I love that scene in Elf when Buddy (Will Ferrell) enters the diner with the sign “World’s Best Coffee” and screams "You did it! Congratulations! World's best cup of coffee! Great job, everybody!” Since we know the backstory of the other-worldly sincerity and naivety of the 6’4” man in yellow tights, the scene makes sense. But in reality, neither the shop owner, nor Buddy, had any business believing that they had truly found the world’s best cup of coffee. It’s doubtful any of us ever will. (Not that we should stop trying).
This is because we rarely experience the absolute best of anything. We rarely get the worst, either. Some say “Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.” That line is most-frequently attributed to NBC broadcaster Jim McKay, who spoke it during the 1972 Summer Games while reporting the murder of eleven hostages during the Munich Massacre. It wasn’t actually Jim’s quote; he attributed it to his father. Such a Dad thing to say. But Mister McKay was right. We spend most of our time somewhere between great and terrible. Don’t tell that to the public, however.
Over the past three presidential terms a sizable percentage of Americans have believed that the sitting president was the worst ever. I’m no historian, but I do know that two-thirds of Americans believe Alexander Hamilton was a president. So I’m skeptical about our ability to rank the 45 actual presidents (or even Broadway musicals). Further, does it feel just a bit self-centered to assume we get to witness all of the most dramatic stuff? Do we really think that in our brief slice on Earth we get to see the best and worst of it all?
It goes both ways. If you talk to some, every athlete is the best ever and every movie is the greatest. We take selfies with sandwiches knowing we’ve found the best one. We one-up our friends' stories---subtly implying that our experiences truly are the best. In the end, we’re left with a world that is great or terrible. Great sandwiches, great bike trails, great coffee shops, great Netflix shows, great date nights, terrible people, terrible politicians, terrible crime, terrible circumstances, and terrible everything. It can all be a bit dramatic.
I’m exhausted just making the list. The good news is that it’s totally bogus. Most things in our lives are not totally great or absolutely terrible. Most life events are just fine. They are no reason to pull out the helium balloons and kazoos and also no reason to put on a sweatsuit and spend the weekend sulking. The Bible is the story of a great God who works in ordinary lives. God’s best work is usually somewhere in the middle. We are at our best when we have the grace to appreciate God’s goodness and the resilience to work through difficulties. It’s rarely great and terrible.
How do we avoid the extremes of viewing everything as great or terrible? We learn to live within our circumstances with joy. This fruit of the Spirit frees us from the burden of thinking everything must be the best or that every hardship is the worst. Paul says, “for I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Phil. 4:11). He wrote this from prison. He even goes as far as saying he can be content in the midst of persecution and hardship (2 Cor. 12:10). This isn’t just about hardship, though. The writer of Hebrews says that contentment will free us from the love of money (Heb. 13:5). That makes sense, when we get addicted to something, the mere thought of not having more makes us feel totally deprived.
It’s really important that Christians practice contentment in all circumstances. We know not to overreact to the bad things and not to get too proud over the good things. Our hope and joy in the resurrected Christ brings security in something so much more than daily ups and downs. We have an eternal hope in a promise that will never “perish, spoil, or fade” (1 Pet. 1:4).
It’s the best.