When I was a kid, I always wanted to be “the best”. If I wasn’t the best at something, then I didn’t want to do it at all. I wanted to score better than all of my classmates on my math tests. I wanted to be a better basketball player than the rest of the boys in my class. I wanted to run faster than my friends. I wanted to be the smartest student in the class. I wanted to get better grades than anyone else. I wanted to show everyone I was better than them. And time and time again, I found myself in a state of disappointment. Although I was a solid test taker, I rarely scored the best tests scores in the class. Although I practiced for hours and hours in my backyard, I was not a good enough basketball player to play as a starter on the team. During my fastest runs around the jogging track, I was usually the slowest runner in my grade level. And although my grade-point average was always fairly solid, I never had the top report card in my class. In fact, I never had a GPA anywhere near the top. As much as I wanted to be “the best”, I frequently found myself to be decidedly average.

               I liked the idea of being “the best”. In my mind, I had these grandiose visions of being so much better than everyone else. If someone did something, there was no reason in my mind that I shouldn’t be able to do it better than they do. And in some ways, I never really outgrew my desire to be the best. When I entered seminary, I already had a graduate degree while most of my peers did not. I thought I would have a head start over them because I was already more educated than most. When the first round of grades came out, I was devastated to see that not only was I not the best in class, but that my grades were actually some of the lowest! Time and time again, I found out that I was kind of a C+ guy. And time and time again, I have had to become ok with being a C+ kind of guy.

               We can find ourselves on a slippery slope if we become complacent in mediocrity. We don’t want to let ourselves off the hook for not trying something simply by coming to terms that we’re just not good at it. But at the same time, we do not need to beat ourselves up when we’re not “the best”. One of my most formative lessons as a pastor came when I was serving as a hospital chaplain intern about a year before I was ordained. A chaplain was responsible for reporting to every death, every code blue, and every fetal demise (miscarriage). And for each of these I responded to, I wanted to be the best chaplain. Especially for the cases of fetal demise, I wanted to be as prepared as possible and I wanted to plan everything I was going to say and everything I was going to do. I wanted the experience to be ordered and buttoned up. I wanted to walk in, talk to the mother and father, and possibly the grandparents, and make everything better. I wanted to show them that I was a good pastoral presence. And every time I made plans for what to do and what to say, my plans completely fell apart as soon as I entered the room. The mood was inherently chaotic. How could it not be? Something seemingly senseless had happened. Hearts were broken. Dreams were crushed. In many cases, nurseries were already decorated, baby showers were already complete, walls were already painted, names were already chosen, and lives were already planned. And then, in an instant, those plans were crushed. I quickly realized there was nothing I could say. There was nothing I could do to make it better. There was certainly nothing I could do to “fix” the situation. The situation was simply broken and could not be repaired. As much as I wanted to be the best chaplain, I found myself proving to be a pretty darn mediocre chaplain. I was a C+ kind of guy.

               Through those interactions, interactions that were simply heartbreaking for everyone including me, I discovered that maybe being C+ isn’t that bad. Even when I didn’t say the things I had planned to say, or even when the things I said might not have been the best things to say, I discovered that people are exceptionally willing to extend a little grace. Most of the time, people were simply comforted by the presence of someone who truly cared. It didn’t matter if that someone (me) said something wrong or didn’t stand or sit in the right place. My being there, my C+ self and all, was enough. By showing up and showing that we care, we can do a whole lot for people, even when we’re not “the best”. Sometimes the best isn’t good enough, but simply being present is beyond good enough. I quickly found out that the only tool I could bring into a pastoral visit was myself, and personal vulnerability, including exposing my lumps and bumps, was what it took to build true and lasting connections. Had I been “the best” during those times, I probably would have come across as phony and conceited. Instead, I was perceived as real and authentic. I may not have been “the best”, but I was me. And even if being me wasn’t “the best”, it was the best I could be. And it was what was needed in those situations.

               Sometimes I think we all put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be “the best”. We want the best cars. The best houses. The best cell phone. The best food. We want the best clothing and the best jewelry. We want to go to the best schools and we want our schools to have the best athletics teams. We want to be the best. But there’s nothing wrong with being C+. Sometimes C+ is all it takes. In fact, an authentic and genuine C+ is much more impressive to me than a stuck up A. I think Christians have a lot we can learn by giving ourselves permission to be C+. This isn’t to suggest we shouldn’t always work on doing better and living better lives, because we should. We are called to keep working on getting better. But it’s important to remember that it is actually ok to not be perfect. We strive to be like Jesus, even though we know we will never be like him. That doesn’t mean we get to stop trying. It does mean we can extend a little grace to ourselves and rest comfortably when we’re not the best.

               It’s ok to try new things. It’s ok to do things that we’re not good at. How are we going to become good if we don’t try? Do we expect to pick up a guitar for the very first time and be able to play like Slash from Guns N’ Roses? No. So why would we expect to do things well when we have very little experience with them. I can assure you that getting low marks early on in my seminary studies helped me to understand what areas I needed to work on. I was able to fix the things that needed fixing. I learned things I wouldn’t have learned had I simply been coasting through my studies earning easy A’s without effort. Those C+ grades were the grades that helped me to learn. They were the grades that helped me to grow. When we’re ok with our imperfections, we can focus on the things that truly matter. It really isn’t important to be “the best”. Trying to be the best at everything is inevitably going to lead us to disappointment. There’s only one best basketball player. One best quarterback. One best golfer. One best fighter pilot. One best racecar driver. And none of those bests are the best at more than one thing. We’re all people. And we’re all doing our best. And if our best is C+ with a desire to keep learning and growing, then being C+ is pretty darn impressive.

“C” is for Cookie and That’s Good Enough for Me!