Life is not an exam


The exam was 120 pages long. 15 minutes remained and I had only completed two pages. I anxiously shushed my chattering classmates. I hadn’t even found the Greek section. All the questions I had seen on this final Greek exam were color photos of anatomy specimens to label and questions demanding diagnosis and treatment of a problem. I couldn’t remember any of the answers.

I was glad to wake from the dream, still more grateful to wake into the awareness that life is not an exam.

Oh, I often see through exam-colored glasses. I frame a decision as “figuring out what is right” rather than “choosing, with Jesus, how we will walk together through this next stretch of time.” Or, while writing about how life is not an exam, I catch myself worrying that I won’t be able to complete the post on time; that I won’t articulate it well; that, in one way or another, I will fail.

But life is not an exam. Not anymore. Not for those of us who are in Christ. He has taken the exam that none of us can pass and has written his own perfect score in red ink next to our names. But it’s much bigger than this, much more beautiful. We’re not merely given a passing grade; we’re invited into a whole new way of seeing, of being. This is no grade-on-a-curve competition, us against him and each other. Life now is not an exam but an invitation to oneness: “I in them and you in me” (John 17:23). It’s a welcome to lean in close and love and be loved.

Do you see? The point of the exam is not to pass it but to help us realize we can’t. Once it has led us to relationship it has done it’s job. It’s time then to let it go and trade in obsession with passing for enjoying the one who passed it for us so He could bring us close and give Himself to us as fully as He wants.

So what?

How might seeing life as an invitation to oneness rather than as an exam change our days?

This brain that has spent most of its years writing one set of exams after another needs to learn a whole new way to see. It struggles to find words to articulate a perspective that doesn’t revolve around right and wrong and accumulated points and success or failure. But here’s a start (with a hearty invitation to jump in in the comments and suggest other ways to speak this new perspective).

  • Instead of the end, failure becomes the beginning, instead of a door slammed, a welcome into a love that embraces us in our need. ‘Try harder” is transformed by “just come.” We come by saying “thank you.”
  • Inability now is not failure but invitation, and weakness the door to exploring His own strength.
  • Time is not a fearful opponent counting the minutes I have to complete the right answers. Instead, each moment is a fresh invitation to closeness, the next moment already full of the presence of Him who was and is and is to come and who eagerly waits for us to step into it and discover Him there.

I’d love to hear:  In what areas do you catch yourself seeing life as an exam? How might seeing life instead as a welcome to oneness change your days?


This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Klara van der Molen

    Your blog has touched a snare.Wether we are at work, sit on Boards, do things that need doing, we are often trying to pass an exam, hoping to have done the right thing, said the right words, and or wait for others to say we have done the right thing or said the right words, have made the right decision.More often then not we get a failing grade. It seems that often we not only give ourselves a failing grade, but allow others to give us the failing grade as well. We seem to forever be trying to pass the exam.
    I often come back to the first sentence in Psalm 23. We often bypass the BE, as in ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”, this is not what it actually says. It is the NOT BE in want, we need to stay close to. We need to just be, acknowledge that the Lord has already done it for us, and rest in this. He keeps inviting us to rest in Him, to let Him do what He is doing, not struggle so much. Will we trust the Good Shepherd and stay close within His fold? Will we truly believe that he calls us His children, that in His eyes, he does not see us as failing the grade, He has, as you say, passed the exam for us. I believe Lord, help me with me with my those areas where unbelief still exists.

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      Thanks for your thoughts, Klara. Remembering that God can be trusted really is key, isn’t it? He always keeps His promises.

      1. Klara van der Molen

        Yes, so true,I often say believing is easy, but to trust, is the key ingredient.I think, because we are such earthly creatures, that it is at times complicated to trust wholeheartedly, especially when so much has gone wrong without understanding why. To “Do not fear,” is a large component, even as we fear in our oh so human ways. Thank you as you continue to send messages of HOPE in a world where there is little room for God’s hope. I so enjoy reading the messsages send with such profound clarity and room for thought, it challenges me to think deeper.

  2. tony furumori

    A different perspective on “Exam”

    The other day, I unexpectedly faced some questions about our ethnic culture, I felt a little pressure. It was the latest exam I faced. The questions in rapid succession made me feel like I was under an interrogation. I sensed (I might be wrong) that there may be a certain expectation for correct and popular answers. But I had to resist treating the subject with a typical approach of show-casing the exotic side of our culture we usually see in the publications. I would rather meet the side of our culture that relates to my life today. I did not want to provide the textbook answers, period. And for that reason, I probably failed badly if an “exam” was designed by Tourism bureau, or the Cultural agency of the Government. Oh, the pressure I felt was very minor compared to the humongous pressure you were under in your dream!
    Your blog this time brought me back to Karl Barth’s “Evangelical Theology: An Introduction,. 1962”. He said, “Exam is an intimate dialogue with your Professor” (Translated from Japanese translation of the book). Though, “how many professors present their exam as an intimate dialogue with us?” I often asked to myself and lamented over cool realities. But if the exam is a “challenge and trial” in our life, we are already given the strength to face them. Because, “He is with me” (Psalm 23:4). Whether the Greek and the History exam provide an intimate dialogue with the professors, or strictly a challenge, He is with you.
    Enjoy your exam!

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      Thanks for these thoughts, Tony. I really like Barth’s quote. It reminds me that Jesus is that rare kind of teacher who really does use ‘challenge and trial’ to invite us into intimate dialogue with himself!

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