Jessica Richie is the executive director of the Everything Happens Initiative and the executive producer of the Everything Happens podcast. She is completing her M.Div. from Duke Divinity School and is the co-author of Hand Lettering God’s Love.
Kate Bowler is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the podcast Everything Happens, and Duke University professor. After being unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at age 35, she wrote Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved), which tells the story of her struggle to understand the personal and intellectual dimensions of the American belief that all tragedies are tests of character. Her latest book, No Cure For Being Human (and Other Truths I Need to Hear), grapples with her diagnosis, her ambition, and her faith as she tries to come to terms with limitations in a culture that says anything is possible.
Kate Bowler: Oh, hello there. I’m Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens. Welcome! Today was the seventy-third day of January. I’m sure you feel it too. There is just the tick, tick, tick of a New Year and nothing is being accomplished. When January came to a close, so did that New Year’s feeling the feeling of newness and possibility. So, many of us started off this year with a little oomph. We made lists, we scratched out resolutions, and read articles about making better habits. Haven’t we always wanted to maximize our mornings, cut down on sugar and stop obsessing about our grab bag of faults at three a.m.? We were about to forge more meaningful friendships, back-fill our plates with vegetables, and listen to me describe the hit documentary Netflix series Cheer the highs and lows and power and glory of a cheerleading team from Navarro College in Small Town, Texas, and what it can tell us about the human condition, everyone!
Kate Bowler: We are trying. Well, we are trying to try. That is the difficult to describe truth about living here, now, at the long end of two years of hemorrhaging pandemic losses. We are reaching for the hope that things do not always have to be as they are now. That change is possible, that we could be kinder than we’ve been, more empathetic than we were raised to be, more aware of policies that bring justice to our neighbors, and while we’re on the subject of neighbors, less pissy about our actual neighbors. We were hoping as Christians and as humans, wanting to outgrow our worst selves, that each passing year might bring not only any old change, but transformation. The trying feels harder than it did before. Which must be hard for Americans to admit, she says, respectfully, as a Canadian. But Americans are famous for knowing how to try. Which is why being with you here at the Everything Happens project means so much to me. We are looking for truths we need to live like this, trying to try. It’s a place I hope we might surrender the perfectibility narrative. That feeling we have in the pit of our stomachs that tells us that we could be better. We should be better. We have drunk too deeply from the wells of our modern self-help culture. They have taken a very precious truth about faith that we can grow closer to God and become more fully human, and transformed it into a capitalistic imperative. Everything is possible if you attend this seminar or buy this thing or commit to this new series of habits. This form of perfectionism argues that we are capable of anything at the right emotional, mental, and physical price and admitting to anything else is just low self-esteem. We are fine. No, not even that we are perfect just as we are. Look within. We don’t need to be saved at all. Everything you need is already inside of you. So which one is it? Are we terrible? Perfectible? Already perfect? I do not imagine that I will settle centuries of Christian debate about just how good we are, except that I believe that it is somewhere between the two poles. Everything and nothing. Perfection is impossible, but transformation isn’t. We can change a bit, if we really want to. This is the choice embedded in every day from the moment we wake up. We will have to find enough momentum to reach for a life that is never perfect, but good enough. Jessica Richie, my executive producer and co-writer and co-dreamer of this podcast and book just started saying that “good enough,” which made us laugh. So we said it again. Good enough became a little permission slip for us, a little shrug that takes us off the hook for perfection and reminds us that we are human again today. Inside fragile bodies and contingent relationships and a whole web of love. That’s the heart behind our new book of spiritual reflections called Good Enough Fortish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection. It’s a book we wrote for you, our beautiful podcast listeners. It’s born out of the work we did here together listening, learning, living with hearts wide open to what might be possible when we reach for connection or show empathy or speak realistically about how beautiful and difficult life can be. Good Enough is available now wherever books are sold. And as a little treat for you, here’s an excerpt from the audiobook read by yours truly. It’s a little something my grandpa taught me about what it means to be content and how contentment might look different for all of us. Here we go.
Kate Bowler: 11. Happy enough. My Grandpa’s favorite place in the world was the Dead Sea. No, not that one. The Dead Sea of Canada. He was a down-home carpenter from the Prairies. So the best he could afford was the drive to the western edge of the province of Saskatchewan to Manitou Lake, a mineral spring. In the day, he could defy gravity for hours and stretch his legs and arms out on the buoyant surface of the saltwater lake like a human balloon. Then, as the sun set, he could saunter over to the lake front’s dance hall, the fabulously and appropriately named Dance Land. It was packed seven nights a week, and there my grandpa was able to feel the pull of the full orchestra playing and enjoy another gravity defying experience: a performance dance floor made in 1928 with horse hair pads placed under a shining maple floor. Probably the only one left in the world because, well, that’s a strange combo. But in the middle of nowhere, completely content, he didn’t just dance all night long. He sailed.
Kate Bowler : To be honest, that all sounds incredibly fun to me, but if I were to scan a top 100 things to do before you die list, I doubt that driving to rural Saskatchewan to go swimming in salt and dance on animal hair would appear. Not everyone’s dream is DanceLand. I can barely say that word without an exclamation point. DanceLand! In fact, our culture has become enamored with a narrow set of criteria about what constitutes a big moment. If you’re an aspiring social media star in California, you’ll need to be photographed in a crown of flowers at Coachella. If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon, who but security can pull your spandexed body in a yoga pose from teetering on the edge of a cliff. You might be smiling astride a camel in front of the pyramids or throwing yourself out of a plane with a strong series of #skydiving #LetGo #limitless. You did it. You won Instagram!
Kate Bowler: Desire can feel like an endless hunger, but there is a feeling we get when we feel full. Contentment. And it’s much harder to describe or explain. It’s difficult to photograph the feeling you get looking out your window or the rush of satisfaction when you see a smiling face. Maybe you want to cherish the perfect cup of tea or get that amazing stretch after actually sleeping through a night? Most of the big moments will not seem terribly important to anyone else. They might even feel sort of awful at the time. The Apostle Paul sitting in prison had something rather shocking to say about being content. His friends in Philippi sent him some gifts as he waited behind bars. But Paul made a point of letting them know that with or without their presence, hungry or full, in prison or free, in wealth or poverty, his contentedness remained. This helps put the popular verse, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me Philippians 4:13, in context. Paul isn’t saying he can move mountains or vanquish pain, but that he can find a kind of peace no matter the condition good or bad, because of Christ’s strength. Put in that light, it’s not heroic at all. It’s more like settling into the moment. Paul learned to be content, but it had nothing to do with his self-sufficiency, sheer luck, satiation, or comfort. He couldn’t have known if he would ever be free or how the story would turn out in the end. Rather, his contentment came from God’s presence alone. All of us live inside of an economy of desire, frankly, who doesn’t want to go to DanceLand. And there will be times that feel like an endless desert and times we get to bob in the lake thinking about lunch. But the freedom is in knowing that when it comes to desire, you don’t have to free-fall to the very bottom. If everything falls apart, you might, like the Apostle Paul, feel something else entirely contentment. You might feel strangely, weirdly, OK. Sometimes we get to go to the Dead Sea. Other times we are only in rural Saskatchewan. But the best life is the one we can actually have, where God promises that even if there’s very little to go around, there will still be big moments that feel like enough. When my mom went back to visit the place her dad has spent his carefree days, she had her own version of dance land. She wanted to see the local tiny Anglican Church, which boasted a medieval stained glass window. After a long search for the key at the locked church, which it turns out could be picked up by absolutely anybody at the local Radio Shack, if you ask for Irene, she popped in to see what was advertised as a stunning historical masterpiece. It wasn’t. It was not a miracle window that somehow survived for over 500 years and was shipped to the new world. It was a very pretty medium-old window, and my mom was pleased as punch anyway because, hey, it was good enough.
Kate Bowler: My favorite part of that story is that the keys were available to anyone at the Radio Shack. It’s slays me. All right, my dears, let’s bless the day we have the life we have right now. So here’s a little blessing for the life you have. Blessed are you who hold hope with an open hand. Who try not to fix your gaze on time’s far horizon or get drunk on what might yet be. And blessed are you who avoid walking too far down memory lane, getting stuck wondering if that was as good as it gets, if you’ve peaked, or resentful, of all that has disappointed us before. Blessed, are you, you know that sometimes we need to stay right here, at least for a minute. Blessed are you who look wide eyed, maybe timidly at the present moment. Gazing at those things that are gently actually within the reach of your fingertips. Blessed, are you and the ordinary details that define what life is for you right now. And as you see them, greet them, each one and you smile and call them by name. Every day joys, small pleasures, gentle delights, birds chirping, cat cuddles, a cold glass of water, a little kid calling your name, the breeze on your cheeks, the ocean rhythm, the perfect pillow, the kindness of a friend, loves that are and were and ever will be. May they seem even lovelier, even more delicious because they become gifts offered anew. May gratitude fill you reaching all the spaces within you that disappointment had left behind and fear had gripped. May something rise in your heart that feels like a strange new kind of contentment because this isn’t what you had planned, but it surprises you that even here, it can be good, satisfying, in a way that you know you can come back to a place that can sustain you through whatever may come. Blessed, are you finding that life is good because it is enough.
Kate Bowler: Don’t miss an episode. Be sure to subscribe to Everything Happens wherever you listen to podcasts. Oh, and leave a review while you’re there. I would love to hear from you. We always read those reviews and love, love, love hearing your stories. They are really special to us. So come find me online at KateCBowler or KateBowler.com. And if you want, join us for Lent. Beginning on Wednesday, March 2nd, we’re inviting you to read along with us as we have a Good Enough Lent. Learn more and download a free discussion guide at Kate Bowler.com/Lent. That’s KateBowler.com/Lent.
Kate Bowler: Here’s the part where I get to thank everyone who makes our work at the Everything Happens initiative possible: Lilly Endowment, the Duke Endowment, Duke University, Duke Divinity School and Faith in Leadership an online learning resource. Thank you so much for your generous support. And my team: Jessica Richie, Harriet Putman, Gwen Hegginbotham, Keith Weston, JJ Dickinson, Karen and Jerry Bowler. My parents, and Jeb and Sami. Your gifts make this work shine. And I’m Kate Bowler, and this is Everything Happens.