Did you do your best?

I posted recently an experience that I had with my son:

At church today, my six-year-old handed me a piece of his toy and asked me to fix it. After trying for just a bit, I handed it back to him. He looked at it and asked, “Daddy, did you do your best?” Then he looked up at me intently and asked again, “Did you do your best?”

At the time, I laughed a bit at his intensity, but his two questions have continued to play in my mind. The second question communicates a level of challenge. It forces me to self evaluate and decide whether I really did give my best effort. It pushes me to keep going if I have the nagging suspicion that I could do more.

This question, by itself, is something of a double-edged sword. We all need motivation to keep going when our enthusiasm is flagging. In today’s world however, there never seems to be a lack of this kind of motivation. Everywhere we turn, there is something telling us to give 110% or to dig deep and push through. The problem comes when this starts to resonate with the voice of self-doubt and self-criticism that all of us have inside. If instead of hearing, “You should give your best effort,” we hear, “You are failing to give your best,” we are going to end up in a cycle of self-loathing and despair.

That is why his first question was so important. On the surface, it may seem that they were the same question. They were the same words after all. But the first question conveyed so much trust and hope. It wasn’t just, “Make sure you do your best!” It was also, “I’m sure that you did all you could. It’s ok to not complete the job all the way if you gave it all you had.” The part that was so meaningful to me as I reflected on the situation was that the trust was so automatic. His incredulity kicked in after a brief second, and he wanted to see if I just gave up or if I really did all I could. But his initial reaction felt like one of trust and acceptance.

As I’ve thought about this experience, I’ve wondered what life would be like if we all encountered these questions regularly. What if the first reaction to anything we did was acceptance and trust that we gave it our all, and a quiet assurance that our best is acceptable? That implied confidence makes it so much easier to face up to the second question with a straight back and square shoulders. We can look ourselves in the mirror, or look our questioner in the face, and be honest. If we have given less than our best effort, we are willing to re-engage and do more.

My hope is that I can provide more of those experiences to those around me, particularly those who are closest to me. My children need to feel an immediate acceptance and trust from me. They should know that they are enough. Just as they are. No changes needed. They should also know that I expect them to keep striving; to push themselves to do their absolute best. But all along the way, they are loved and accepted. And so am I.