What the World Teaches
I remember the first time I learned that being the best at something was a bad idea.
We were playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey at a birthday party, and, you guys, I am the BEST at this game. I know how to pin the tail in nearly the exact right spot. It’s my secret ninja skill.
Yet, when I pinned the tail right on, nobody appreciated it very much.
Jennifer, who had gone right before me, who had been a complete disaster at getting the tail in the right place (and in fact pinned it two feet off to the right of the poster), was everyone’s darling. When Jennifer went up, she was laughing, they were laughing, high fives all around.
When I went up–and won–I got lukewarm responses and was quickly shuffled off so the next person could try.
I realized in that moment that Pin the Tail was not about pinning the tail. The title is deceptive as to the purpose of the game. Messing up–and badly–was the key to “winning.” No one appreciates the girl who blows the curve.
So I learned to be moderately middle. There’s safety and community being middle of the pack.
I have a brilliant young friend who has a similar philosophy. She once confided in me that she only does the minimum necessary to get the A. I was shocked; shouldn’t you put in 110% effort every time? “Well,” she replied, “When you do that, they just give you more to do next time.”
From a very young age, we are all taught to clip our wings. Don’t be too awesome is society’s message and warning.
See, it’s safest to be mediocre. Nobody sees you as a threat, and nobody asks too much of you. Everybody loves you!*
Are You Clipping Your Spiritual Wings?
I have come to realize that this same philosophy carries through into our spiritual lives with potentially devastating consequences.
Have you ever started reading the Bible and then stopped at the end of the chapter because it seemed like the right thing to do, the moderate thing to do? Maybe you were just getting into the Book of Ruth, but you didn’t want to overdo it. “One chapter a day, Joe,” you tell yourself.
Or maybe you were starting to fast and you thought, “I should take it easy. I’ll just dip my toe in for a couple of days and see how it goes.” Your group of friends all get pizza with cheese and nudge each other and say, “Cheese is siyami, right?” God forbid you actually fast and abstain from a slice. You wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a zealot.
“Be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day” Proverbs 23:17
Maybe you were praying and you got too into it, and then you remembered all the other “important” things you have to get done. Or the guy on the side of the road asked you to spare a coin, and you gave him a dollar when a $20 was burning a hole in your wallet right next to it. Everything in moderation.
Does God want you to put in less than your best effort? Is “overdoing it” what God has a problem with?
Christ certainly has some warnings for our spiritual life. What does Christ disparage in a fast?
“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:16-17
What does Christ disparage in prayer?
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6:5-6
What God disdains is the showing off and the grumbling. It’s the “Oh, I am soooo miserable because I am fasting” that ticks Him off. It’s seeking your applause from others: “Look at me, I’m praying!”
But He wants you to put in 110% effort. He wants your best quality prayer and fast and charity.
“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23)
Maybe if you pray wholeheartedly, God will give you an important assignment.
Maybe if you fast to your honest ability, He’ll part the seas.
Maybe if you give too much, your hands won’t be able to contain the overflow of blessings.
You don’t have much time. You don’t have forever to try to be the best you can be. You don’t have forever to acquire zeal for Christ. Your life is like the grass “which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven” (Matthew 6:30).
“As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.”
So heed this warning instead: life is too short to be moderate in your love of God. Don’t stay in the warm embrace of the middle–“broad is the way that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13).
In all your personal disciplines*, seek to put in 110%. When you pray, dive deep in your conversation with God. When you read Scripture, apply it to your life and act on it. When you fast, be honest. When you give, go the extra mile. When you’re in Liturgy, sing your heart out and mean every word.
There will be little applause, and there is only one Judge who matters.
*Is the love of “everyone” what you should be seeking?
*If you feel your canon is less than what you can do, talk to your father of confession. Revisit your canon. Remember that it’s not about the quantity. But it is about quality.
Did you know that VIPs get posts sent to their inbox? I want in!