Do Your Best Until You Know Better

Have you ever witnessed a toddler picking up their toys? It usually goes something like this: Put a toy in the toy box. See a fun toy that’s already in said toy box. Take out fun toy and play with it. Get reminded to keep picking up. Put a couple more toys in the toy box. Get distracted. Repeat.

And when the toys are more or less picked up, whether or not they’re half hanging outside the toy box and there are still some race cars or doll clothes scattered about, what does the parent say? Well, when the child is just old enough to learn how to pick up, the reaction from the parents is usually along the lines of: Great job, honey! Way to go, picking up your toys! What a big girl/boy you are!

Fast forward a few years. Now imagine you tell your eight-year-old to pick up their room. How pleased will you be to walk in and find toys still scattering the floor, toy box overflowing with dress up costumes? Probably not very.

Why? Because you know your eight-year-old knows better. You know what they’re capable of and can tell when they’re not really trying.

But when your eight-year-old tells you they’re finished and you walk in to find a basically neat room, with their comforter frumpled from their best attempt to make their bed and their books wrong side out on the bookshelves (although lined up somewhat neatly), what are you going to say? Probably something like, Great job, honey! Thank you for picking up your room when I asked you!

Why? Because you know he or she did their best. You know what their best looks like and you understand how that will change as they grow and learn.

And finally, imagine your child grows up and gets a job cleaning houses. Imagine they have to answer to the demands for near perfection from their clients. If you were to inspect a house they cleaned, what would you find?

Probably near perfection.

Why? Because they have grown and learned over the years and they now understand exactly what is expected of them and exactly what a clean house ought to look like.

Is our journey with God so different from this toddler, eight-year-old, and grown-up?

Maya Angelou has a quote that I absolutely love, which goes like this:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

We can’t do what we don’t know! And that’s okay!

Just like the mother praising her toddler for picking up, even when the job isn’t technically done well. The toddler is only just learning what it even means to pick up their toys. From their understanding, they did exactly what was asked of them. And it was enough. It was pleasing to the mother.

As we learn more, more will be expected of us. In life as well as with God. We try our hardest, and certainly none of us are living perfect lives, but God is so pleased with us when we live according to our best understanding of his instructions.

And this is where it can get sticky.

This is where we sometimes encounter others with different beliefs due to different interpretations of scripture, as people do their studying and arrive at different conclusions.

For example, women pastors.

My personal Bible study, research, experience, and relationship with God has convicted me to believe God has empowered men and women alike to preach his Word. Others, through their own Bible study, research, experience, and relationship with God have come to believe that God has not empowered women to preach. Both views have scripture to support them.

Check out this passage from Romans 14:1, 5

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters… One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” [My paraphrase of verse 6: For they both do so to the Lord and give thanks to God.]

I believe as long as we’re doing the best we can, attempting to make sense out of what God has spoken to us, we please him by being obedient and giving it our all.

If we’re loving God and loving others, and are convinced by the Bible that the path we’re taking is best, I believe God is incredibly pleased.

(And we’d do well to remind ourselves that this goes both ways with other people. So when we feel like examining other people’s paths and beliefs, let’s remember they’re on this “you can’t do better until you know better” journey as well. And yes, some people know better and just don’t care. That would be a different blog post for a different day, haha!)

The more we learn, the more God will ask of us. The more we obey, the more we’ll trust his paths. But it’s always a moving target according to our best understanding at the time.

God never changes, but we change all the time. Hopefully for the better.

And wherever we are on the journey, whether we just met Jesus today, or we’ve known him our entire lives—as long as we grab hold of his word and make our best attempt at obeying and serving him, I believe he’ll look at us and say, Great job! Thank you for doing your best! Way to go!

(Please leave me a comment below to let me know your thoughts! And before you leave, I’d love for you to sign up with your email address so I can send you new blog posts straight to your email! Thanks for reading!)

6 thoughts on “Do Your Best Until You Know Better

  1. Thanks for this post Jessie. I love how you remind us that God is a loving, patient God, nurturing us individually according to where we are on our journey; teaching us and stretching us until we are drawn closer and closer to maturity, not rushing us but (for our own good) not allowing us to set up camp in a place we’ve outgrown. It’s so freeing to think of him this way, knowing we will never be held accountable for not being like others or for not ‘measuring up’ to standards we can’t yet even understand, let alone reach. His love and grace is incredible. Thanks for letting us know that he is and always has been FOR us, where we are at the moment we’re in!

    1. Yes, exactly!! Great thoughts, Beach, thanks for sharing! And yes, it’s always helpful to remember that God is FOR us, wherever we’re at in life!😊

  2. This is a hard lesson. I tend to expect more of others and myself than I often get. Maybe it’s the cynic in me that makes me think effort is rarely 100%, especially with kids. But the grace to accept good work, not perfect work, is where I’m growing. Thanks for the great post! Excellent thoughts.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Chip! It’s also helpful to remember we’re human! Not to give us an excuse, but to remember we will never reach perfection and we are covered in grace. Thankfully. 😄

  3. I am so grateful for God’s patience with my spiritual growth over time. Whem I look back, I can’t believe how much I looked like the toddler you described in your opening paragraph. Great analogy for growth and how/why God keeps the moving target, moving it ever closer to Him and His Word. May we be gracious with one another and yet continue to challenge each other to grow. Blessings!

    1. Yes, thank you for sharing! I totally agree — we need a good balance of grace for each other as well as being able to challenge each other to keep moving toward Jesus. 🙂

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