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June 23, 2019

A young friend who is going to a Bible college shared an interesting story with me that I think is worth retelling.

In one of her classes, the professor announced at the beginning of the first class session that they would be observing the greatest theological construct as the motive in his class.  Even in the grading.  “Everyone has an A,” he announced.  “Out of gratitude for this and love for me because I have set this as the structure, there’s only one reason to do the work I assign in this class, and really only one reason for me to give you an A.  It’s love.”

Dozens of times through the semester he would ask, “Do you love me?”  He gave assignments and would ask, “Do you love me?”  Love was the motivation – the only legitimate motivation – for doing the work associated with the assignment.  All the reading, all the writing, all the showing up for class was to be motivated by love.  Every student already had been given an “A.”  Earning grade, then, didn’t need to motivate the work.  That wasn’t needed.  The outcome was already set.

Many young people who go to Bible college are performance-oriented.  Some are performance-driven, but don’t see this in themselves.  And, frankly, many Bible colleges are built (in some cases, unintentionally) to promote this.  The message many young students have picked up from their upbringing and church experience is, “Try harder.  Work harder.  God will love you more if you do.”  It’s a very broken message, but one that lots of us heard.  In Bible college, sometimes making good grades and by this proving that you’re a serious student can be equated with being serious about your faith and devotion to Christ.

Let me be clear that this is not the case with every Bible college student or Bible college.  It happens, though.  And sometimes people go to Bible college because they want to be really serious about God, and going there proves how serious they about this.

It turns out my young friend was one of these people, but didn’t know it.  Her moment of self-discovery came when it was time for the final exam in this class.  The night before, she had dutifully spent 3 hours studying and pouring over her class notes to prepare for the exam.  When she sat down in her classroom the next morning, she was ready to speed through the final and make a stunningly good grade.

The professor passed out the exam, face-down.  “Please don’t turn your papers over until I tell you to,” he instructed.  This is nothing too out of the ordinary in the world of test-taking.  Nobody thought much about it.

“Now, turn your exams over,” he said.  The papers rippled.  And then there was a nearly unison gasp.  Every answer to every question on the examination was answered.

“Now wait just a minute!” my friend thought.  “I burned up three hours of my life studying this last night!  I said no to a ton of more fun things so I could sit at my desk and do all this studying!  I did all the homework all semester long.  I took notes – lots of notes! – and paid attention in class.  How dare you fill in the blanks!”  She actually went through the exam marking all the answers.  There was just something in her that just couldn’t accept that she didn’t have to take the test.

And then it hit her.  It was the most profound lesson from the entire class, and maybe the most profound one of her life.  She would get an A that she didn’t work for.  She had been diligent to do all the work in the class, but if she hadn’t have, she would still have been given an A.  That did not compute.  Because the rest of her life had taught her that she had to perform to be acceptable.  And, boy, did she want to be acceptable.  She had learned that the best insurance for being accepted was to over-perform.  And so she did in every area she could.

But this class (a required one) had broken with her long-ingrained paradigm for how life worked.  And when it did that, it broke her.  “It ruined me,” she told me.  She left the class and made a bee-line for the farthest stall in the bathroom and cried for 25 minutes.  Cleansing tears.  Tears of brokenness.

I wonder if God would have said to her in the bathroom, “You’re good with me, girl.  I’ve wanted you to find this out since before you were born.  This is why I arranged for you to be in this class this semester.”  Then He would have drawn her into the strongest of embraces and showered her with kisses.  Pardon me for anthropomorphizing God.

To bend C.S. Lewis’ words in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe a little, this is the “deep magic.”  The power and work of God’s grace is mysterious.  It makes so little sense.  It goes against the grain of almost everything most of us have been taught and have experienced in our lives.  It seems too good to be true.  But it is true.

What if your family ran on grace instead of performance?  What if everybody in your family knew that they’ve already got an A?  What if everybody knew that they were accepted and acceptable?

Are you kidding?!  How will I get anybody to do stuff around here?!  If I didn’t crack the whip, nobody’d do anything around here.

OK, I get that.  I’m not talking about raising slugs and sloths – irresponsible and inconsiderate little tyrants.  I’m talking about teaching our kids (and maybe our spouses…) to do things because of love.  Duty doesn’t go away.  It gets re-framed in grace.

Books have been written about this.  There’s obviously a LOT more that could be written or said about how families can live in grace.  All I want to do with this little blog is to tickle your brain to begin thinking about what you could do to re-frame your family life around grace instead of performance.  What that looks like, exactly, is different from family to family, because every family is different.  The principle remains firm, though: grace is the way and love is the motive.  What you do with that principle has to be fluid.  So don’t get locked down trying to do all the right things so that you’ll measure up and be a grace family.  That will backfire on you, and you’ll get pretty much the opposite of what you want.  If you don’t treat yourself with grace you’ll never be able to treat your family with grace.  This re-framing thing will become another (even more toxic) way to try to perform so God and everybody else will like you.  That won’t work.

You’ve already got an A.  Live out of that, not in order to get it.

 

From → Marriage

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