Blinding Flash of the Obvious #2

I am the measure of my own potential.

Let me explain. Several years ago, I found myself trying to work two full-time jobs and survive a five-credit college course. Margin didn't exist. I discovered that the only way to be moderately successful in this environment was to do it right the first time and not put things off.

Even though the task list was long, I knew that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to be doing, and that I was in the center of God's will. I wouldn't repeat what amounted to a year of insanity, but I wouldn't trade it, either.

At one point, however, I reached the saturation point and had to ask my college professor for an extension on an assignment. As I told him why I hadn't turned the assignment in on time, I'm pretty sure it sounded like complaining. Or whining. Here I was, trying to do the best job I knew how, in full-time ministry. At the least, I deserved a pat on the back for my late nights, early mornings, and full days.

John Oles, my gracious tutor, didn't congratulate me like I had expected. Before he had retired, he had been the vice president of marketing at Kraft Foods. He knew what it took to climb to the top of the corporate ladder. He had experienced the long days and task lists and corporate red tape that it took to see a project through to completion. And he was successful.

So instead of telling me that my mediocrity was good enough and that I was doing a fine job, he gave a scenario of what it would be like to try to make it in the "real world." A person like me, on her way to making her mark on the company, would already have her degree. She would be in a neck-and-neck competition with four or five other employees on the floor to try to be the first one in for the day. And she would scramble all day, trying to always think ahead and be more productive than the day before. Finally, she would probably head home around seven or nine at night, with three more hours of work stashed away in her briefcase, in hopes of getting ahead. This, Mr. Oles said, is the real world.

It was just the reminder that I needed to kick myself into high gear and keep doing what I was doing. I discovered that I am not evaluated by what I have done or become...I am evaluated by what I have done and become compared to what I could have done and become. I had begun allowing myself to be content with "good enough," even though it was for the Most High King.

The only two people that are accurate evaluators of my true potential are God and myself. Perhaps I crank out a really cool project: Many other people might say that it's fabulous, but I know, deep down inside, that I could have and should have done better. People consistently comment that I am an overachiever, but the truth is I feel that laziness and procrastination define my days more than diligence and productivity. I am the measure of my own potential.

Mr. Oles, in his soft-spoken gracious way, reminded me that I could do more, and that I had not yet achieved my true potential. Really, I had become a holy wimp—spiritualizing my achievements and ministry and becoming willing to stall at the zenith of mediocrity. When the going gets tough, I think of Mr. Oles, well past retirement, having led a successful life by all accounts, but still seeking hard after God and never willing to settle for something less than the best.

Don't think that I'm advocating all work and no play. God set aside an entire day every week for rest. Hebrews 11 details the blessing and gift that rest is. I simply wonder if, in the interest of counteracting the excessive work habits of others, we have swung the other way.

People talk about burnout in ministry or fatigue in service. A generation or so ago, there was perhaps a hypothesis that burnout was a spiritual thing, and that always working and never resting was a way to express how dedicated you were to God. But now, there seems to be the idea that you can and should skip to the ends without the means—that you can skip the effort and work and just get straight to exhausted and quitting. It's like giving up in the first lap of a race, or pretending you're sick so you can play hooky from school. Yeah—I come from a generation of holy wimps.

So I ask myself: am I all I can be today?