Friday, November 21, 2014
GIVING THANKS FOR A GOOD LIFE
Thanksgiving Sale, Greensboro, NC
I just returned from a brief shopping trip where I once again had to drive around the mall parking lot to find a space, searched in vain to find someone who could assist me, listened to old familiar holiday tunes on the ubiquitous speaker systems that followed me on my quest, passed innumerable sale signs announcing the season, stood in line just to give the retailer my money, drove home in four times the normal passage of time as the traffic dodged all around me, and finally arrived home only to discover that I forgot to stop at the service station to refill my gas tank. All of these familiar signs of the season including the markedly colder temperatures were subliminally and not so subtly heralding the arrival of Thanksgiving Day! Retailers continued to jostle for any leg up on their competition which lately has included who will be open on Thanksgiving Day and how soon they will unlock their doors. It seems they’ve outdone themselves in the rush to capture our consumer-driven culture’s almighty dollar by stretching the revered Black Friday sales day well beyond the space-time continuum for multiple days this year. Hopefully, no one will be crushed to death once the doors are opened as happened last year.
In spite of all the hustle and bustle, this is a good time to pause life and focus on giving thanks. I’ve always liked a short story with an O. Henry twist like his famous Christmas story, The Gift of the Magi, about a young couple and sacrificial giving out of unconditional love. Our senior pastor relayed a story this week about perfection and thanks giving. Long ago there was a king with a devoted and very positive advisor. Whenever any situation arose, the advisor always remarked that “It was for good and worthy of thanks giving”. One day the king suffered a painful accident that severed his thumb. When his devoted advisor again said “It was for good and worthy of thanks giving”, the enraged king had him thrown into prison. Months later, the king was with a hunting party deep within the kingdom when they were captured by savages. As the natives began boiling water and preparing their captives for a slow death, they noticed the king’s missing thumb. Since they worshiped their perception of perfection and were suspicious of imperfection, they released him. Whereupon he returned to his castle and immediately released his old advisor. He fervently asked for forgiveness in treating his friend so grievously, but the advisor once again stated “It was all for good and worthy of thanks giving”. When the king incredulously asked “How this could be?” the old sage replied “If I hadn’t been in prison, I would have been with you”.
I became acquainted with Francois-Marie Arouet who wrote under the pen name of Voltaire when I took a philosophy class years ago in college. One of Voltaire’s more famous quotes that caught my attention is that “Perfect is the enemy of good”. As one who was schooled in engineering and spent my entire professional career in operations, I learned early on about the law of diminishing returns. Folks can spend an inordinate amount of time and effort striving along that final stretch to perfection when “good” will get things off dead center and actually accomplish something in short order. Someone obsessed with perfection may never accomplish anything. A college professor related the story of a mathematician and an engineer who were both vying for the hand of a beautiful young woman. Since she couldn’t choose between them, she proposed a challenge that each should stand apart from her and then begin moving in successive steps half way towards her. The first to reach her would get her hand. The mathematician immediately threw up his hands and forfeited, complaining that it couldn’t be done as there would always be a minute distance to travel. The engineer immediately started walking, stating that he knew he would never arrive, but he would get close enough for all practical purposes! Should we constantly seek perfection in life or will “good enough” see us through? I’d argue that perfection is a nice goal, as long as we understand that falling short will be the norm and only one person ever walked this planet in perfection. Accepting imperfection as long as we can attain a level of “good” can immensely improve our productivity and peace of mind for the good life. Don't lose the joy of life waiting on perfection. Life is neither perfect nor fair, but life is good.
As we journey through life, we can serenely look back on a good life well lived and say “It was all for good and worthy of thanks giving”. And besides, there are many times when perfection can get us into hot water!