Monday, April 04, 2005

Report Cards

They came in the mail on Saturday. The boys' report cards. I'm not sure why they mail them instead of just sending them home with the kids. Possibly because Friday was April Fool's Day and who can believe a low grade on an April Fool report card? More likely the school realizes how many papers sent home with my boys never see the light of day in this house. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth to get a lunch menu out of those two. So the wisdom of the school board prevailed. The cards got mailed.

The boys were anxious to see them. They have each been good students, but this time around each one was worried about seeing a "C" where Mom and Dad were looking for a different letter. As it turned out, the grades were all A's and B's for each of them. Fist pumping celebration ensued as I read them their grades. One more grading period to go for the year.

I remember waiting to see my report card as a kid. The grades were always good, but I think it was just a time for a little affirmation. Like most anybody, I liked hearing when I did a good job. And I knew the report card would be an honest indicator -- no "making me feel good" if I didn't deserve it. I kept that attitude on into high school. I set a goal of getting a perfect 4.0 grade point average for high school. And for two and a half years I managed to keep getting A's.

Then as a Junior, I was enrolled in a journalism class in my small high school. The class' responsibility was to publish the school paper. Six of us did all the work with a teacher advisor occasionally showing up to take the proofs to the printer. I'm not sure he ever read the articles or noticed the sometimes off-color captions for the pictures. My job was sports editor. It wasn't too difficult, but it was a job I had to do most every day since there was always a team doing something the day before. When I got my first report card grade for Journalism it was a "B". I asked the other five and everyone else got A's. So I asked the teacher who told me that I got a lower grade than everyone else because the sports page was always the last one turned in. I tried to explain that it was last because it had to include sports from the night before. Features could be a week old, but my part was always fresh. He didn't buy it. I'm not sure why. It was true, although if I would have been features editor I'm sure I would have waited until the last minute to turn it in too!

So with my "B" permanently on my record and my goal now unreachable, I relaxed and enjoyed myself for the rest of high school. And when I went to college and received a "C" in my first math class, the pressure was off. My grades were still good, but I didn't live and die by my grades. Sure, I knew exactly how to get good grades; what to parrot back to the prof to get a good score. But so much of my undergraduate work was so useless unless I stopped concentrating on getting a good grade and instead worked on learning something from the course. Cramming useless facts into my brain during Finals Week was a futile exercise, and I finally figured that out. Then when I went to grad school some twelve years later, I fought off the urge again to parrot back the right answers and instead tried to learn practical lessons. I better understood the point of a grading system and used it to improve how I learned, not to try to simply get an "empty A". I'm very grateful that the curriculum was practically oriented, not just "book learning."

I suppose it will be a bit like hearing a report card read when I stand in judgment before God. Like a report card, I will be given an honest indication of how I performed for my Creator. The good fruit and the moldy peaches. The triumphs and the miserable, rebellious failures. Nothing will be held back. But I've been assured that there is no condemnation for those found in Christ Jesus. In other words, I can't flunk if I'm relying on Jesus. So while my rewards for obedience may be few or many, I know that the ultimate reward awaits me. I'll hear the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant," or something along those lines, and I'll take my place with the saints who have gone before me.

I think we can get a little too tied up sometimes in trying to merit a good grade from the people around us. We know what to say to get people to be impressed with us. We can parrot back what people want to hear. Then we'll hear the affirmation we crave so much. But at what cost? I can't allow myself to put on a Christian front instead of truly living out my faith. Grades given by people who don't really know me cannot be my main concern. Sure it's nice to be nice. It's great to serve other people. But my first priority must be my relationship with God. I need practical learning from my Savior.

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