At my children’s elementary school, several younger grades are transitioning to a grade system that is not based on numbers that relate to A+ all the way to F. Instead, each student is tested on specific skill sets and it is determined if s/he has mastered (M) the skill or is progressing (P) with the skill. Lots of kids get “P”s. Lots of kids get “M”s. I asked one of the (awesome amazing) administrators at the school what educators think of this model of evaluation, and she said she loves it. Her heart breaks that any six-year-old (who is still learning how to do school) might ever feel like she or he is a “56” or an “F” student. She wants young kids to realize that they are all progressing in school, learning new things, some at different rates (especially in the beginning years). She never wants bad grades to impact their identity or diminish their desire to learn. I listened to her speak so passionately about wanting kids to love to learn, believe in their abilities, and not be discouraged by a bad grade. And my heart sang—not just for my kids who go to this school, but also for myself.
Because I do the very exact same thing in my own heart. When I feel like I’ve failed God, when I feel the conviction of selfishness or criticism or disobedience enter my heart, my flesh wants to fall apart because I have failed God. I have failed to perfectly live out the mission God has given me. I have failed to perfectly illuminate the light of Jesus into a broken and dark world. I got an F. My pride literally stings on the inside. And I wonder, maybe I didn’t just get an F, maybe I am a failure, a big ugly pile you can just label “disappointment.” I’m focusing on the wrong thing.
You think I’m being dramatic. I seriously am not exaggerating my heart-state in moments of conviction. I take what the Spirit means to be a nudge in the right direction, a tug toward repentance and right relationship, and I fall apart because I feel like I should know better, I feel like I should BE better, I feel like I should ACT better—and I screwed up and oh pitiful me. What if people who expect me to be a good Christian knew just how bad my heart really is? Down the drain goes my witness! Buh-bye now.
The reality is that God, loving and kind and omniscient, already knew I was going to screw up, be selfish, be prideful, be disobedient. He already knows all these things about me. I am not a mystery to Him. And in my fleshly body, He put His Holy Spirit, a counselor and comforter. God wants me to love learning from Him. He delights in me when I come to Him with something I don’t know or something I’m not good at, and He can say, “Here. Let’s work on that together.”
When my kids don’t get something right on a paper or a test, they have a teacher or parent who comes alongside them and helps them understand their mistakes and they make corrections. They learn. They are progressing. They get a P. They don’t get labeled a “failure” because they haven’t mastered a skill set. In the same way, when I fall short of God’s standard, He looks at me with full knowledge that I am a work in progress. I am very literally progressing. I get a P. I haven’t mastered walking perfectly with God, loving perfectly, laying down my life perfectly, being perfectly patient…goodness. It’s a lot of lessons. Learning how to love isn’t always easy. And we are incapable of mastering any of it by our own strength. God knows this.
Our Teacher models love for us perfectly. Jesus gives us new mercies every morning and grace all throughout each day. He’s made a way for us to advance through life based on the perfect 100s that He got. All I have to do is let Him love me—soaking in His love so that I’m so full of Him I can’t help loving Him back and loving others too—and keep kneeling before Him about my Ps. God doesn’t love me or not love me because of a straight-A report card. He loves me because I’m His daughter. God’s love is NOT conditional. Just like my kids can bring home report cards full of Fs or Ps or As, the letter doesn’t matter—I’m their mother. I love them. My identity as a daughter of the living God is what defines me, not any “letter” that measures the level of my imperfection.
God’s love is NOT conditional.
If you are feeling discouraged because there is something in your heart that you know isn’t right or you feel like you get convicted over and over again for the same thing, please don’t lose hope. God is in this thing with you for the long haul. His grace is powerful and He does not squander it on you. You are progressing, just like every other person on this earth. We may all be on different places along the path, but not one single Christian has fully arrived. I am not a failure in God’s eyes, I am progressing—though some days it feels like the finish line will never ever come into view. One day, you will earn an M for that thing that wrecks your flesh right now. You will earn an M because Jesus made it possible and HE will do it in your life. He will make it possible for you to excel in that thing your flesh fights. Then there will be something new to master.
Our Ps keep us humble, keep us teachable, keep us learning and growing. Take your imperfect ways to the feet of Jesus and let Him work. Our Ps are where the power of Christ lives. And that’s a good thing.
“But Jesus said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12: 9-10 ESV