That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” -Mark 4:35-41
For quite a while, I have prided myself on my ability to balance a hectic schedule while still getting good grades in school. My mom always says that I am not happy unless I’m going 90 MPH with my hair on fire, and she’s right! (Now I’ve got the song by Alicia Keys, Girl on Fire, stuck in my head. The only problem is, the only words I know are, “This girl is on fire!” and “She’s just a girl and she’s on fire!”)
Anyway, I thrive on being busy. But I am a perfectionist and a procrastinator, which is an unfortunate combination.
I tend to measure my worth by how well I do in classes. To me, anything less than an A is unacceptable. I guess I’ve not had a class at Houghton yet where I’ve felt that a B was the best I could do. (Now, that would be an entirely different story if I was taking any hard science or math courses, like calculus or physics. In that case, I probably wouldn’t be capable of getting more than a B, and that’s if I put all of my effort into achieving a B. Reason #57 why I am not a math or science major!) However, I have not gotten all A’s…I’ve gotten two A-’s and a B+ so far, and I was fairly nearly devastated by those marks. You see, school is something I’ve always felt confident in. Even when I was at my sickest (during high school), I knew that I could do well in my classes, even without studying. So when I am in a class that I know I should be able to get an A in, and I don’t, I feel like I failed at the one thing I’m good at.
This semester seems like my hardest yet. I feel like I’m burning out academically, and I’m only a sophomore! I don’t think the work is necessarily harder, or that I have more of it than I have had previously. I’m not really any busier this semester than I was in my other semesters. I think this semester is harder simply because I have been living in a constant state of high stress for my entire time at Houghton, and it’s finally catching up to me. I really want to graduate summa cum laude, and I’ve put so much pressure on myself to succeed that I have become completely overwhelmed. When I feel overwhelmed, I tend to procrastinate. The more I procrastinate, the more stressed and overwhelmed I feel. The more stressed and overwhelmed I feel, the worse I perform academically. The worse I perform academically, the more pressure I put on myself to do better on the next assignment or test. It’s a vicious cycle that I can’t seem to break free from. To be honest, the idea of quitting has definitely crossed my mind. I could just go back home, save a boatload of money on school loans, get a job, pay off my current debt, and hopefully live with a little less stress. I would have failed myself, sure, but at least I wouldn’t be killing myself!
But then, I read a passage from Scripture like Mark 4:35-41, and I am reminded of God’s presence, of His sovereignty, of His holiness, of His power, of His love… I can totally relate to those disciples. I am in the midst of an overwhelming storm that is threatening to overtake me, and it feels like Jesus is completely oblivious to my plea for peace. Too often, I forget who’s in control. I forget that no matter what is going on in my life or in the lives of those I love – be it illness, financial struggles, quarrels, or periods of extreme stress – that God is STILL in control. Instead of trusting God with my life, I try to take control of the circumstances in life that I have no control over. I put pressure on myself to be perfect, which is completely unattainable and simply leads to more stress. I measure my worth by my academic achievements, and I forget what is most important:
Loving God and loving others.
Serving God and furthering His Kingdom.
I am reminded of these things by verses like Matthew 6:31-34: So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:34-40
And about a million others!
You see, Jesus loves me regardless of my actions, of my academic performance, of my achievements on the field hockey or lacrosse fields. He loves me freely, and all He asks is that I love Him back. Sure, I feel that God is leading me towards clinical psychology. I’m not doubting that I’m supposed to be at Houghton. I’m not doubting that I am supposed to put my best effort forth in whatever I do. But all of my actions on this earth are for God, so that more may know Him. Colossians 3:23-24 says, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. If God wants me to be a psychologist, I will get there. I don’t have to have perfect grades in order to reach that goal. A wise person once told me, “Yes, you’re supposed to do your best. But your best changes depending on the circumstances.” She was basically saying that my best isn’t always going to be an A, and that’s okay. If I’ve got three tests in the same week, I may only be able to get an A on one of them. Perhaps I could get an A in all of my classes if I wasn’t playing sports and had more time to study, but I do play sports and doing so has allowed me to make some great friends, is a stress-reliever, and has given me the opportunity to be an ambassador for Christ on the field.
All this to say…(drum roll, please!)…I give myself permission to get a B (or even a C) in a class.
There. I can’t believe I said that. I just gave myself permission not to be perfect. The fact of the matter is, I’m not perfect and I never will be.
That’s not to say that I’m abandoning my academic goals, but if I don’t reach them, I am not a failure and it’s not the end of the world. God doesn’t care what grades I get. He only cares that I work hard, that I put Him first, that I seek Him above all else, that I love… It’s all for Him.