Friday, July 5, 2013

The Myth of "Good Enough"

I learned something while editing the other day: I don’t like fixing things when it’s hard.

Usually, editing is a lot of fun. I can worm my way around plot holes, tune up dialogue so it’s punchy and true to the characters, and tweak chapter beginnings and endings to get them where I want them.

This time, though, I’m deleting the middle eight chapters of my book and completely starting over on them. Suddenly, I’m not exactly looking forward to the amount of work that goes into this project.

I mean, come on. I have a full manuscript of the right word count. The characters are great, there are a lot of funny parts, and I like the beginning and ending. That should be enough, right?

But I can’t just leave it the way it is, as much as I’d like to, because I know two things: first, it’s not as good as it could be, and second, there is a way to fix it. It’s just that the fixing is going to take an awful lot of work.

And that’s how I realized that the old saying isn’t really true. Good isn’t always the enemy of best. Sometimes it’s the necessary precursor to best. And maybe terrible is the necessary precursor to good. It takes a lot of work to get from one stage to another, but that work is necessary for creating an end product that’s really excellent.

The problem comes when we get comfortable with good—with just “okay,” the generic, passable good of those little mass produced stickers we got in elementary school for copying out the right answers. When we think what we produce is good enough, we stop trying to improve it.

This is true in writing. And this is true (ouch) in character.

Most of the time, I’m okay with just being good. After all, books and messages my whole life have been quick to follow up Jesus’s command, “Be holy, just as I am holy,” with “But don’t worry—he didn’t really mean it. He knows we’re not perfect, and that we can never meet that standard.”

Wait! Hold on! Before you jump to conclusions, read this, please: I am in no way downplaying the beauty of grace for all of our (many) failures. But committing to holiness while leaving the backdoor open by saying, “But, you know, I can’t really live like that,” reminds me of marriages that include “lifestyle clauses” that provides a way out if the other person in the partnership doesn’t live up to (often specific) expectations.

When you start out a marriage by adding a bunch of qualifiers to “For as long as we both shall live,” the chances of that really working out long-term seem slim. And when you approach your character with an oh-well-God-will-forgive-me-anyway attitude, it’s easy to be content with “good enough” instead of striving to be constantly becoming more like Christ.

There are two sides to the myth of "good enough." One says, "I'm a decent person. I get along well with pretty much everyone and have temptation under control for the most part. Isn't that all I need?" The answer to that is a resounding, "No."

On the other hand, there's, "This is terrible. I'm not good enough. God couldn't possibly love me. I'd better get to work on self-improvement right now."

The first is driven by pride, the second by shame.

But God is a God of grace. Refusing the myth of "good enough" means letting him transform you. Unlike the editing process, spiritual growth isn’t just about putting in the hours and effort into progress. You are working with God, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit.

In other words, spiritual growth is not a spa where you sit back and let God do all the work. But it’s also not a boot camp where you’re legalistically following orders accomplishing everything on your own. Finding that balance is important.

Guess what? It’s going to be hard.

And also worth it.

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