By Sherye S. Green
Energized by excellence
While growing up, I took 12 years of piano lessons from a fabulous teacher, Mrs. Sandra Polanski. Blessed to have been under her tutelage, I realize I never fully appreciated nor took full advantage of the opportunity I had. A God-given gift of ear — the ability to hear harmonies in one’s head and to be able to pick out a tune without reading music to do so — and the ability to quickly memorize lines and phrases of a musical composition were two tools I employed when lazily tackling my lessons.
Any musician worth his or her salt will tell you “practice makes perfect.” Although I did practice, often only a few days or even hours before the weekly lesson, I never fully appreciated the fact that practice, if executed properly and for the necessary amount of time, would have added a level of confidence and enjoyment to the performance of my musical selections. Practice would have provided muscle memory, lending a level of ease and effortlessness to my playing. Practice would have also added a depth of passion to the music I performed, music relished for the sheer joy it offered.
Even though I learned a great deal in those 12 years of Mrs. Polanski’s lessons, there’s so much more I could have gleaned from her and could have accomplished as her student, but did not — simply because I made choices that did not support my being an excellent student.
Years ago, while working in the business arena, I had the good fortune to meet Reva Daniel, a technical writing instructor. A phrase she coined has stuck with me all these years and has become for me a watchword for giving my best: “Perfection paralyzes; excellence energizes.”
Who wouldn’t want to be at your best each and every day? However, you and I know that is not reality. The world in which we live resonates daily with a cacophony of messages that set an impossible standard of excellence that could never be met by anyone at any time. If that’s the pattern we’re trying to follow, the result will be frustration, disillusionment and even depression.
The Oxford Dictionary defines excellence as “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.” As a Christian, I have a responsibility to give my best each and every day to my Lord. As I am a new creation in Him and am stamped with His impression, my life should reflect the character and nature of Christ.
If I’m not careful, though, I can — just as I did all those years ago in my piano lessons — rely on my own strength, use my fleshly wiles to navigate life, and fail to practice the lessons of faithfulness God has taught me. What I end up with is a sham, a pretense of what a truly “practiced” life of faith might look like.
The mind is the battleground of life. As this is where all action proceeds from, it is vital that our minds be in sync with that of our Lord, especially for those of us who call ourselves by the name of Christ. If I want to live an excellent life, I must purpose in my mind to do so. The apostle Paul writes, “Let every detail in your lives – words, actions, whatever – be done in the name of the Master…” (Colossians 3:17 MSG). Everything from how I brush my teeth to how I transact the business of life is to be done in such a way as to honor God.
God has a plan of excellence that He designs for each of His children, a blueprint based on His love, which is “the more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 13:4-13). Unlike the model this world offers, which is confining and impossible to achieve, God’s template for excellence is one He will guide us to, if we will but give Him the keys to our lives.
The older I get, I want my life to be centered on excellence. Not that I’m searching for some accolade or seeking the praise of men, but rather that I want to honor my Lord with every fiber of my being. I want to offer Him my gifts, my talents, my strengths, my natural inclinations, and leave the outcome of that offering up to Him.
I must do more, though, than simply choose to be excellent in my heart. I must also “practice” the lessons God has shown me, patterns of character and behavior that, when employed, will enable me to live such a life — the mindset of humility, commitment to a cause greater than myself, reliance on God to enable me to maximize the talents He has given me, cultivation of a teachable heart and adherence to the firm belief that God, and not I, sets the course of my life.
One of the greatest gifts Mrs. Polanski gave to me was that she took what I offered in each lesson at face value. She allowed me to take full ownership of my musical education. Although I’m sure there must have been times she was frustrated with my lack of enthusiasm or even disappointed at how unprepared I was for the weekly lesson, she never once fussed at me or let me know in any way that I had not met her expectations. She accepted, without complaint, whatever I chose to prepare, however meager or unrehearsed.
Music is still a treasured practice in my life, although the instrument employed is my voice and not a piano. Much of what I appreciate about preparing for a musical performance — making sure the music has been learned correctly, ensuring phrasing and emphasis of certain notes occur when they should, remembering that music is to move the soul, not simply soothe the ear — are all lessons Mrs. Polanski taught me.
I have wandered many times down the corridors of my mind, back to the rehearsal studio where I met Mrs. Polanski for our weekly lessons. Instead of being paralyzed by regret, I’ve made a choice to be energized by the pattern of excellence she herself set for me. Mrs. Polanski, a treasured teacher and a valued friend, continues to influence my life and to inspire me.
Wherever you are on the road of life this day, choose to honor God by living a life of excellence. You’ll be amazed at how energized you’ll be!
Sherye S. Green is a Jacksonian and a wife, mother and grandmother. She has enjoyed two careers — one in business, the other in education. Sherye and her husband, Mark, are members of First Baptist Jackson. She is also the author of Abandon Not My Soul and Tending the Garden of My Heart: Reflections on Cultivating a Life of Faith.