Final Exam

Something I read the other day prompted me to think back on REPORT CARDS.

Remember those?

I was never what you’d call a brilliant student, so I anticipated REPORT CARD DAY with no small degree of anxiety. 

  • Had I done enough extra credit work in English to make up for that test I did so poorly on? 
  • Will the cumulative value of my Math homework help keep me firmly ensconced in the “C” range? 
  • And how about that big History test that the teacher hadn’t finished grading yet? How would THAT factor in to my overall mark?

Report card day was always a day of emotional turmoil. First there was the shock/surprise/delight/embarrassment of opening the envelope and reading your grades for the first time. 

Then came the REAL fun; the torture chamber of taking that card home and discussing it with mom and dad. And there was no evading that part of the process. Somehow, they always knew the exact day report cards were coming out. 

And naturally, they asked about it as soon as I got home. 

I distinctly remember my youthful brain thinking, “When I grow up, I won’t have to do this anymore. Someday there won’t be these stupid REPORT CARDS!”

Well, friends… here I sit at the ripe old age of 70 and I can confidently report to you that that glorious day has still not come. Report cards have continued to haunt me every step along the way.

  • Of course, I had report cards in college.
  • Every job interview after college was a report card… either marked “PASS” or “FAIL.”
  • Semi-annual (or even more regular) evaluations by my work supervisor on the job were just like report cards.
  • Every one of my attempts to call a young woman on the phone and ask her out on a date were excruciatingly nerve-wracking report cards. Again, it was either “PASS,” or “FAIL.”
  • Seminary was CHOCK-FULL of report cards!
  • After seminary I received instantaneous report cards in the handshake line after church for every sermon I ever preached. 
    • (The United Methodist Church also has this group of lay people called the Staff/Parish Relations Committee whose job was to meet with me and issue regular report cards on the entirety of my pastoral performance.)

And here is the startling news I have for you today; even though I am now fully retired and “living the dream,” as my friend Herndon says, the report cards continue. 

Some originate right here in my own brain. Granted, they are not marked “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” or “F,” but they can have the same effect as if they were. After even a casual conversation with another person, my brain will ask, “So, Russell… how do you think that went? Were you as honest, as entertaining, as compassionate, and as alert as you needed to be?” I grade my driving, I grade my grooming, I grade my health, I grade my sportsmanship, I grade my blogging, and so on. There are very few things about me that escape my diligent evaluation.

Sometimes the report card is issued by Joan… my loving spouse of 21 years. She is usually gentle and grades on a generous curve, but still; I don’t ever expect to get away with turning in slipshod work. 

And so, it is in the harsh glare of that relentlessly evaluative ecosphere I inhabit that I gratefully collapse into the grace-filled arms of Christ. There, I am received… fully, faithfully, lovingly… just as I am. I don’t have a performance chart to measure up to. I don’t have a raise hanging in the balance. There is nothing additional I can earn here by virtue of a superior performance.

Jesus turns to me and says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven…” (Luke 6:37, NRSV). 

And it is then that I remember – and give thanks for – the words of that old spiritual; “Just as I am without a plea.”

God stamped “A+” on my forehead in invisible ink before I drew my first breath. And even though I fall short of the mark every single day of my life, He does not change my grade – or yours either.

Hallelujah for that!

Abundant blessings;

5 Responses to “Final Exam”

  1. January 31, 2022 at 10:26 pm

    Amen! It’s so hard to tune out that voice from the enemy (the “accuser”) that constantly tells us we aren’t enough. No, on our own, we aren’t, but the good news is, as believers we’re NEVER on our own.

  2. February 3, 2022 at 2:58 am

    Russell, this is beautiful! I love how you weaved report cards and our own self-grading to the fact that God has marked us with an A+! It’s so true. It’s easy in a world full of expectations with evaluations to get lost in the “should be, could be, may be,…better!” But to God, we are perfect. I can still hear my family singing “Just As I Am” and still know every verse~and to many other hymns. I’ll stand in that faith with you! So you know, on another note, I’ve been trying to get to you for over an hour. I don’t know why you won’t appear in my daily reading! And it’s making me fill out my name and website and such! I’m having such difficulties with WP and certain followers and those I’m following! My apologies!! God bless you! Stay safe and blessed! Both of you!

    • February 3, 2022 at 4:43 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, Karla. I suspect you’ve had similar issues with “report cards” in your life, too. Thank God we have each made a connection with the One whose grade really matters. I am so sorry you’ve had these issues with WordPress. I tried multiple times to comment on your last post with no success. I am so glad you persisted and made this comment, which, by the way, showed up in a really strange format. This gives me a chance to thank you for reminding me (us) about the many gifts of February which too often go unnoticed and unacknowledged. You are the reigning and undisputed Queen of the Alliteration!
      Keep blogging, keep praying, keep “faithing,” and I will keep trying to comment on this silly WordPress platform.

  3. February 3, 2022 at 10:05 pm

    Yes, yes, and Amen. Thank you for His grace. We are so incredibly tough with our self-evaluations.

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