This week I taught an oboe lesson to a promising young student who had just graduated with his bachelor’s in music from a great school. In the final moments of the lesson, I was asking him what his plans were long term, in regards to his career. We had worked on orchestral excerpts during the lesson and I was curious if he was planning on taking auditions. He sighed. He mentioned that he wasn’t sure what he wanted—“Part of me thinks it’d be fine going the public-school-teaching route because I like kids and it is safe and secure... and another huge part of me wants my whole life to be oboe.” He paused and looked at his feet. “And that’s when I start to consider whether or not I’m good enough.”
I had heard this many times...students wanting to know if they were “good enough.” I usually try to find a way to encourage them without engaging in that particular line of questioning. What does “good enough” even mean? In my experience, this conversation inhibits real work from getting done.
As I left that lesson, I started noticing how many conversations I have with myself on a daily basis about my acceptability. I choose my outfit, and depending on the size of my jeans I feel thin enough or not. I make a phone call or write a text and wonder if the way I said something came across wrong, and I wonder if I’m likeable enough or not. I share an idea with a friend and based on her reaction I am either creative enough or not. It’s exhausting...the constant judging and verdict making.
The Bible is always talking about “righteousness.” That word makes me squirm, and I’ve never totally known why. Merriam Webster describes it as “acting in accord with divine or moral law, free from guilt or sin” and suddenly I understand why it makes me so uncomfortable. When I look at how I measure up to God’s divine law, I swing from feeling like I’m not that bad to feeling like I am most definitely not good enough.
And almost right on cue...one of the Psalms this week talked about the righteousness— “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12)
The Cedar of Lebanon has a rich history, I’ve just recently learned. It can grow up to 120 feet tall and 8 feet wide, and it was apparently the lumber used by Solomon to build the temple. And here’s the best part—there’s a Cedar of Lebanon practically in our backyard. At the Wilmington & Brandywine Cemetery right around the corner from the church, stands one at the entrance, brought from the Holy Land from the cemetery’s founding director in 1850. This is the tree you see at the top of this post. I wonder if bringing this tree back and planting it in that cemetery next to his lost loved ones made James Canby feel righteous.
I started thinking today, as I drove past that righteous Cedar of Lebanon...I think it was the trees’ proximity to God that made it righteous. After all, verse 13 of Psalm 92 reads “planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God.” It was nothing they were in and of themselves that made them righteous. And so it is with us. It is Jesus that makes us good enough. And how do we come to find him? Following David’s way, we find Jesus through prayer. And we go to the cedar trees of this world, ordinary things deemed holy by association, we seek the mysterious Spirit.
Standing under the massive trees of the world, the verdict is in, we aren’t good enough. We aren’t beautiful enough or kind or creative enough. But there’s something better than being good... being loved... more than enough. And that’s good news.