As we head (mercifully) towards the end of the school year, parents are about to receive reports of assessment grading their teenagers into various academic categories (unmercifully for some). For Grade 12’s around the country it is the big one, a piece of paper containing seven or so numbers upon which their fate seemingly rests. Twelve years of schooling reduced and distilled into just 14 digits.

We live in an age where we can measure almost everything. Phones and Fitbits can track steps, heart rate, calorie consumption and sleep patterns continuously. Likewise some schools are opening up their electronic mark books for parents to log in (bad news for pupils certainly, but also for parents and teachers) and get an instant snapshot of their child’s academic health. It can be a fairly Darwinian existence where a young person’s self-worth is constantly up for grabs.

For me the Kingdom of God exists to remind ourselves that, if we choose to build it in the right areas, our worth is not measured in such graceless tones. Rather it is underpinned, undergirded in timeless fashion by the Rock of Ages.

By the numbers

Recently one of our seamstresses who worked in the school laundry retired. It was estimated she had sewn 130,000 labels onto clothes. That tells a story. It got me thinking what my life would look like by the numbers. Most of this is ‘since records began’ so does not capture everything.

Here goes:

  • 1,223,460 steps I walked since May this year
  • 44,031 the number of sent e-mails between 2006 and 2016
  • 16,897 steps walked one day in September when I had evening duty
  • 9600 estimated counselling appointments with students
  • 4500 (at least) reports signed for university applications
  • 284 goals I have had the pleasure of witnessing my Under 14 soccer teams score
  • 119 heart sinking moments experiencing my teams concede a goal
  • 56 sermons I have delivered in the school Chapel
  • 53 my Discovery Vitality age (measure of your health relative to your actual age, based on blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI)
  • 47 my actual age
  • 14 end of year staff parties attended

What you can’t measure

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

As the quote by William Cameron suggests the numbers tell you something, but not everything. They don’t tell you about the steps that took you down to school in the evening to be with a student battling with anxiety. It doesn’t measure the steps taken with a beating heart down the aisle to preach for the first time in the school Chapel.

The e-mails don’t tell of the hours of communication with the parent whose child is in serious trouble, nor the plethora of phone calls and WhatsApp’s that accompany a student who is struggling. Statistics about goals scored, or win/lose ratios, can’t tell you of a young man’s tears when he is told he is being dropped, nor the boy on the bus home who rests his head on his friends shoulder after injury rules him out for the season.

Jesus, it seems, puts very little stock in conventional measure of worth and value.

Self worth is not a number

In his wonderful book ‘What’s So Amazing about Grace, Phillip Yancy has a gem of a chapter on the ‘atrocious mathematics of the gospel’ in which he reminds us of how the good shepherd was happy to leave the 99 to go in search of the 1, a move that makes no economic sense. There was also the time that Jesus was prepared to waste a bottle of perfume (worth a year’s wages) being broken over his head.  Unless you’re stuck in ‘Numbers’ the Bible seems to look beyond the conventional measures of value and instead raises up ‘the things that are not’.

And so it is with those values on a school leaving certificate. No matter how high the numbers they can’t get close to measuring what God thinks about a young person. God’s thoughts towards them are precious and more numerous than the grains of sand on the beach.

Whatever you do, don’t let them attach their sense of worth to a piece of paper with a few digits on it. Whatever their exam results, good, bad or expected, help them get some Kingdom perspective.

They will always be worth more than the numbers.