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Friday, July 24, 2015

The enemy of good is good enough

When I first encountered people from the southern states, I didn't realize some of their "customs" or "accepted behavior".  One such trait was that of not saying "yes" or "no", but "maybe" a whole lot more than I was accustomed to hearing. If you'd ask them if they wanted more mashed potatoes, they would answer "maybe" - but in actuality their "maybe" meant "yes".  It confused me for a while until I began to realize they were simply being polite by doing so - it neither committed them one way or the other, but if there indeed were mashed potatoes left in the pan at the end of the meal, they likely would eat them! I was raised in a "yes" or "no" kind of family - we didn't "commit" to things with a "maybe" very often.  In fact, I can hardly remember mom or dad not giving a decisive answer one way or the other.  Even when there was a little indecision in a matter, they qualified what would give clarity in the matter, such as being able to go to the park after dinner IF the rains didn't come.  So, it didn't come as a surprise to me to think about keeping promises as a "yes" or "no" type of answer - either you intended to or not.   There was no middle ground of "maybe" in the mix.  There wasn't a whole lot of room for "if the conditions are right", then you can count on me to keep my word.  The problem came in my "intentions", though.  I "intended" to do what I said a whole lot of the time, but my "intentions" didn't help me to stay on course with what I promised!  In short order, I found myself doing exactly what I promised not to do!  

“You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘When you make a vow, you must not break your promise. Keep the vows that you make to the Lord.’ But I tell you, when you make a promise, don’t try to make it stronger with a vow. Don’t make a vow using the name of heaven, because heaven is God’s throne. Don’t make a vow using the name of the earth, because the earth belongs to him. Don’t make a vow using the name of Jerusalem, because it also belongs to him, the great King. And don’t even say that your own head is proof that you will keep your promise. You cannot make one hair on your head white or black. Say only ‘yes’ if you mean ‘yes,’ and say only ‘no’ if you mean ‘no.’ If you say more than that, it is from the Evil One. (Matthew 5:33-37 ERV)

I don't think I am alone in this struggle of having "intentions" which guide our behavior some of the time, but then prove to be totally unreliable at other times, allowing some behavior to come forth which was "unintended" and completely off-track with the promised action.  God puts a premium on "vows" or "promises" because he is unable to NOT keep his word.  When God says something, his "intentions" and inevitable actions are the same.  There isn't variation between the two.  Variation would actually create an environment within the relationship which would be lacking in trust - something God cannot accept in relationship.  Trust is built more on what we see someone consistently doing rather on what they say they are capable of doing.  If we served a God who said he was capable of loving us, but then he did things contrary to what love looks like, such as abandoning us to live life without his oversight and care, we'd soon come to doubt if he really loved us.  

Since God values, or places a premium on having no "distance" between what one says and what one does, it seems to me we need to figure out if we actually have more than good intentions whenever we make a promise (whether it is to him or another human being).  It caught me by surprise the other day when I was observing one of the surgical cases in our hospital.  My role is to observe human behavior in these cases to ensure we are consistent in our practices which lend to a safe patient experience - such as maintaining sterile technique, and following our checks and balances to ensure we do the right thing all of the time.  In the field of medical care, there is very little "margin" for error - something I think we all pretty much understand.  If we want to be consistent in our practice, we monitor our outcomes.  This is just part of our "business" of caring for our patients.  One of the people in the room made a statement which kind of caught me off-guard for a moment or two, but it really relayed something we might just see more of in society today than we realize at first.

He said, "The enemy of good is better".  In essence, he was driving at the point of constantly focusing on getting better NOT being as desirable as being consistently good.  Now, you and I may not be able to argue with that one, right?  Good done with consistency is indeed desirable in pretty close to all the settings in life.  For example, driving attentively all of the time, without giving into the distractions of reading a text message, or putting on make-up behind the wheel and you likely won't be involved in an accident.  A good outcome is accomplished each time you get behind the wheel.  It doesn't seem to enter your mind that the speed limit is 55 and you are going 65 nearly all of the time. Nor does it seem to be your focus to stay in one lane, but your continual desire to be ahead of the "slower" vehicles on the road results in you changing lanes frequently. In essence, you are able to accomplish a good outcome (arriving at your destination without accident), but is this really "safe driving"?  Good was accomplished, but did we keep our promise to be a safe driver?  Probably not!

In life, we want to be consistent in our practices - "yes" meaning yes and "no" meaning no - not living in the realm of "maybe" too very often.  The enemy of us becoming "better" at living with this kind of consistency is us thinking "good enough" is okay simply because the outcome didn't really "hurt anyone".  If we look at the times we "intended" to act one way, but acted completely askew from that intended pathway, even when the outcome wasn't "all that bad", we might just realize enough of these "not all that bad" occurrences accepted as "okay" really get us into a place of compromise.  Maybe this is why God puts such a premium on being consistent to our promises - keeping our "vows".  I wonder what creation would have looked like today if God would have thrown the stars up in the sky, the moon perched in its orbit, and then said, "Uhm...that is good enough"?  He placed them each in their position, dotting the vastness of heaven's expanse, each in their own orbit or path, and he didn't say it was "good enough", but rather than it was "good".  His intended action matched his intended outcome.  Something we need to get a little better at, don't ya think?  Just sayin!