Driving down the interstate not long ago, I noticed a new billboard message that grabbed my attention:
“You are human. You are lovable. You are strong. You are enough.”
I smiled about those ideas. What a simple yet possibly powerful lesson. Soon, I did an online search hoping for some background on that billboard. Fortunately, I found a piece written by a Kansas City-area TV reporter.
It seems a 26-year-old woman from Kansas City had saved her money for months to splash that message on a variety of billboards. Her goal was to possibly save a life, for her words to encourage someone who was contemplating suicide. Her mission was inspired specifically by what she thought might have helped her better endure those days after her dad’s suicide nine years ago.
“I just thought about what I needed to hear on a bad day,” the woman told the reporter.
“You are human.” That reminded me of something Tony La Russa often said when he was the manager of the Cardinals baseball team and one of his players made a mistake. “They are men, not machines,” he would say. Point well made. It often was a good reminder for me that my thinking that I should be perfect all the time was misguided. And that I should never expect it of someone else.
“You are lovable.” In our lowest moments, when we keep making the same errors over and over, when we seem to be confessing the same sins each time we seek the sacrament of reconciliation, some of us lament that we’ll never change. I occasionally fret that I’m not worth loving — not by family, not by friends, certainly not by God. Then I remember God absolutely loves me without a single reservation, and that makes me lovable no matter what I say.
“You are strong.” Hard to believe on those weak days, those moments of mourning, those spells of crippling depression or paralyzing anxiety, those inevitable periods when we encounter tragedy or heartache. I may be strong, but … strong enough?
“You are enough.”
That’s where I part ways completely with the young woman who paid for the billboard message. I’m not enough. You’re not enough. And we’re not supposed to be enough.
The sentiment calls to mind what I think is one of the most misguided (albeit innocently so) things people often say during our most challenging times: “God never gives us more than we can handle.” That’s simply not true. We weren’t designed to handle cancer on our own. We weren’t made to deal with the loss of a loved one, a breakup in a relationship, financial hardship, a spiritual crisis or anything else painful alone. Similarly, we weren’t created to enjoy love or beauty or to find happiness completely by ourselves.
God put other people in our lives to walk through those valleys with us. He’s always there to do the same. To hold our hand. To listen to our concern. To share our sadness. To console, to support, to love.
God sent His Son to us — to be human with us, to show us that we are lovable, to be our primary source of strength. To save us, because we definitely aren’t enough to save ourselves.
That’s what Christmas was. That’s what Christmas still is every year, or at least can be if we embrace the true meaning, right? I mean, we hear all the time that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Jesus as a human, the Word Incarnate, showed us just how lovable we truly are.
That’s what we crave each Christmas — that huge moment, that visit to the mountaintop, that incredible memory we can recall with a special warmth the rest of our lives. But the gift from God on Christmas should never be exclusive to that “top of the mountain” Dec. 25. It’s meant for the 364 other days of the year, those small, more subtle and potentially life-sustaining moments that come at us with regularity.
Yes, you are human. So was that baby born in a manger, that man dead on a cross, that Savior risen from the dead — to show you that you’re lovable, to send you strength.
You are enough because of Jesus. Try accepting that Christmas message all year long.
Eisenbath is a parishioner at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.