Sunday, January 27, 2008

We need your best, not just the best you can do

This is a post I've had rattling around my imagination for a while. If you're following Fat Man Running , then you know that I have made some changes in my life -- changes that I hope will become permanent. The idea in my title is one of the things that I hope will keep my commitment alive.
Mrs P and I were sniping back and forth a few days ago - (yes, sniping can strike even the best of families) - and I was griping about the way she will complain about a thing like a pain or an old glasses prescription for months without doing anything about it. This makes me nuts.

Before I go on, I should tell you that there are two important parts of this argument. First, I was absolutely right. She does do that and it does make me crazy. Second, I do the same d@mn thing which makes me pretty vulnerable when I try to call her on it.

I resolved this conflict in classic American Male style by making it as forcefully and as loudly as I could. The advantage here is that my Bride can't get a word in edgewise - the disadvantage is that I will invariably say something so incredibly stupid that it dwarfs the original offense. Here's how I think it went...

"Why didn't you take care of X last summer when it started bothering you?"

"There were other things to worry about."

"Like what? What could be more important that X?"

"The cats needed meds, Molly needed tests, I was looking for a job, we were trying to sell that old car, your depression was getting worse..."

"But don't you see how dealing with this back then would have made all those things easier? You act like everyone else is more important that you are."

"Well, they are."

"Well, we need you. We need you with X. You're no good to us without X. We need you at your best, not the best you have at the time."

OK, if you have lived with someone for any length of time, you know that the only part of that last line that anyone hears is the part about "you're no good to us without X". That was a really stupid thing for me to say because a) it is not true, and b) it obscured the actual insight that I managed to squeeze out at the end.

Doing your best is just not good enough. Not when the best you have is a sliver of what it could be if you were a better steward of your own life.

I know that your house was decimated by last night's storm and you need help cleaning up, but years of cynicism and personal neglect have made me a lazy, unpleasant person who would do more complaining than working, so I'll stay home and pray for you. I wish I could do more, but that's the best I can do.

That might be honest, but it is worthless to your neighbor and to God.

I would love to tithe to support the church or the poor or the Children's Museum or whatever, but I have piled up so much credit card debt that nearly every penny is accounted for. I wish I could give more, but this is the best I can do.

Yeah, right. Look - if Mrs P needs me and I'm confined to my room because I stopped taking my meds or I've drunk myself into such a state that I can't stand up - rolling over and moaning, "I'm sorry Baby, I love you." isn't giving her my best. She isn't getting anything. I will have wasted the strength and health and intelligence that God gave me so I could be her partner. Those parts of me that should have belonged to her, I have chosen to spend elsewhere.

When she needs my best, I won't have it. All I'll have is what's left -- the remnant I call "the best I can do".

Well I don't want her to have to settle for the best of what's left of me. When my wife needs a husband, I want her to have my best. When the people I manage need a leader, I want them to have the best leader I can be. I want my employer to have my best, not just the best parts that I didn't trade for a few bottles of Rolling Rock the night before. I want the animals who rely on me to have my best. My neighbors, my community, my family - if I really value these people, I will make sure that when they need me, they will get the best God gave me -- not just the best of the parts that I haven't used myself.

So that's why I'm going to the gym. Not so I can "treat myself better", but so that when someone needs the best from me, I will be able to give it.

The life God gave me was a gift. The way I've treated that life has been a sin in many ways. I live today under judgment as a consequence of that sin -- but sin always hurts more than just the sinner. People need me to be better than I am today. My loss is their loss too.

When I eat something stupid or don't drink my water or skip stretches or stay up too late, then I can't walk as far or as fast on the treadmill as I need to. When I hit the red "stop" button while gasping for air, my lungs burning and my chest pounding after half a workout - I haven't "given it my best." I gave my best to David Letterman or Krispy Kreme. The gym just got what was left over.

Jesus' life requires more of me than the best that's left. If I want to be a Christ-like husband, neighbor, citizen, and friend, then I need to be ready to give the best just as Jesus always was.

Jesus went off by himself to pray. I go to the gym. I learn new computer programs. I listen to tapes and pick the brains of successful managers who have more experience and wisdom than I do. I put down the laptop and actually pay attention to my wife once in a while. The road to my redemption is paved by doing the work of restoring the best I can be.


Here's an intriguing post from Paul M. Jones on why "Do Your Best" is such a lousy way to manage people.

And Joe McCarthy out pennsy's Pennsy with this existential musing about doing your best vs. trying to do your best (among other things.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Bob.
    Yours is the message I preach to my students. Best effort! Just getting by is actually going backwards. My message is: give your best because you are worth it.

    yours, Nathan