterize as sacrificial and admirable, after he rescued hundreds of Jews at his own expense, he surveyed his remaining possessions—his car, his gold ring, his fine clothing—and he said “I could have done more.”
His Jewish friends tried to dissuade him. They remind him of all the good that he did. They point to the eleven hundred people who were saved by his efforts. But still he insists, “If I had made more money… If I’d just… This car—why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. It’s gold. Two more people, at least one. One more person for this. I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t! I didn’t.”
In a way, Schindler was right.
There is always more to sacrifice: one less latte, one more hour spent cutting coupons, one more pair of jeans bought at Goodwill instead of JCREW, one more glass of water instead of wine, one less car, one less movie night, one less vacation, one less grocery trip, one less Chick-Fil-A run…one less of anything.
After a while, that “one less” realization turns into a sort of prison of guilt and fear. I’m deeply petrified that I won’t be able to do enough. And the truth is, I can’t. I never was meant to. In fact, it is precisely for this reason that I depend upon Christ’s righteousness daily, because I can never love enough or be good enough on my own.
Now, I’m not saying that I am not meant to sacrifice—naturally as Christians we are to do so joyfully—but never as a way of trying to prove something to myself, my family, or my God. Instead, I must remember that Christ has already loved everyone more marvelously than I ever could. He as proven himself more trustworthy than my well-intended promises; he has sacrificed his life to be more than “enough” for us.
I forget that those around me—my husband, my friends, my family, the homeless man on the corner of Broad Street, our neighbors upstairs, Liz at the market, Don down the street—all of them deeply need love. Of course, they all also have real physical needs that I can help to meet, but nothing aside from knowing Jesus will give them perfect fulfillment. Nothing else, including me, will ever be enough for them besides that.
The rub is this: Because God has already loved them enough, sacrificed enough, I am free to love them out of a desire to glorify God, not out of a sense of duty or of obligation. I am still working to live out in practice that I have been declared to be free from obligation, and instead seek after a desire, a joy that is the motivation for these things. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.”
I am praying that God strengthens my legs so that I might cast aside the crutch of duty and obligation and that He might work in me a joy to delight in Him and do His good work.
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to one (so far). She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time.