In a manner of speaking that’s true. The elder Buechner died of an extreme case of a heart condition that many of us suffer. He finally succumbed to the nagging sense that he was not enough.
Buechner’s father committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. He sat in his running car in an enclosed garage and waited for the exhaust to undo him.
A few days later, they found a sort of suicide note. On the back of a new novel the elder Buechner had scribbled these words, ““I adore you, and I love you, and I am no good.”
|Edvard Munch's "Ashes"|
Having drifted from job to job, Buechner’s father considered himself a failure. He could not shake the dreadful sense that he hadn’t measured up. Try as he might, he could not justify his existence. He believed that he was not enough and never could be.
That’s a heart condition. Gone untreated, it’s fatal.
Lots of us spend our whole lives trying to treat that condition ourselves by accumulating achievements or making ourselves physically attractive or accruing social status. We scramble through life chasing job promotions, changing our wardrobe, and seeking approval as if we were running for election.
We’re looking for credentials, the credentials that mark us as enough. As worthy of love and tenderness and acceptance. As if the next successful deal, the next implant, the next round of applause will be the one that finally convinces everybody, that convinces ourselves, that we are enough.
The terrible irony is that so long as we try to make ourselves enough, we never will be. There is always another achievement to pursue, always somebody better looking. As soon as the applause fades, we will worry that we’ll never hear it again. Those who have arrived—celebrities, CEO’s, and world conquerors—eventually ask the same question. “Is this all there is?”
One of the things that breaks my heart as a spiritual leader is that religion sometimes treats our heart disease in a way that is essentially no different from how the rest of the world does. Instead of career achievement and sex appeal and social status, religion sometimes substitutes moral purity and ritual piety as the means to prove that we are enough.