My classmates and I would be in the middle of history class, listening to our entertaining teacher spin yarns about her one-armed teacher in college, when our school principal would enter the room. No basketball tournaments were coming this weekend, and no pencils or hangers had been tossed into the ceiling of our school gymnasium recently, so we knew he could only be there for one reason: honor roll certificates. Our school was a small one, but a tough one, where everyone was taught to do his or her best. As our principal handed out the blue half-sheet certificates with different names on them, we all clapped politely. Then, the speech came — virtually the same every year. “It doesn’t matter what your grade was, as long as you did your best,” he said. “If you did your best, great, but if you didn’t, there is always room for improvement — always do your best.” This same principal would bring us all into an assembly at the beginning of the year, when he would instruct us how to be safe on the bus or how the rules worked. One of our favorite stories from him was when he instructed us how to wash our hands in the bathroom. You had to put your hands “in the bowl,” you see. He would emphasize this with complimentary hand gestures, showing us how to wash down in the sink so as to not spray water everywhere. Afterward, you ripped the paper towel from one side to another, not straight down “like a cat.” That would ensure less of a mess. Finally, the paper was deposited neatly in the trash can. The bathroom was not the place for Michael Jordan shots.
My principal was a great man of character, but the way he communicated truth to us was not through long-winded sermons or hefty instruction manuals. He taught us to do the little things right. Do your homework, and you will get good grades. Show sportsmanship, and you will be victorious in all stages of life, not just in ball games. Clean up scraps of paper, and you will be a good steward of this earth and courteous to other people. In college, as students stand on the bridge between the monitored bustle of high school and the wide open freedom of adulthood (which probably has less freedom than we all expect), we often approach life with a different tactic. The teacher assigns 60 pages of reading, but there are no quizzes on that reading, so the students do not read it. Some students surmise that when they go to find a job, the prospective employer will look only to see if they have gotten their degree, not whether they earned above the minimum C in their classes. The teachers allow four skips a semester, and most students take all four and then beg for a fifth.
I have been the object of scorn — lighthearted or not —from many a classmate at Liberty. I keep my room tidy, I do not miss classes, I strive for the A, and yes, I read all 60 pages. Why? Well, someone once taught me to always do my best. On one hand, it is simple prudence to do your best because you never know when it will come back and help you. It may be a scholarship or a graduate school that likes the fact that you did not have all Cs. It may be that little bit of hidden knowledge that helps you impress a future boss, or it may be an interviewer that likes the fact that you neatly placed the scrap of paper in the trash can instead of attempting a Michael Jordan heave.
The real reason to always do your best, of course, is that God commands it. Luke 16:10 says that he that is faithful in little is faithful in much, and for a God that does not require works for his pleasure — but instead basic faithfulness to trust in him as God — we would all do well to remember the importance of always doing our best, no matter how big the matter. Often, we have the time to go that extra mile, read that extra 60 pages or throw away that scrap of paper, but we do not because we either do not plan ahead or we are too lazy. We seek control in our lives — control to be able to do what we want when we want. The tighter we grip, though, the more we lose hold of what is important in life. Faithfulness in little is what builds character.
I have great hopes of one day having a smidgin of the character of my high school principal. Even though most of us only saw a man who was courteous enough to make sure he left the bathroom tidy when he was finished, in hindsight I see a great man who was faithful in all aspects of his life — especially the big parts I never noticed before. Although I do not know where I will end up, I do know where to start.
Contact Jen Slothower at firstname.lastname@example.org.