A Spirit of Excellence

As I write, we have two days of school left in this semester.    We have truly been on the wind-down, physically, and perhaps even more mentally.   Dad’s home for two weeks, which means the biggest kid in the house walks around frolicking and being a fun-loving distraction to the whole house.    He’s also been the substitute teacher this week, making the day interesting.

Some other things change about our home when Dad’s here, too.   For me, his warmth, combined with the coolness of our would-be winter, makes it harder to get out of bed.   Me getting out of bed later means the kids get out of bed later.    Plus, knowing that we would stop mid-week this week, I intentionally did not schedule as much on the kids’ calendars.   That way, the workload once we do wake up is more than manageable.    Once everyone is finished, they have the day left to themselves.

I’ve made another observation about this time of “less-to-do-and-more-time-to-do-it”: a spirit of laziness can also creep in.   My husband and I were having this discussion as we watched an episode of a sitcom that we had seen all too many times.   If you are not careful, you look around as the sun sets, and nothing has been accomplished.   OR, the work that does get accomplished is done with a Herculean effort to push past mediocrity.    I was also having this discussion–or at least, a related one–with the oldest.

She was given a blank canvas (minus the grid lines for longitude and latitude) and general instructions for drawing most of the Eastern Hemisphere.   What I envisioned in handing her this project was a map full of the types of details that she has uncovered during her studies–continents and major countries, but also symbols, animals, clothing, etc.   With a mother’s/teacher’s instinct, however, I knew that she’d not embraced this course the way that she’d embraced others during the year, so I sensed a tendency to give me the minimum.    I could have waited, but I thought I’d drop a hint and spare myself some disappointment.   So I said  (pleaded, truth be told), “You could turn this into so much more than a memory game of longitude and latitude.   You could add famous landmarks, you could add major bodies of water, …”    So, three days go by, plus a weekend in which she took time to put on the finishing touches, and I got exactly what I asked for–no less, and certainly no more.

This morning, while she completed the next assignment using her map, I made an observation.   “You gave me continents, but no countries.   Do you remember what I wrote about details?”    I told her that I would count off for not having major countries listed, and began to share my expectations for her final exam.   She launched into how she gave me exactly what I asked for, and how she’d added landmarks, and she’d done what I said to do.   I should have written down exactly what I wanted, she said.   Then with mounting frustration, she requested that I list specifics for the final.

The quick response was that I could list specifics, but I also wanted her to think about giving me more than what I asked for.  I wanted her to possess a spirit of excellence.   This was a life lesson about doing more than the minimum.    When you own a business, customers won’t always articulate exactly what they want; you must anticipate the real need, and surpass their expectations.   When you marry someone, they won’t always tell you every single thing that pleases them; you have to out-do them in love, as the scriptures say, which means doing far more than just what is asked of you.    I talked about her exams in her art history course, with an instructor that she knew and liked from art classes as a child.   She worked hard to please this instructor.   She would proudly boast after each exam how she’d written a paragraph about each piece of art–far more than she was asked to do.   Her papers now sit in the Dean’s office as an example to the state boards of the exemplary teaching performed at the college.   That’s what happens when you do more than what is expected; that is the reward of a spirit of  excellence.

Coincidentally enough, just this morning we were reading the 26th chapter of Exodus.   I can remember my very first time reading through this passage–probably as a girl about my youngest’s age–and thinking it was a waste of my time.   So many details for building the tabernacle!!  Why, and why was this included in the Bible??!!   Praise God for growth.  This morning when we talked about the number of details, the youngest remembered what her dad said on yesterday: our God is a god of excellence.   He has specific assignments for us to do, and He gives us details.   And this is what I wanted the oldest to get–that we serve a God of excellence, and less than our best is not acceptable.

So, it could have been that same spirit of laziness that produced a lackluster map; she’s slept later and harder not having to get up for classes and all the extra activities that make up college.   It could have been (and I expect some of it is) a tendency to prioritize her college courses over her high school courses as the dreaded “senioritis” starts to rear its ugly head.    Whatever is the case, I’d bet it won’t happen again.

I have at least one homeschooling friend who will ball up work that she considers mediocre or worse and throw it away.   Harsh?  Maybe, but that only has to happen once to send a message.   How do you make sure your children are completing their best work?

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2 thoughts on “A Spirit of Excellence

  1. I, too, am from the “ball it up and don’t accept it” school of thought. LOL! It may seem harsh, but I’d rather they experience my harshness because I love them and want the best for them instead of the harshness, with biting and sticking disappointments and consequences, that can come from a world that could careless about them. Ultimately, the standard of excellence has to remain a constant expectation and if it isn’t met, a loving dose of “reality consequence” is likely to function as the proverbial wake-up call.

    We work hard to model this behavior for them and if we fall short, we let them in on our short coming, how it happened and what result we must now live and deal with. It makes it more real if they know that we also have to regularly discipline and remind ourselves to always give God the best…not the bare minimum.

    Great article…kudos!

    1. You make a point about tough love, as I would call it. I am sure that the balling up of work doesn’t happen often at your place–great kids!! I also liked your point about setting the example of excellence, including the humility to say that “I screwed up” this time, to put it plainly. These are fantastic ways that parents can become living examples before their children of what the Lord expects of us all. Thanks, sis!

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