Recently a friend pointed me to this article about a boy I knew as a preschooler. Aside from making me feel a bit old, the article also got me thinking about the ingredients of excellence.
I thought about how excellence is the result of hard work, and dedication and how excellence is the attitude that says “I will do my best.” when faced with a task. All very good and necessary but not the complete ingredient list.
Excellence depends in large part on mercy. As we measure our work and determine whether it meets the criteria of “doing our best” or “excellent” we will find that we frequently fail. Not every effort is going to actually be our best effort. Sometimes we will be too tired, or too ignorant and sometimes we just won’t “feel like it”. This is where mercy is needed.
Mercy steps into our self-judgment and says “Yes, this isn’t your best. You need to do a better job next time. Now get up, and move on to the next time.”
Without mercy (not an excusing of ourselves but forgiving ourselves) we become discouraged and convinced that we can’t produce excellence. We constantly take even our true best efforts and discount them because of previous “less than our best” efforts. Without mercy we are unable to see the good in what we do because we are constantly beating ourselves for past failures.
This principle holds true in our interactions with others as well. Especially with our children we must practice mercy. Did they set the table poorly yesterday? Today is a new day and when we assign that task we need to remind them to do a good job, give training where needed, bring them back to complete the job is needed, but not fuss or complain about the poor job done yesterday.
I think there is a place to say “Remember how long ___ took yesterday because you weren’t focused? Let’s not do that today.” but that is about as much as we should bring to their attention. We need to remind them gently and mercifully of the reason they failed at excellence (especially when they are very young and need to learn and understand the cause and effect relationship between attitude and performance) but we shouldn’t harp on failures or their causes.
Mercy reaches out to encourage and lift the fallen or the struggling. That is how God works with us in His righteous judgment- we should not be more righteous than God in our judgment of ourselves or others.