Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Your Excuses are Your Own 

One of the most important lessons I ever learned in my life was taught to me by Paul Sondrol, a political science professor at the University of Colorado. I was rather notoriously tardy to things in those days, especially class, and I had Dr. Sondrol as a professor for some upper level political science classes that were small classes, where my tardiness would be noticeable. At the beginning of one such class, during the normal beginning of the semester lecture about class expectations, Dr. Sondrol told us that he hated it when students were late to class. He viewed it as a sign of disrespect. Even after telling us this, I was late almost every day to class by five or ten minutes.

Dr. Sondrol was the sponsoring professor for the Model OAS program at UCCS. Without going into all the details, it was a great program, a lot of fun, a great learning experience and a pretty desirable opportunity with limited slots. I applied for it. The summer before the fall semester, I met with Dr. Sondrol to discuss it. He told me that he thought I was a good fit for the program, but one thing concerned him, my tardiness even after he had told the class that he expected us to be on time. I assured him I wouldn't continue that pattern. I got into the program.

That fall, the first day of class for the Model OAS program, I misread the location of the class, thinking it was on the other side of campus. I was five minutes late. I apologized to Dr. Sondrol, and he graciously accepted. The second class period, I couldn't find a parking spot and was again five minutes late. Mortified, I again apologized to Dr. Sondrol. This time, he told me, "There's always an excuse."

And that's when it hit me. I realized a truth that I heard well expressed recently in the quote- "the maximum effective range of an excuse is zero." An excuse affects me and me only. It might make me feel better about why I didn't do what I should have done. But for everybody else, it has no real effect.

Everybody has challenges in their life. Everybody faces obstacles, has unexpected things happen. Everybody misreads a schedule sometimes or has trouble finding a parking spot. But the difference is, some people live their lives in such a way that any unexpected event, however trivial, throws them off their plans and prevents them from succeeding. Other people live in such a way that they can absorb such unexpected events without difficulty. When Dr. Sondrol said that to me, I resolved to become the second person. I realized I had been the first. And so, every day for the rest of that semester I showed up to class twenty minutes early, and then on the days when something unexpected happened, I'd only be ten minutes early instead of twenty.

Proverbs 26:16 The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes Than seven men who can answer sensibly.

To paraphrase- the lazy man has more answers than a committee of seven.

I'm still not the most organized guy in the world. But I try not to make excuses any more. If I forget something, or fail to get something done, the only acceptable response is to simply accept the blame, try to make it right and do better next time. An excuse serves the purpose of making me feel better. It serves no other real purpose. The other guy, who depends on me doing what I said I was going to do in order for him to accomplish what he wants to do, isn't interested in reasons for failure. He's interested in succeeding. And every successful man knows, there are people who succeed at what they say they're going to do and then there are people who are always making excuses. Guess which one he's going to do business with?

And to take a step back and look at the big spiritual picture- when I come up with excuses for why I can't do what I am supposed to do, it's ultimately God that I'm blaming. I'm saying, God has not given me the resources that I need in order to obey Him. King Saul was an excuse maker. He said, "the people made me do it" when he failed to obey God in the matter of the Amalekite war in 1 Samuel 15. But it didn't matter; God rejected him as king anyway. God always gives us the resources we need to obey Him. God gave me Christ, the most precious gift He had to give. The idea that He would withhold some other thing that I need to succeed is laughable.

And this subject is of course far more important than professional or academic success- spiritual success; though of course, faithfulness in my job or at school is just a subset of faithfulness in my spiritual life. All things are matters of faith. And my prayer to God is that He would grant me the faith and the strength to succeed in my spiritual life, rather than making excuses for failure.

Here,here, Matthew. Well said!
In my non-ministry career, I once had a run in with a Vice President. He and I had disagreed on a certain point, and I did something that ticked him off. He called me into his office and gave me his opinion in no uncertain terms. At the end of the rebuke, I made no excuses. I told him I understood, that it would not happen again, and I thanked him for his forthright, manly, confrontational style. He and I were on very good terms after that. We still are to this day. There is something very liberating, reconciling, and true about abandoning excuses.
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