Thursday, December 27, 2007

Is Good, Good Enough?

Yesterday reminded me what a difference a day makes. The day before, and the week leading up to it, had a subtle pressure about it. The countdown before Christmas is a bit like the controversial method of interrogation, “water-boarding.” There is a sense that the whole world is drowning, with shopping, fighting traffic and making plans for the big day, but the feeling of doom doesn’t quite happen, we just think it might. Of course some people do crack and thus take their own lives because of despair, but for the majority, people cope with Christmas. A few actually celebrate it.

Ahh, the 26th. What a relief the day after is. The pressure is off. The only thing we have to do now is wait around another week before we can begin life again. The seven days between Christmas and New Year’s is no-man’s-land. Schools are closed, businesses are on hold until after the 1st. The whole world moves forward slowly, but like the stock market, no real deals will be done until after next Tuesday.

In the run-up to Christmas the daily news was dominated with reports on retail sales. Though sales were good, we were told that economists were worried because stores were not reaching their goals. Instead of 4% sales growth expected, consumers were only spending 2.5% more than they did last year. The after Christmas sales are now being closely watched to see if bargain hunters will “save” the holiday season. No one is really losing money, they just aren’t making as much as expected.

In the world of capitalism, consumerism and competition, it’s no longer a matter of winning, but by what margin? Stocks value falls if a company doesn’t meet its quarterly expectations, though they turned a profit. Presidential candidates who come in third are thrilled, because they beat expectations. The world of sports is not the only game where success is measured by “the spread,” but has now become the standard in every aspect of life.

The “Good To Great” philosophy lends to this attitude that we are a failure if we don’t beat expectations.

“To go from good to great requires transcending the curse of competence [emphasis mine]. It requires the discipline to say, "Just because we are good at it- just because we're making money and generating growth - doesn’t necessarily mean we can become the best at it. The good-to-great companies understood that doing what you are good at will only make you good; focusing solely on what you can potentially do better than any other organization is the only path to greatness.”

I’m certainly not advocating mediocrity, but, like all things in life, there is a balance between achieving and being great. Odd that we live in a world where one can be considered a loser because they are good, but not good enough. The coach loses his job because he went 10 – 2, but didn’t win the division. The anorexic lives in torment because, in spite of all the weight loss, they are still fat and, the student bows his head because he graduated with honors, but not highest honors. Performance is not measured by how well you did, but how much better you could have been. Some give up early, because they know they will never be smart enough, pretty enough, wealthy enough or just be plain good enough. And those who do rise to greatness often suffer because, in their own mind, they didn’t meet their own expectations.

And how does God see all of this? The old gospel hymn, I am Satisfied, talks about being satisfied in Jesus. The closing refrain adds, “But the question comes to me, as I think of Calvary, is my Savior satisfied with me?” In the process of working out our own salvation we are to be diligent, disciplined and certainly to strive be the best we can be. But is good, good enough for God? Will I enter into the joy of my salvation in that last day, having been faithful over a few things and rewarded for being good, but condemned for not being great? Or, will I fall short of hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant,” because, though I served Him I didn’t beat expectations?

There is indeed a fine line between performance and expectations. We strive, for it is our reasonable duty. We remain confident, that in spite of our shortcomings, the Judge will measure us based, not on what we could have accomplished, but what we actually achieved. In the sight of God, perhaps good is good enough. If we have to beat the spread, we are all men most miserable.