This week I had the opportunity to write for the weekly ‘Christian Comment’ section of the local paper.
I still remember the day well.
I don’t think I slept much the night before, and I definitely couldn’t face my Weetabix. Then there was the drive to school – it seemed to take ages, despite Mum’s smalltalk. Finally we arrived, and one of the teachers handed me that white A4 envelope with my name on. One way or another, it felt like this one envelope was going to dictate my future. I think it took me about a minute to get it open.
The Day of Dread
Exam results day. Whether it was GCSEs this past Thursday, or A Levels the week before, it often casts its shadow over the rest of the summer. Maybe that was the case for you this year, or for someone you love? Of course, for some all the dread will quickly be forgotten once the envelope gets opened. Instead, there’s relief, elation, joy. For others though, there will be crushing disappointment, anxiety and uncertainty. What happened?! What now? What next?
But whether you were happy with your results or whether you weren’t, the temptation will always be to think that it’s these grades that define us. As if it was these letters and numbers, whether they’re A’s or U’s (or the new 9’s or 1’s) that are the ultimate measure of my value and worth.
The Pressure to Achieve
And when you stop and think about it, this isn’t an experience that’s limited to getting your exam results. All too often life itself feels like one long exam; one long attempt to prove yourself, with the world keeping score. Even for those of us whose academic exams seem many light years ago, the reality is we can still feel the relentless pressure to perform and achieve. We measure ourselves against our peers or against what we feel the media is telling us we need to live upto, and frankly it can be exhausting.
So where does this leave us? Are we left to just navigate ourselves through this endless and restless obstacle course of defining ourselves by what we can achieve? What resources might Christianity bring to the table in the midst of all this?
You Are Not Your Grades
At the heart of the Christian faith is the foundational belief that we are not the sum of our achievements. You are not defined by what letters or numbers are found in that envelope. Sure, to some degree they have a say in what opportunities might present themselves over the next few years (although I’m always struck by hearing the stories of those who felt they did pretty badly in exams, but then life took them happily in a direction they’d never have expected).
But ultimately our identity is found in something deeper, something more fundamental and solid. Christianity is about the staggering news that we have been made by a personal God. And not only that, but that this God has given his own life to connect us back to him. Whether we’re top of the class or failing spectacularly, the invitation of his love is as necessary and certain for each of us. It’s an offer to see that the marks that really matter, the marks that define us, are not our exam grades, but the love-shaped marks in Jesus’ hands.
Now, I reckon that’s an envelope worth opening.
Inspired by the video, Ticking Boxes, by Dave Crofts.