Watching Mulan, I felt transfixed when the protagonist climbed to the pole-top against all odds to prove herself. I remember thinking, “I want to do that.” I want to ignore the challengers and climb higher, reaching up toward the cloudy mountaintop (or pole-top, in her case), embracing the heights, and looking on with an accomplished smile on my face: the confident smile that speaks of success.
But it is not my smile.
No, my smile is sometimes happy, sometimes silly, sometimes mocking or challenging—but hardly ever successful. Not that I don’t succeed. I do, and I’m thankful every time I get the grade I want or endure a long exercise routine. My parents and teachers smile when I reach these milestones.
The problem is that I don’t. Not for long, anyway. I hardly ever surpass the expectations that I set. At best, I meet them. And that only makes me feel average. At worst, I don’t meet them, and I feel burdensome to the earth.
Mom had this saying that I was always thankful for, and it’s this: “As long as you try your best, I’m proud of you.”
The thing is, I didn’t know what my best was. I still don’t, to be honest. Andrea tries to do her best by running on five hours of sleep to get the best Nursing grades that she can, ignoring her headaches until mom or I force her to sleep. Is that what people say when they say, “try your best”? I know it’s not what Mom meant, and I’m certain it’s not what God wants.
But what does He want?
My dad wants A’s. From me, at least. He assumes that’s my best. He’s probably right, at least for most classes. But I’m about as motivated as the sluggard in Proverbs.
I get energy highs and lows. I’ve come to realize that if there’s an easier task, I’ll end up doing that instead. Is the paper due in a week? Yes, I’ll get right on that after I finish with the laundry. Do I need to edit her piece? I’ll get right on that, after I do a few short math problems. Is there a project I should get started on? I’ll do that as soon as I’m done washing the dishes.
But then the deadline quickens my feet.
And even when I want to do the assignments (which is common, because I like to learn), I dream too big. I suppose you could say my head is in the clouds, but the rest of my body is clinging to the middle—the norm—the average—the rut in which most people live their lives. It’s always easy to dream, but much harder to get busy. It’s the difference between the theory and its practice, and I hate that I fall short of the mark.
But when I come to God, I find the strength to keep going. It’s not a magic trick or a switch that I can just turn on. No, it’s more like a banner: a reason to fight the good fight, to climb higher, to move against gravity—that pull that always begs me to stay put or let myself go.
I will make my dreams into reality, because I know they came from God. It’d be rude to leave His present unopened. And when I open that gift, another one will come up.
It’s called day-by-day living. And it’s terrifying.
But God calms my nerves. Instead of worrying about the exhaustive task, I can focus on the small steps to get there. I don’t need to focus on a possible future: I need to focus on doing what God wants me to do today.
Although I may never reach the mountaintop (I get the feeling it’s not even there, but always just beyond the next cloud), I can still press forward as Paul did, reaching in faith for what I have yet to attain. Sometimes, I fear I won’t have the strength to climb up to the next jutted rock, because the mountaintop is so far away. But I will do it, if not for the smile of success, then for the peace of mind I feel when I do right by God and man.
I can press on, focusing each day on climbing at least a millimeter more. It’s hard and sweaty work. But remember that even those who suffered through great persecution looked back on their lives with joy simply because “we count them happy which endure” (James 5:11a, KJV)