For some of you, just seeing the word makes you cringe. The bottom of your stomach drops and you being to feel a wave of nauseousness move over you. Your palms begin sweating and suddenly you’re asking yourself if you remember the deodorant today.
This grade card phenomenon is new to me. As a student, I loved learning and enjoyed both the academic and social aspect of education. I looked forward to grade card day with hopeful anticipation. It was one of the four days a year that I felt pretty good about my life. I remember one day in third grade when I was going home with a friend for the first time to spend the night and celebrate her birthday. Her birthday was at the end of October – which was also the end of the first quarter. When we got off the lengthy bus ride that took us to the middle of the nowhere, my friend’s mother quickly asked to see her girls’ grade cards. She was probably just being kind and wanted to show some interest in my life when she asked if I wanted to share my grade card with her. Of course I did! I remember the way Mrs. Abney looked at me. There was a new respect (and a bit of a surprise) in her eyes. It was one of the first times I realized that my grades impacted how people viewed me. And I liked it.
I’m not sure when it happened, or how exactly, but at some point I began to look at my relationship with God like I looked at my relationship with my grade card. I was convinced that if I did well enough, then God must look down at me with that same fondness that I saw when people looked at my grade card. The problem came when I became discouraged because the daily grade card from God wasn’t as unblemished as my report card from school. Not even close.
I kept down that path of do good, get good for a long time. Years. Decades. It wasn’t until real adversity hit my life that I threw my hands up and realized this paradigm with God was getting me nowhere good. It was a rat race I would never win. I was never going to get the grade I wanted. I’m incapable of it. Eventually I’m learning to let go and rest in the truth that I can accomplish nothing inherently good apart from God. Without God, I am just a tired, judgmental soul, trying to justify my existence and worth by comparing it to the people around me.
My kids, particularly my son, have also helped reshaped by views of grade cards, but the transformation has been slow and painful. If getting good grades was one BIG way I found value in my life, how could I NOT transfer that paradigm on to them, even if I knew it was flawed. More importantly, how could I help them see that my love, nor God’s love, is ever dependent on their doing good, but that honoring God with the talents and opportunities He gives us is always appropriate? How do we find that healthy medium in life?
Parenting is hard. I mess it up – every single day. I lose patience. I start measuring my kids worth by their grades and how their accomplishments stack up to their peers. I tell them all I ask is for them to do their best and then secretly wonder what the high end of their best might be – so I can expect that! If you think I set my self up for disappointment and conflict with my kids, you’re right. I hate it that you’re right, but you are.
I try to explain that my heart is just for them to have the best that this world has to offer. I want them to open doors for themselves. Create opportunities. Make an impact in the world. I do want these things, and there is nothing inherently bad in any of them. But the question I have to remind myself of every single day is, “Don’t I want more for my kids than the best this world has to offer?” And the answer is a loud and resounding, “YES!”
My son is that kid who has visible contempt in his eyes with the mention of grade cards. I am partially to blame. I spent much too much of his life pleading with him to do homework, all the while telling him that what I wanted most for him in life was to have a personal relationship with our Creator. I said one thing was most important and then spent way too much time focusing on all the ways my son could do better.
You see, it’s the much of the same lesson I used to scold myself with. Do good; get good. I look back now and wonder how different things would be if I would have spent more time sharing how much God loved Matthew instead of how much God expected of him. I wonder if I should have spent more time sharing stories from the Bible of one imperfect person after another – all used by God in amazing ways. What difference could that have made in his life?
Reminding myself that the world grades on a curve that is completely different than God’s grading system is always a good thing for me. Because in that truth, I am reminded that God not only gave me the prize (which is so much better than a silly A), but he even went to class and did the work for me to get it! What a gift. An underserving, amazing gift!