How do we Measure a Day's Success?

When we get to the end of our days, we can be prone to question whether it was a "successful" day or not. We may end our day, with a pile of laundry in one corner or a sink full of dishes in the next room, and tell ourselves that it is "good enough." Or maybe an email remains unsent, a phone call not returned or a bill unpaid. The repetition of ending our days and telling ourselves, "it's good enough" can begin to weigh on us. We can begin to feel like failures and question our ability to function adequately in our roles.

My wife and I have been in that stage perpetually over the last few months. We had the privilege of welcoming our third child into the world the end of last December and it has been a joy to see him and our family grow. But the addition of our newest son has meant living with three children under the age of four, and many nights we go to bed with tasks undone. Many nights, we go to bed and have to say "it's good enough."

But as we have reflected on this stage, it has become clear that we need to re-frame the way we measure a day's success. It is not measured in the tasks we complete, or the ones left undone, it is measured in a different way.

The problem with "it's good enough"

One of the reasons we have found our former measurement inadequate is because ending the day consoling ourselves for incomplete tasks with the phrase "it's good enough," does an injustice to the good things God has done though us that day. It creates a false sense that a good day is one in which all the mess is cleaned up at the end and the task list is filled with check-marks.

This is not to say that laziness and apathy in our responsibilities is what God wants. I love to be productive. I read productivity blogs, I use a modified form of David Allen's "Getting Things Done" system and I try to find the best tools to help. I am not saying that working hard, in the right direction, is somehow a bad thing.

What I am saying is that our task lists and daily measurements have a habit of undermining our understanding of what it means to be truly productive in our days. Tim Challies has a great definition of productivity:  "effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God." I like to think of it as exhausting ourselves in the service of God and others. When we have spent our days and used our energy to bring Glory to God and good to others, then it is a day well spent.

When we have spent our day bringing Glory to God and good to others, then it is a day well spent.

A new measurement

Saying "it's good enough" only focuses on what was not complete, and neglects to consider and celebrate what did happen in our days. Exhausting ourselves in the service of others and the glory of God means that we have spent our days changing diapers, folding clothes, counseling friends, doing good and honest work, giving up our preferences for others and investing ourselves into the fabric of our community. If we get to the end of our day, and there is work to be completed, but we can say with confidence that we have worked hard for God and others, then we can rest easy.

And if we get to the end of our day, and it has been a mess of a day, we must always remember that our identity is not in what we did or did not do, it is in Christ. We remain blood-bought children of the King, whether we used our day well or abdicated our responsibilities. God still loves us, and he wants us to rest easy, knowing that we remain in grace. But he calls us to try again tomorrow, to exhaust ourselves for God and others tomorrow.

The example of Christ

When we begin to examine the life of Jesus, we see that he completed all that His father gave him to do. At the end of Jesus' earthly ministry, in what has become known as the High Priestly Prayer, he says to the Father, "I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do (John 17:4)." Jesus went to the cross, confident that he had done the work the Father had given him.

But in Acts, we read a story of Peter and John entering the temple and passing a man who was lame from birth, a man whom others laid at the gate each day. We do not know for sure, but I think it is possible, even likely, that Jesus had passed him at least once while on earth. And if not the lame beggar in Acts three, we know that when Jesus went to the cross, there were many who remained lame, blind or worse.

For Jesus to claim that he completed all that the Father gave him to do, and yet there remained lame beggars outside the temple, we must deduce that healing those lame beggars was not within the scope of Jesus' mission. It wasn't on his "task list." It is helpful for us to also remember that we have a range of priorities and responsibilities in our own life - just as Jesus did during his time on earth. We cannot do everything. We can only steward well, the responsibilities God sees fit to give us.

And that doesn't mean doing everything. Or even having everything done at the end of every day. There will be interruptions. There will be seasons in which we feel less able to finish it all. But if we have spent our energy, our days and our lives in the service of God's glory and the good of others, whatever that means for the range of responsibilities God has given to us, then we can go to bed confident that we lived well. Not telling ourselves, "it's good enough."