Excuses. Let’s be honest. We all have them and use them. Sometimes the reasons are valid, but other times not so much. Sometimes we use them without thinking. Many times, we use them because we want to avoid the response we may get if we simply decline to do a particular thing. That can happen because we don’t want to disappoint someone or have someone think less of us. But it can also happen because of what we believe.
The word excuses used as a noun means “a reason or explanation put forward to defend or justify” or “to conceal the real reason for an action.”
That’s pretty obvious and we all know that is what we are doing. But why isn’t it okay to simply say we are tired or don’t have the financial/emotional/relational resources to agree with what is asked? Do we fear being seen as less than, incapable, or inadequate?
If we are honest with ourselves, we generally do have some of those feelings. We want others to think and believe the best about us for many reasons including trying to boost our own uncertainties about whether or not we are. We have a propensity to feel guilty if we decline too.
The issue of feelings of inadequacy are as old as time itself, but it became more popular in recent times as research about the feelings and self-concept formation developed. It is pretty clear the feelings are real, and studies can point to a number of reasons why we experience those feelings. Counselors, psychologists, pastors, and others have tried to help us sort through those feelings and eliminate them with varying degrees of success. (As a retired clinical counselor, I am well acquainted with dealing with the issue and some of the most effective tools to combat it.)
But despite my training and experience of many years, I must confess that I am not sure we are effective at totally eliminating the feelings. We face new challenges and require new skills as we go along and they can stir up that sense of inadequacy pretty quickly for most of us and then we can be tempted to wonder what happened when we thought we had dealt with it and conquered it years ago.
Feelings of inadequacy are not academic for me either. I have experienced them more than a few times in my life. They were once generalized across many things, but over time they most often popped up when I was faced with something new such as starting graduate school in my late 40’s, leaving a solid teaching career to enter the risky business of clinical counseling in private practice, creating a website where I put myself “out there” for many to evaluate and judge, and authoring a book at the age of 75. Trust me, I get it, and these are only a few of the examples in my own life I could offer you.
It’s also true that each time I have risked facing such a new thing for me, I have become a bit stronger and yet without eliminating the feeling completely.
In reading Eugene Peterson’s book, Run with the Horses, I began to see something about this common challenge with greater clarity. You see, if we delve a bit deeper into our excuses and sense of inadequacy, we also might see how often it has delayed our obedience to something God has asked of us. A quick review of the Bible stories we know shows us we are not alone. An easy example is when we look at Moses who says he can’t speak well enough to do what God has asked of him.
I understand that excuse too. Earlier in my life I was asked to consider a leadership position in a women’s ministry organization. I felt totally inadequate. My reasons were many and also valid. I was too young (in my early 30’s) and my spiritual maturity did not match my enthusiasm. I still saw myself as the girl from a small farm who had lived most of her life in the country and this position was a chapter of an international organization that met in a larger city not far from me. (Yes, it was a “Frodo” moment.)
As I prayed about it for one of the only times in my life, I saw a clear picture as the Lord began to nudge me to accept. Some of it is too personal to share, but it involved seeing a stunningly beautiful dress the Lord had designed for me to wear and his disappointment were I not to accept what He was calling me to do.
Obedience can be hard, but failure to do so grieves the Lord. We also miss out on the opportunities that obedience sets in motion, the faith it develops by what we learn about Him as well as ourselves. But guess what? He has a purpose for asking us to do hard things.
“There is an enormous gap between what we think we can do and what God calls us to do. Our ideas of what we can do or want to do are trivial; God’s ideas for us are grand.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
What truth there is in that! Who would have guessed he would have chosen a rag tag group of fishermen, a tax collector, and women to be the ones that would spread the gospel around the world? They seemed some of the least likely of the day. They often let him down with their unbelief and even betrayal, but yet He called them and used that call to shape them and now their lives, words, and testimonies help shape us 2,000 years later. That is a grand plan indeed.
I think Paul understood what the source of our adequacy is to be as he wrote to the church at Corinth:
“Not that we are sufficiently qualified in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency and qualifications come from God.”2 Corinthians 3:5 (AMP)
“In the way of faith we do not escape because it is too much for us; we plunge into it because we are commanded and equipped. It is not our feelings that determine our level of participation in life, nor our experience that qualifies us for what we will do and be; it is what God decides about us.”Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses
Let us never offer excuses to God for our lack of obedience as well as learn to know his voice so well, we recognize when it is He that is asking.