As a few of them were talking about the workload and the pressure, I could feel my own pressure rise. I recalled the years in college and graduate school where I felt enormous pressure to do it all: get good grades, learn all I could, build a resume. I miss those days sometimes, with the friendships forged over late night projects, the passion borne of challenge, the thrill of learning in that concentrated way. But I would never return to the stress of feeling like everything I did was up for evaluation and would be distilled to a letter on a grade report or a line on a resume.
Take writing. In school nearly all my writing was, literally, an academic exercise. Now I write for real audiences. The words (hopefully) are read by more than just one professor. You'd think I'd stress waaay more now than then. But I don't. There's a bit of stress, yes, but nothing like before.
In grad school I once nearly made myself ill plotting out an environmental audit that would never be implemented for a class assignment. In comparison, I hardly stressed at all about my church's real environmental audit and how to implement the changes.
Hearing these students talk, I was reminded that in the world of academics and the grind of American ladder-climbing, there's little space for grace.
In the world as I live it now, grace is everywhere. As one parishioner kindly said to me after I preached a sub-par sermon recently: doesn't Sarah Scherschligt get an off day sometimes?
We do - we all get off-days! In real life, there are do-overs. There is no permanent record. The voices that tell us otherwise are very loud, but they don't belong to our forgiving, loving God.
I sense that for some of the youth of our congregation, that sense of grace is missing from their daily lives.
The pressure cooker takes them young. A pre-school teacher just told me he has parent teacher conferences coming up. He has to evaluate his students progress in 163 categories. These are 4-yr olds.
I see the benefit of all this for helping kids reach their full potential and serve in the best capacity. But what's the cost of constant scrutiny and evaluation?
I'm grateful to be out of that grind. And I wish I'd been a strong enough person to realize the role my ego and perfectionism had in putting me in the grind to begin with. I envied those who could enjoy life despire constant evaluation.
Now, probably because I've heard it so strongly in my life, I find myself just wanting to say to these students: God makes a future out of failure. You are loved no matter the grade. Grace is real.