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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Practice Satisficiency

Behold an apt word: satisfice. A First Evaner recently introduced me to it, finding it featured in a magazine blurb she cut out for me. She knows I love portmanteaus (the fusion of two or more words into one new word). Satisfice combines “satisfy” and “suffice,” so satisficing is going with what’s good enough amid available options rather than requiring the best or maximal option.

The word satisfice does not appear in the beat-up dictionary I keep on my desk, a one volume Oxford American Dictionary. It does, however, appear in the multivolume Oxford English Dictionary. Although it’s limited in its range I am satisficed with my Oxford American Dictionary, not having the shelf space or the inclination to spend the money for the optimal linguistic heft of the Oxford English Dictionary. What is regarded the best among available options is not always needed. I would use the Oxford English Dictionary if I had it, but mostly it would be bibliophile d├ęcor. It’s not really necessary to me and if I did have it I would be tempted to troll for obscure words with which to pepper my conversations when the Oxford American Dictionary is much more salt of the earth.

Being satisfied with what’s sufficient isn’t to be confused with preference for mediocrity or acceptance of shoddiness or the inertia of complacency. These are each one bad to masquerade as contentment. Genuine contentment is, more or less, satisfaction with the sufficient, and neither satisfaction nor sufficiency is opposed to excellence.

The bane of excellence is not contentment but overconfidence. Too many define and model a pursuit of excellence that puts the premium on never being satisfied. Satisfaction with what’s sufficient is thus equated with status quo. We get this understanding more from American corporate culture and advertising, and it’s unrealistic.

“Satisficiency” is not a form of satisfice the Oxford English Dictionary grammarians will recognize. I offer it anyway in the interests of practicing satisficiency, which begins with welcoming one’s limits. Yes, welcoming—being at home with, living in and among, familial familiarity. Limits keep you and me mindful of our humanness; that not one of us is omni-anything. Every human being has limits and this is by God’s design. Even when we team with others to merge our best efforts together in collective pursuit of excellent outcomes our team is still limited.

Welcoming limits offsets the guilt complex many of us indulge. That nagging sense of not doing enough for God or others is mitigated. I can’t do everything, of course. But nor is everything I can do done equally well all at once or all the time. By God’s grace and enabling what I can do here and now will be good enough. To be satisficed with that does not mean I honor inefficiency or passivity. Something can still be effective even if it doesn’t look just like I planned it, hoped it, or expected it would. God doesn’t always work according to our scripted parts for Him anyway.

Many evangelical Christians, particularly the younger generations, are hearty, determined, and motivated to take risks in making a difference in the world, even changing it. There is relentlessness in evangelical resilience just because we know it is God who works in us, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). So we reverence those achievers among us earnestly taking God at His word, leading the visionary charge, aiming at the highest and best outcomes, and filling the rest of us with enthusiasm to join in.

But they and we don’t always hit where we aim or get what we want, nor should we. It is good for us at times to have setbacks, to have to redouble our efforts or reassess our approach. It can even be good for us to experience outright defeat or failure as these often accompany our growth in wisdom. It’s how God weeds our ambitions. This comes with welcoming limits and is part of the “good enough” that practicing satisficiency embraces.

So you put all that effort into doing something great for God’s glory but it didn’t come together like you expected or hoped? Was there nothing at all good about it or in it? Can you be satisficed with what was good and good enough instead of what was not or will not be? Is communion with God most important to you?

Can you find contentment in knowing who God is for you even if your efforts for Him fall short of your goals or aims? Is it not good enough for you to know God is for you whether you think your endeavor succeeded or stunk? This is the good enough of satisficed contentment. If God wastes nothing then there is something to take “satisficietion” in for just about anything.

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