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Good vs. Best

It came up again this morning, the theme of Good versus Best. The good things in life that are great and fine and no one would really ultimately complain about, pitted in a battle to the death against the best things, the dynamic, risky, life-giving sorts of things that old people on their deathbeds babble about. Today it was a talk from a woman who was surprised to find herself spending the rest of her life in Mexico running orphanages instead of being a good church-going person in Cincinnati. A few years ago it was The Notebook, when Allie has to choose between the man with money, status and influence who would provide a comfortable life, and the man with passion and purpose who would take her on a much riskier and more deeply satisfying path. And again a couple nights ago in The Wedding Crashers, with the same actress in a different role faced with the same choice and the same consequences.

When I lay it out this simply, the choice seems easy. Passion, purpose and a meaningful life versus security, stability and predictable days?

The Good life is ultimately about me. It’s a life of mortgages and soccer games and friends and business deals and going to the movies and dying old. It’s about me being happy. It’s mostly linear and largely predictable and insurable. The Best life is ultimately about other people. It doesn’t necessarily exclude the former things, but it’s also a life of impossible goals, messy friendships, sacrifices of time and money, and the vulnerability of making myself available to friends and strangers alike. It’s about making a difference in the lives of other people. It’s unpredictable and dangerous and if you ask me one of the most difficult things to stand up and buy into. The two lives may overlap quite a bit or they may not, but you can only choose one.

And this is why though the idea of it seems easy, and clearly the Best life is more fulfilling than the Good, the actual grasping of it seems much more elusive. This is because if my track record is to be believed, I am not that good at taking risks. Not that I choose the wrong things to risk for, or that I go at it half-heartedly. Just the opposite, probably. I choose what to me at the time are things most worth risking for, and throw myself completely into the pursuit of them. Which by itself is not problematic, except that when I do this I rarely come out having gained what I risked for. Probably you could argue it is due to poor planning in advance, or poor adaptation to twists or initial setbacks. Perhaps I become too single-minded and slip into a black and white world where everything is either for or against my purpose, guaranteeing me partial blindness and near-total failure. Or perhaps I have actually come to learn how to approach risk soberly and in a measured manner while maintaining my passion and commitment, and I’ve just happened to fail every time. All of which you can imagine doesn’t exactly make me want to seek out more things to risk for.

And yet I can’t stop wanting the meaningful, fulfilling life. Not that I don’t have elements of it; I certainly do. It’s more and greater things I want for my life and the lives of people around me. I heard it described today as a burr under my saddle, which I either ignore and allow to callous, or continue to be bothered by until I do something about it. Thing is, me and that burr, we have a strange little dance. Sometimes I flail and scratch and stomp all over it; sometimes it rides my back and weighs 95 pounds. Most days it seems I just contort myself to a certain point where it doesn’t rub so harshly and I can function normally.

Certainly there is a simpler way to handle it.

  1. Jane
    September 22, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    “Comfort those as I have comforted you…”
    “we will know Him, not only in His power but in His sufferings…”
    to love is to experience the heart of God…the most intense and greatest risk any person can take. to choose “good” is just self preservation.

  2. Sarah
    September 25, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Wow! This is thought-provoking. I too struggle to take risks, I believe because of my track record and not being too fond of change. The analogy about the burr under the saddle is so true…adjusting so that it is tolerable. Ultimately, I think it’s selfishness. I don’t want more discomfort. I don’t want to be out of control, and sometimes it seems that the burr is relatively controlable, at least somewhat predictable. I’m reading Elizabeth Elliot’s book on suffering, and it’s so convicting. We should be watching for and welcoming suffering/discomfort as it’s how God grows us and our relationship with Him. Isn’t discomfort over something we’re passionate about so much more worthwhile than over something that’s just related to survival? It’s great in theory, but I’m not sure how to actually put it into motion…I guess that seeking God and obeying is the key.

  3. September 25, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Sarah –
    Right on. Watching for it is the first step and a huge one. It’s like changing your entire perception of the world. Thanks for stopping by.

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