There was a saying that was one of the catch phrases when I was an intern, several years ago, a phrase common in many schools, offices and homes. It was ‘Your best is good enough’. Those words were thrown around a lot, for any number of situations. But one of my friends and I used to say it to each other jokingly, with our own little caveat: ‘Your best is good enough, except when it’s not‘.
I appreciate the sentiment behind the first statement, it’s desire to minimise stress and anxiety and stop people burning out. I love the idea to measure the effort involved rather than the outcome. However, I have never been convinced it holds up in the harshness of real life. It feels like one of those platitudes that in theory is true, but every now and again we will come across occasions where it doesn’t hold. Sometimes our best simply isn’t ‘good enough’, either in our eyes or the eyes of others.
We’ve all had those moments. Maybe you’ve walked into your bosses’ office to find the project you worked so hard on, wasn’t up to scratch. Perhaps you’ve thrown all of yourself into keeping a relationship or friendship alive, only to find it fractures around you. Or you’ve poured your heart and soul into bringing up your children the best you can, only to watch them go off the rails and wonder where you went wrong. Maybe you’ve been the student studying day and night for an exam, only to fail it anyway.
I had one of these moments this week. Although perhaps with a bit of distance now, I can admit I was half expecting it. It was my fatigued best that wasn’t good enough. And even though I saw it coming, it was the first time I’ve heard it from other lips than mine. This could all be easily solved if I could locate my old non-fatigued best. But no matter how hard I look for that person, I can’t find her, I imagine she’s asleep somewhere.
When these moments hit us, we feel a range of different emotions. The frustration comes first, whether there’s a ring of truth or not, we scramble to defend ourselves. In our anger we try to reject the words and stop them from sticking. Then later comes the upset and discouragement, we doubt ourselves and whether we’ve ever really been up to the job in hand. Then comes the self-analysis, can we be better, can we try harder, can we avoid these moments happening again.
And it’s surprising how quickly that moment seems to matter more than all the encouraging moments that have gone before. We can so easily shed all the praise that we believed to be true in favour of this new criticism, which we wear strapped to our backs, using it as a shield to keep others away.
The question we are left with is often, “Is there more we can do?” And the answer is complex. Our best is subjective, it doesn’t just depend on our efforts but other people’s interpretation of our efforts. Even if we were able to work our hardest every moment of the day, someone may still look on and think we were slacking. No two people’s ‘best’ are the same, but it is human nature to compare and contrast. And it’s true that in reality we can’t work 100% every minute of the day, sometimes we get sidetracked and thrown off course, some moments we have to take a break. Each day our capacity changes, due to an infinite number of factors. My best today could be ‘better’ than my best yesterday, regardless of whether more effort is involved.
I can’t deny that with a bit of extra stress and pressure thrown into the mix, I have achieved more in the days since that moment, than I had before.
But I suppose a more important question is “why do these moments shake us?” How we react to these moments often reveals that we care about what others think of us, far more than we care to admit. It reveals how much of our identity is resting in the hands of those around us. After all, if we know in our hearts that we have tried as hard as we can, why do we care what another person says? There’s a real danger when we leave people with too much power over our hearts. Our identity after all doesn’t lie in what we do, or what someone says, but who we are.
So instead of throwing ourselves into working harder, we might need to take a minute to change our perspective.
There is only one other who knows the state of our hearts and can see and judge our thoughts, efforts and intentions; and that is God. It’s in these moments of discouragement that we need to replant our identity and security in him. The real world can be harsh sometimes, and can leave us feeling discouraged and frustrated. But in our Father’s arms we find someone who knows us inside out, the good and the bad, and loves us completely. Our best, in his strength, will always be good enough for Him. And we are loved and treasured by Him, even when we mess things up, when we make mistakes and fall short of the mark.
This week may have held a discouraging moment, but with it has come an opportunity for growth. And whether I grow in the way or at the speed that I and others would like me to, it’s going to be okay. God has a plan and can use me just as I am.
Whether our best has been good enough today or not, come to God who created you and loves you. He will give you the strength you need to try again tomorrow.