“You did a really job today,” he assured me as he left the room that day, and it gave me pause.
The words of praise came from Joe, the man who trained me to assume leadership of the camp I helped lead for almost six years. The road wasn’t always easy, and I often looked to him for guidance when things got messy. Years later, the words of praise also came from my pastor, lay preachers, my parents, friends, and co-workers. I knew the words were spoken in sincerity, but often, I wanted more. It gave me the sense that I had just done okay; it was “good” and nothing more. Sometimes I felt I deserved more recognition. After all, I had worked hard; shouldn’t my efforts have resulted in amazingness, excellence, and awesomeness? At times, I even craved those heightened words of praise.
I told myself that I wasn’t being selfish or desiring favorable platitudes. I only wanted to know that I had done better than okay— better than simple goodness. I found that leading worship within the church slowly brought my focus back to where it belonged— on the goodness of God— but I still felt a nagging pressure to find that something better than “good.” I strove for excellence in worship— and still do. Of course, I want the worship team to play well without glaring mistakes or obvious flaws. It’s not always for my purposes though; I truly do desire for the honor and glory to be given to God above all else, and our best efforts are our best praises on His behalf.
And sometimes, our time of worship and leading God’s people into His presence is simply “good.” It is a satisfactory offering to Him that accomplishes a greater purpose. There are no fireworks or glittering displays of light. Very few hands are raised and emotion is regulated by a steady and constant Presence. Our offering is pleasing to Him, we pray, but it isn’t explosive or incredible in nature. It is simply “good.”
I’ve been reflecting on this more and more lately as our summer sabbatical continues in our congregation. For ten weeks, a pastor will be guiding us through the exploration of ten small words that make a big difference. One week, he spoke of the word “good.” In fact, he dug deeper and introduced us to the Hebrew form of this word, which is “tov.” In fact, it has caused such an impact in our office, that nothing is “good” anymore. If something is “good,” we refer to is as “tov.” If someone responds to our email readily, it is “tov.” If lunch has a good flavor and satisfies us, it is “tov.” At the announcement that a co-worker had welcomed a healthy granddaughter into her family, we all celebrated that it was “tov.” Tov— goodness— has colored our communication with one another.
But as the pastor asked in worship, when did “good” stop being good enough? Why, in today’s society, do we try to exceed good in reference to activities around us? All one needs to do is turn on the TV to hear the words that try to go beyond goodness. In one episode of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” on the Food Network, I heard the following: to-die-for, out-of-bounds, remarkable, unbelievable, amazing. I’m sure there were more, but every time I put pen to paper, Guy Fieri would have some other word to top his exclamations of praise.
No wonder “good” is no longer good enough. No wonder we practically fish for compliments and words of praise. When we are told that we have done a good job, the words feel empty somehow because we feel we have been cheated out of something far better in response to our job-well-done.
I witnessed this first-hand when I stepped into Joe’s shoes to direct the camp. I faltered and failed on quite a few occasions, but most of the time I just got by with doing a good job. I didn’t often receive over-the-top compliments, and I think that kept me level-headed and single-minded in purpose. There was something about working with students with disabilities that also helped keep things in perspective. I experienced first-hand the pressure placed on teenagers day after day. I had lived through something similar after all, and there was nothing more challenging than facing the teen years with disability as a part of the equation. There is this struggle for the student to rise above the challenges— to not only progress at the same level as the average student, but to excel above and beyond as well. And when goals are reached, one can so often hear the ostentatious words of praise: “Oh, wow! That is so amazing! You are such an inspiration! You do that so well… uh… despite your disability.”
No wonder those of us with disabilities want to be more than just good— more than just okay. We desire to prove to the world that not only can we do it— whatever it might be— but that we can tear down the walls of misunderstanding and limitation. It’s not about the words of praise though, lest one might think that is our motive. No, it’s to rise above our limitation so one sees accomplishment instead of the disability. This race to be above goodness makes my heart hurt, and yet, still we— I— keep striving.
Why can’t it just be good? After all, God created the world, and even human beings, and said they were good. Why can’t we just be good students, good worship leaders, good directors, and good followers of Christ? Yes, we should always strive to do our best, but why must we seek this elusive perfection that only exists in Christ?
Today, let’s just strive for one thing: to be “good” or “tov.” Everything else will follow in time if we let His words truly seep into our lives and hearts. We are good. He is good. We are good in Him. Amen.