High school graduation is a wonderful high point in a teen’s life. Even after 22 years of teaching, I am always amazed at the transformation four years brings in the life of my students. But this year, as I watched them cross that stage, I was both impressed and bothered.
Looking for Success in all the Wrong Places
After the valedictorians gave their speeches, and those who were given the highest awards were announced, the students were then announced in this manner, “Sally Johnson, graduating with high honors. Graduating with honors, Joseph Brown….” As I listened to their familiar names, I started to question how we as a culture measure success. According to this ceremony, success is based on grades and advanced classes. But what of that student who is the first to graduate in his family? The one who persevered despite homelessness, lack of home support, substance abuse, financial strain, or family obligations? What about those who overcame obstacles of disabilities, whether it be physical, mental, or academic? Indeed, our culture’s definition of success seems narrow and is far different from how the Bible views success.
Our culture pursues being the best. And parents ready their children to be the best at a young age. Children attend expensive preschools to prepare them for the highest rated elementary schools. They often participate in multiple extra-curricular activities a week, attend exclusive camps, have specialized tutors—all to rise above the rest and be considered “a success.” The rise of social media only fuels this drive for success as parents share all their children’s accomplishments online for the all world to see.
Success in the Bible
But despite this “look-at-me” world, God has a different view of success. In 1 Samuel, God sends Samuel to anoint Israel’s next king. He tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance . . For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God chose David, the youngest son of Jesse, to be king. David wasn’t as big and strong as his older brothers. He was not as experienced in battle as they were. He was a young shepherd. But God knew his heart.
In God’s kingdom, success doesn’t always look as we expect it to. In fact, just look at who God used to bring about his kingdom. Abraham was impatient for God to fulfill his promises, so he took things into his own hands. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing, Moses wasn’t a great orator, Jonah feared the nation of Nineveh more than he feared God, and Samson lacked self-control. Even David, though he had a heart after God’s own, fell into grievous sin. Isaiah tells us that our Savior himself “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (53:2). The point is, God often uses those whom the world would deem unlikely and undesirable to fulfill his Kingdom purposes.
What does this mean for our children? Should we not care about how they perform in school? Should we not care about how they turn out altogether? Of course we want to raise them to be faithful, hard-working, and good citizens, but we have to remind ourselves that God’s definition of success is not restricted by their SAT scores or the words written next to (or not next to) their names when they graduate. God is not limited by any worldly accomplishments. His concern is not about success in the here and now, but in eternity.
In the Steps of Christ
Paul tells us in Philippians 2 to follow after Christ’s example, to “give up” our accolades in exchange for humility just as Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men . . he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). We are called to do everything for God and his glory, not our own (Colossians 3:17). We are called to be servants of God and to put others before ourselves.
So, what does this look like for us in our parenting? It is nothing short of challenging us to exchange the worship of achievement for the worship of God alone. It starts with our own hearts as we root out idols of success and achievement. It also means teaching our children to not look at others through the culture’s lens of success, but to see the hurting world around them through God’s eyes. Rather than focusing on winning, to instead “count others more significant than (themselves) … (to) look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2: 3-4).
Rather than achieving the best batting average or the highest score on the test, may we encourage our children to be the most helpful, the most encouraging, the most kind. It means helping them see their greatest need is redemption from sin, not another medal or achievement to add to their resume. It also means we help them learn how to navigate failure and accept their mistakes, to be quick to repent of sin, and to forgive the sins of others. It means we help them learn to live out Micah 6:8’s command to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk HUMBLY with your God.”
And ultimately, it means to remind them that the highest achievement to receive in life is to hear: “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
About the Author:
Jessica Roan has a Bachelor’s Degree in English Education from Oklahoma Baptist University and a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Montana State University-Billings. She is a high school English teacher, mentor and blogger. She can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org. She enjoys writing, hiking, skiing and traveling. She lives in Billings, Montana with her husband and two boys. Her home church is Rocky Mountain Community Church.