Thursday, August 04, 2011

Why "The Best" is the Enemy of Good

On more than a few occasions in my life (mostly in church services) I have heard the inspirational proverb “Good is the enemy of the best!”   The wisdom contained in these words is that one should never settle for good but hold out or seek the best.  While on the surface these words sound quite wise and reasonable I want to give an apologetic for how the opposite is true—sometimes the best is truly the enemy of the good. 

The problem with “Good is the enemy of the best” is that that mindset can cause people to live continually striving for perfection, for distant fantasies that may never be, or by simply weighing themselves down with unreasonable expectations of how they should be performing.  However this mindset is manifest it becomes both a heavy burden and a barrier to experiencing the good all around.
Larry Mullen Jr., drummer of U2

I heard an interview one time with Larry Mullen Jr. the drummer of U2 in which he was asked about his drumming philosophy.  He told the interviewer that his philosophy had to do with coming to terms with his own limitations as a drummer and sticking with what he is good at.  This approach to playing drums could almost  seem like a cop out by someone who is too lazy to do the hard work of getting better on the drums ,and yet by sticking with what he is good at he has been able to be a part of one of the greatest bands in the history of rock-n-roll.  Larry Mullen Jr. has found out what he is good at and how he can use his gifts to contribute to something much greater and far-reaching than merely his own quest to be the best.

Stepping out to plant a church is a risky endeavor with all kinds of pressures from putting together the weekend services, to attracting new people, to reaching out to the community, to pastoral care, community development, Bible studies, budgets, building issues, administration etc.  I find it so easy to come under the tyranny of trying to be the best in all of these areas when frankly I don’t know much about much of it.  I am coming to terms with the reality that I am not a great administrator, I am not real good at handling real estate deals, and I am not the most business-savvy person I know.  But I am a pretty decent musician/worship leader, a good communicator, and not a half-bad as a pastor.  How many times do I wear myself out by trying to be the best in all kinds of areas of which I am not even gifted?  How many times do I miss the goodness of the moment because I am so often pushing myself to be better?  How many times to I fail to celebrate the good because I have just moved right on past it?

I hear pastors all of the time who are driven by a quest to be the best.  But the problem with “the best” is that it is a mirage that keeps moving further and further towards the horizon as we chase after it.  If being the best and having the best are what you are after as a church then you will never be satisfied, there will never be enough people showing up on the weekend, or a good enough building, or the right kinds of programs and classes in place.  It is a trap!

I am kind of getting over being the best (can we call this recovery?).  Like Larry Mullen Jr., I just want to be good at what I do and to contribute to something larger than myself that helps people to experience God’s goodness.  I am finding that when I live in this kind of reality I begin becoming awake to goodness all around me and that I begin to truly enjoy all aspects of my life more (even the mundane everyday stuff of life). 

Perhaps you may be a stay-at-home mom reading this blog who struggles with wondering if putting your career on hold was a good thing, that maybe the world of diapers, Nick Jr., nap times is somehow not the best use of your life.  Maybe you feel as if you have somehow settled for something less than the best.

Maybe you have been working the same job for years and now you question if staying with your company was the best idea after all because it meant saying no to other opportunities.  Maybe you struggle with regrets that you may have missed out on something amazing in your employment.

Maybe you have given your best shot at being an artist or a writer or a musician but it has never worked into a financially viable option for a career.

Maybe you struggle with other questions of how you may have settled for less than the best in your life.

Well… is it still good enough to just be a mom that loves your kids deeply and takes care to raise them as best as you can even if nobody else sees you?  Can you work that same old job you have been working for years and find pleasure in just doing it well?  Will you still write good songs even if only a handful of people may hear them?  Can you still create art just and write poetry just because you like to, just because it is good?  Can you find joy in simply loving and pastoring people into relationship with God even if it never turns into the next mega-church?

Maybe seeking to do good and to appreciate goodness isn’t a copout at all.  Maybe it’s actually a better way to live!


Pi Man said...

What a wonderful writer you are, Crispin. Thank you for taking this subject on and delivering a clear and concise apologetic. It really spoke to me, mostly about my past (thankfully). While I still fight the urge to think of "what comes next" and "what's the next step" in an unhealthy way (b/c reasonable thought of the next step is fine), I find that to truly "live in and appreciate the moment" is still a challenge to say the least. But I'm gladly working on it. 8^)
Another point that became clear to me as I read this was how well it compliments the position of Paul when he spoke of learning to be content! I think it's so easy for us to, well, frankly to judge others b/c WE don't think they are giving their best. I would submit that that's between them and God. Encourage each other to get better? Absolutely. But in the final analysis, as you said, let's not become another level of the law for those that have been told they will never be good enough.
Awesome stuff. Thanks again. TA

Barnabas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Quentin Hoffman said...

This is really good stuff!

J.Lew said...

Really good stuff, Crispin.

Crispin Schroeder said...

I am reposting a comment left on the link to the post that I put on Facebook. I thought this one had some great insight:

This is a cliche but it was a hard won realization for me that life style including much drivenness often comes at cost of quality of life. Exploring and enjoying what is interesting, intriguing, amusing, unusual and hoping to grow in understanding of people have brought me much greater contentment than my previous "pursuit of excellence" A smart friend told me there are very few geniuses like Mozart, Beethoven, Van Gogh, Proust..etc but that doesn't mean all that falls short of genius isn't good and often even excellent. I don't remember where I read this and am paraphrasing from memory but something to the effect that it is tormenting to be able to recognize genius and to know that recognizing it is the closest you will ever get to it. That idea did indeed torment me for a long I am grateful that I can recognize, appreciate and greatly benefit from genius every day of my life..whether in the arts or sciences.. and do not have to be one or perform up to those fact I don't have to perform at all. Not only do you not have to be the best my friend...there is no "best" in anything other than fleetingly ...Trying to be the best is a vapid delusion of our insatiable need to big reality show.


Kari said...

Ok, wow. This really spoke to me today. Thanks, Crispin!