I am amazed by you guys and the amount that you can shoulder. Especially the expectations of people around you: Your families. Your school. Your community. Your selves. You have high standards for yourselves and for good reason. There’s a verse in Matthew which says the door to heaven is narrow and few will pass through. Mmmm, clearly Matthew hasn’t tried to get into UVA. Be it UVA, or W+L or wherever you dream of going, you are working hard. And it’s amazing to watch.
If there was a way to measure who you are in your heart of hearts, colleges would likely prefer it. But for now, there isn’t. So they ask for your work product. And the more the better.
They measure you by what you can do, what you can show. Your test scores, your essays, your extracurriculars. And it’s not just college admissions which will use work product to measure you.
After college, we are told over and over that who we are is what we do for work and not only that but how well we do it. We are what we produce. What we own.
Success in this age is almost synonymous with money. Almost.
There is another kind of success, one that is actually more closely tied to happiness. And it’s not about what we produce or earn or work for. It is internal, and spiritual. It lies in knowing who we are, not as the world defines us but as God sees us.
Thankfully, God does not measure us by the crude instruments that the world uses to measure us. And they are crude. They are inaccurate.
There is a wonderful passage in Jeremiah, where God says “I know you. Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart” (1:5).
Whether you have been measured with compliment or criticism, praise or ridicule, that is not who you are. Brilliant, which many of you are. Athletic, which many of you are. In God’s eyes, that is not who you are. Not really.
Likewise, some of you have been cut down. You have been underestimated and told you won’t amount to much. That there is something wrong with you. In God’s eyes, that is not who you are, either. Who you are at your deepest, is holy.
And you guys tell me often about how you tap into that. It is often outside, on the woods, or on the water, or laying flat on your back on a clear night. You hear it in music. On long bike rides. In prayer.
A feeling that washes over you, even for a moment, that says everything is good. You are good. It’s marked by a deep awareness that you are blessed. It’s in the lightness of knowing you are loved. It’s knowing, I mean really knowing, you are not the worst of what people say about you and neither are you the best. Like Gray said last week: we learn to refrain from getting too low or too high.
Sometimes the hardest thing is to be known as the straight A student. Ha! I know, poor guys with perfect GPA’s. But the pressure to maintain high grades is hard, especially the self-imposed pressure that comes with defining ourselves by that golden ring. That we won’t be quite ourselves if our GPA falls. It can be terrifying.
And it’s just as hard, when we feel like we can’t shake the reputation of being the kid who can’t or won’t get the A. A disappointment from outside we wear on the inside that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s like a heavy wet blanket we can’t crawl out from underneath.
Fellas–your grades are important. But you are not your grades. You are not your work product. You are not the college you get into nor the one you don’t get into. You are so much more than all of that.
Don’t take my word for it. Take time to listen carefully to the beautiful things. To good music, to prayers, to scripture, to wind, and rain, listen to the space between the words. Listen to long silence. Look at a painting for a long time. God speaks into all of it. God uses it all.
Scripture and wise people say that God is speaking to us all the time. It is we who fail to hear. And what he is telling us is who we are. Listen and you will hear: You are beloved. You are precious. You are wonderfully made. You are exactly how you are meant to be.
We are right on the edge of this incredible season called Advent. It’s four weeks in which we are invited to practice waiting on God. And it ends with the most improbable and impossible thing which is God is born. Emmanuel. Divinity within humanity. Not just 2000 years ago. But if we wait long enough, in you, and me.
I don’t think any of us are very good at waiting. If you are good at it, come see me and teach me, please! Most of us reach for things the instant we crave them. And living with the relative comforts we do, most everything we need is within reach. And yet, some things still remain beyond our reach.
And like a high peak, those are very much worth the effort to reach. If you are not one to pray, there’s no harm in trying. Trust me, it is perfectly safe. And if you don’t get an answer, it means you need to wait.
Wait to be reminded who and whose you are. Wait to be shown what makes you valuable in ways others can’t see. Wait to know the kind of love you haven’t known in this life. Advent is that time.
Take the time. And especially as you are studying and prepping for exams. Do the work because it’s why you are here and do your best because you can (and it always feels oh so good to prove our critics wrong).
But however they turn out, remember your grades are not who you are. Listen to the one who knows you better than any of us will ever know you. The one who says, “I know you. Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart”.