Written for Makers Church
Jesus Doesn’t Grade on a Curve
My mom’s minivan was coated in bumper stickers. And when I say this, I mean only the same bumper sticker, over and over again. “My child is an outstanding student at T.L. Waggoner,” or something to that effect. Yeah, I was that kid. I came home with award after award: student of the month, citizen of the month, honor student in social studies and English and math, citizen of the year, junior high valedictorian, high school valedictorian. If you can’t tell that I, as the Enneagram politely says, have perfectionistic tendencies, you should probably reread that last sentence.
Achievement standards have always been a way that I have structured my world. They’ve brought an order of clarity to a complicated existence—to know I’m doing well I can confirm how much better I’m doing than everyone else. I’ve graded myself on a curve, doing whatever it takes to place my score on the highest percentile.
In my personal paradigm, excellence is the only method. The real battle was (is) letting the gospel recalibrate what excellence means. The metrics for success I hold onto—outperformance, efficiency, that covert sense of superiority—may be functional in a worldly sense, but they can actually ruin the kingdom God is bringing.
Jesus doesn’t grade on a curve and the Bible doesn’t lay out competitive metrics for fulfillment. In fact, when it comes to what it looks like to live a good life, the Bible is pointedly individual. The widow with the two coins is praised by Jesus for giving all that she had to give. Spiritual gifts are spread across a body with unique organs, not ranked on a power spectrum. We are called to do what we’re doing as it were unto the Lord, not to outdo each other.
For years, I’ve been working on rewiring myself to pursue God’s understanding of excellence. And oftentimes, this sense of excellence feels like a worldly failure. Jesus’s grace is so frequently at odds with my perfectionism. Self love and forgiveness are particularly challenging to swallow, but I’m chewing.
With a redefinition of excellence has come a whole new slew of goals. I want to be really good at my job, but I also want to be the kind of coworker who remembers to ask about how that thing went with your parents this weekend. I want to be an excellent magazine editor. And an excellent apologizer. I want to show up where I’m needed, not just for what I’m good at. And I want to forgive those who are having a hard time showing up.
But most of all, I am learning to forgive myself for everything I just can’t be. It’s taken a long time to learn that mimicking Jesus also means duplicating his love for me. I can bring everything I have to the table, and if that’s not enough, God fills in the gaps. And he fills in those gaps with all of you.
At Makers Church, excellence is our method because, together, we’re showing up. Growing up. Encouraging each other to give our very best without feeling any less than. Bravely trying new things and improving the old ones. Making room for achievement and for grace. Let’s put that on a bumper sticker.