I tend to think of "adequate" as the ring around the center of a target: hitting it will get the job done but you're not going to WOW anyone doing it. I think adequate is average and who really wants to be average? Whether logical or not, I feel shame associated with this word, as if I would be a failure should something I do be deemed as "adequate." It seems the enemy of great.
Yet, in a recent sermon, my view on "adequate" was completely destroyed and it has left me rethinking everything. The pastor used the movie The King's Speech as an illustration. This movie is about King George VI (Bertie, as his family and friends call him). He is suddenly crowned king of England and must overcome a terrible speech impediment to bolster his country's confidence through an inspirational speech as they are on the brink of war. He is more than reluctant to take the throne but we watch as he begins to find his voice, with the help of an eccentric speech therapist, and is ultimately able to deliver the speech his country needs.
Bertie had no aspirations of greatness; in fact he never wanted to be king. His abilities had been diminished in his own eyes as well as others because of his severe stutter and, in fact, his wildest hope would be that he could somehow merely be enough for his family and country. But he faces the challenge and meets his country's need and becomes a better man for it.
One of the pastor's points was that instead of shooting for being hip or relevant or the next best thing, we should focus on being adequate in a time of great need. And I thought, isn't that the key to every great story of heroism? The people who have achieved great things have done so reluctantly, aware of their shortcomings, but tenaciously sought to be adequate in a time of great need because, really, what else was there to do? History was changed because people like George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.and Frodo Baggins (Hey, mythical history matters too) just took whatever need was in front of them and gave everything they had to be part of the solution.
Working in the city can be overwhelming. The needs are all around us. In fact, more times than not I feel my own inadequacy like a weight around my neck. If I'm honest, it would be exciting to think about writing a best-selling book about inner-city ministry. It's not as exciting to wake up and go to a funeral for a young man who was killed, hug a girl who has been sexually assaulted, accept hospitality when it means sitting on a couch that smells like urine, work on homework with a child who has been a victim of a terrible education, plan a fundraiser for monumental theft damages....
I think we can all agree that we live in a time of great need: families are broken and hurting; people are dying from hunger, malaria, and aids; children are orphaned; neighbors suffer loneliness. In perspective it seems absurd that we would try to aim at anything above adequate, because to be adequate in these hard times means being more than we could ever be in and of ourselves. Really, it would be a miracle of a merciful God to adequately meet all those needs.
In the last few weeks I'm finding myself aspiring to adequacy and realizing how often I fall short of it. To be adequate in the face of tremendous need is a goal that has unlimited potential for growth. It is not glorious or exciting, it can be grueling and demanding, but if more of us asked God to make us adequate for the challenges of each day we could change the world. There truly is no shame in adequacy, only faithfulness and perseverance and an unabashed reliance on the strength of the only One who was and is and ever will be great.