For my 6th-grade self

Last night, my 3rd grader burst into song (this happens frequently in our house). It was to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme, but it was a song about—wait for it—prepositions. And she rattled off every last one of them. My jaw dropped.

I had an immediate flashback to 6th grade, 1st period grammar class with Mrs. Robinson, who was also my homeroom teacher. I was sitting in the second seat from the back in the first row of desks, near the door. And boy did I want to bolt out that door. Instead I remained glued to my seat, heart pounding and eyes brimming with tears as I held the results of my first test as a 6th grader. The big red D scratched at the top of the page—and the red Xs next to almost every answer I’d given? I didn’t even know how to process that.

It was a test on prepositions, which I’d been expected to memorize. I’d never had to study for anything before though, and had walked into class confident that I would just know the answers. They would be in my head somewhere, and I’d just summon them. (Why did no one teach me the Gilligan’s Island song?!) I was a smart kid—my mom and my teachers always said that. I was sure it would all just come naturally.

Not so much.

That big D. It looked so mean. And all that red ink! I was humiliated and quickly flipped my paper over on my desk to hide it from the eyes of the classmates sitting around me. Everyone was leaning in their seats to try to get a peek at other kids’ scores. My teacher must hate me, I thought. Everyone told her I was smart, but obviously I’m not. 

Middle school is hard for a lot of reasons. I had no idea the likelihood of bad grades would be one of them.

My eyes fill with tears as I sit here thinking about my 6th-grade self, because I didn’t know it then, but that moment changed me. I was ashamed, knocked off my “I’m so smart” pedestal, and all I knew was that I never wanted to see angry red marks on any of my papers ever again. How could I bounce back from this? What would my parents think?

I would learn how to study and memorize. I would strive for nothing less than perfection. “100%” and “A” were the only things I wanted to see written in red from there on out.

Well, I didn’t end up with a perfect record. PE and honors pre-calc would take me down. But for the duration of my education years, I never could let go of those less-than-A assignments or stop comparing my grades to those of the kid next to me—even in college.

(Interesting to think that 10 years after sitting in Mrs. Robinson’s grammar class, I’d be entering a career in which I made red marks all over other people’s writing for a living. And I would love it. Yikes.)

As a middle schooler, achieving less than perfection made me defensive, argumentative, and pouty—every correction a stab at my pride.

6th-grade

A lot of years have passed since then, and I can still recall the memory of being handed that D test in detail. Have I changed at all since then? Some days I wear my failures like badges of shame. And when I make a mistake and am called out on it—a typo on the page, a factual error in conversation, or spiritual guidance offered in love—guess what? Defensive, argumentative, and pouty.

My stinking pride! It’s still hanging around, all these years later—right there at the root of my perfectionist tendencies.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Sometimes I mentally tack “…so you better do it perfectly!” onto the end of it. Heads up, that’s not in the Bible. God is well aware of the fact that I can’t be 100% without him, and I’m certainly never going to earn 100%. That’s not the way it works. I make mistakes. I am a sinner. I need his grace. How often I forget.

So, dear 6th-grade Rebekah, with your glasses and braces and hair that just won’t cooperate, take a breath and wipe your tears. Middle school will get better. It’s your first memorable failure. There will be more, a lot more. (Sorry, kid.) God’s grace is sufficient for you. Believe it, because it’s true. And oh, how you’ll need it.


Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.}

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