Recently, I slipped up, big time! A kind of bloodhound at the financial gates of my company, I unwittingly allowed something pass under my radar which hurt my work place. When the news got to me, I was devastated! For someone who likes his work being above board (I am like a cat that purrs delightfully under the loving strokes of approval and appreciation), I found the whole thing utterly unbelievable.
Thing was, that day, I had been fasting and was going home after work to pray when the news exploded like a Molotov cocktail. Of course, I was so shattered, I could not pray. I apologized to God and resolved to do same to my MD when he came back from leave (I did and promised it would never happen again. Good-natured man that he is, I escaped lightly). Funny thing though, that evening turned out to be memorable because God turned the whole debacle into a learning curve for me. Right there and then, He started an expose, took me on a bible study course. During the class, I was weighed on the scales and found wanting. I looked at myself in the mirror of objectivity and did not like the ugly mug that showed up before me. By the time, He was done with me, different versions of the printed word where littered all over my room. It was quite an evening.
I realized that day that I had just been cruising through the motions; my work had become robotic and staid. My feelings did not get any better when My Rabbi took me on a long walk down the auto-biographical streets of Daniel. My face was rubbed into the pie of the man’s perfection especially where it was boldly written that his life was error free (here my jaw dropped….ERROR FREE???) and his colleagues could not fault him in any way. It was the excellent spirit that made him the preferred choice amongst presidents and kings.
The question then became, how does one become like Daniel? How do I live a life where the margins of my errors become almost nonexistent? No sooner had I asked this question than a bevy of beautiful ladies ran in dancing and frolicking in the courtyards of my mind. Dancing in cadence to the tambourines shaking and vibrating in their hands, they were the soul of merriment. The ladies chattered and sang a flock of beautiful singing birds.
The sun had gone to sleep and the moon brandished its radiant scimitar. Claiming its throne in the sky, it banished the shadows of the night into earthly nooks and crevices. The flames of the lamps the ladies carried danced and quivered under the fingers of the teasing breeze. They lit up the dark like fire flies, trying valiantly but failing to complete the work the moon could not totally accomplish.
There were ten of the rollicking maidens, virgins from their appearance. During the course of the night, they all ran out of oil and their lamps went out. I had observed earlier that five had extra containers which counted when the bridegroom came later than expected. By the time the other five came back from where they went to buy more, the invitations had run out. Not having extra fuel in their tanks meant they could not go the extra distance and cost them an entrance into the wedding they had been preparing months for. The chances of meeting their own grooms in such an august gathering got shot to smithereens. They wept so hard that night my heart broke for them but it was of no use. Months of expectation, excitement and preparation had come to naught. The milk was spilt, the boat had sailed. For a night agog with the sounds of ongoing celebration, it was paradoxically tragic for the unprepared maidens.
Unfortunately for them, they could not get some oil from their friends. Likewise, excellence is not transferable; you must have it for yourself. I noticed, the five wise virgins said the extra they had was not enough and it struck me here that you can never have a surfeit of excellence. Excellence is NEVER enough.
Another thing I learnt is that excellence is the oil that keeps your lamp burning long after the light of other peoples lamps have petered out. Ask the greatest companies in the world, they will tell you same. The fire of their brands is still shining brightly years after some of their competitors have gone the way of the dodo.
My eyes popped open. It dawned on me that the ten virgins were on a level playing field gunning for the same objective. They had the same strengths, virtue, sanctity, innocence, vigour and vitality. No one had an edge over the other. They had the same weaknesses; they all got tired and slept while waiting for the big one. (Sleeping means no matter how well prepared you are, life sometimes would get the better of you. You grow tired and weary. It just seems your efforts are not paying off).
The factors were constant for all except for a tiny variable; some went a bit further to carry some extra fuel. It would have been more inconvenient, more time consuming and costlier initially to buy and carry extra oil. Actually, if the bridegroom had come early, the wise ones would have turned out to be the dumb ones. However, carrying extra was a habitual lifestyle for the five wise virgins. In all fairness, I think it was a bit unfair to call the opposite ones foolish because they filled their tanks up to capacity. However, I guess life expects you to cover for all eventualities. It is that ability to be ready that actually qualifies you as wise. The ability to reach for something beyond the frontiers of the status quo is what makes one wise and vice versa. The wise virgins went beyond the limits of their tanks. They had more to give when the initial ran out. They had more capacity. EXCELLENCE IS ABOUT MORE! The foolish ones gave their best, the best one could do in those circumstances was fill your tank to the maximum. However, excellence trumps best. It goes farther and further than best. EXTRA IS THE KEY TO EXCELLENCE.
That was the crux of the message for me. My Teacher said, “Eze, for excellence to be attained, you must carry a smidgen more oil than everyone else”. It actually applies to every area of life whether it be spiritual, marital, financial, professional, a career, name it. For Daniel, his own journey of excellence started when he committed a little bit more to the laws he grew up as a child and refused to feast on Nebuchadnezzar’s royal fare while others were gorging themselves fat. Excellence was Daniel going a bit farther to pray even when there was a royal edict warning against that. Excellence was Daniel, studying to know when the Jews exile was supposed to end according to prophetic declaration and staying put on his knees to see that prophecy fulfilled. Daniels life was a collection of little parts that summed up into a total whole of excellence and that was why he outlasted three historical kings.
That evening, standing in the valley of my shortcomings (believe me, they are many), I looked up at the Everest of excellence and my heart palled. It would take every bit of dedication and commitment I have in me but I knew that when the Tsunami of mediocrity hits, it is only those at the summit of this mountain that would survive. It would be quite a daunting climb and it is not a journey I would want to do alone. Maybe, you would like to come with me. Oh….I forgot to mention…THERE IS GRACE….
Daniel 6:3 Then this Daniel was preferred above the presidents and princes, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king thought to set him over the whole realm.
The story of the ten virgins is in Matthew 25
© 2014 Ekpo Ezechinyere
All images from Google.