I’ve seen children being told that the number of A's they attain on their report card reflects their intellect. I’ve encountered girls who are slaves to the weighing scales and believe that only those of a certain size are beautiful. I know people who base their worth on the number of likes they get on social media.
All of us are caught in this tireless race of trying to attain a particular number to ensure our happiness. In doing so, our souls become weary and our bodies become limp. I ask myself honestly, “Are we just the numbers we try to attain?”
In this three-part series on Identity, we focus on the dangerous obsession we have with the numbers we see on report cards, weighing scales, and social media platforms. At the end of it, I hope you’ll know that you are worth much more than a number.
Math VS Life
I had my first encounter with Mathematics when I was a child, when solving the simplest sum of “1+1=2” brought sheer delight. Back then, I was fascinated by how two separate entities would equate to a new and singular product when added up.
Soon enough, the simple sum of “1+1=2” evolved into equations of greater complexity. With the gradual passage of years, mathematical equations were no longer so simple and straightforward.
Without realising it, I slowly grew accustomed to letting my life be akin to an equation. Personal expectations to do well academically, coupled with the generally hardworking environment I was in equated to the mentality of “Being in an elite school + Stellar grades = Bright and secure future.” I had allowed my grades to become a prediction of how my future would turn out.
The “Paper-chase” Society
At age 13 I entered an IP (Integrated Programme) school, Dunman High, with the one-track goal of eventually leaving the school at 18 with an A-Level certification.
I remember how I used to freak out at the amount of work I had to do, and yet I had absolutely no strength or time to complete everything. My school ran on the GPA (grade point average) system, and everyone’s target was to score as close to the maximum score of 4 as possible. I recall the times after the end-of-year examinations when I would whip out my calculator, estimate how I would score for different subjects, and try to gauge how high (or low) my GPA would be for that year. I would fret and worry, try to gauge the number of A’s and B’s I had, and calculate my GPA over and over again. If I saw a satisfactory figure, my heart would be reassured. If I saw an unsatisfactory figure, I would immediately start panicking over how it might affect my future.
I was not alone.
I know of a friend who was under such extreme stress preparing for the O-Levels that her hair started falling off in clumps and she had to take medication as a remedy for it! Another friend struggled with so much fear and anxiety on a daily basis leading up to the A-Levels that she literally felt a tight knot and pain in her chest.
These two friends of mine, myself included, took the grades reflected on our report cards extremely seriously because of the “paper-chase” society that we are in. We chase after these numbers all through PSLE, O-Levels, A-Levels, Poly, and even University in futile attempts to secure something that has been sold to us as the idea of a successful future.
However, this perspective of mine was challenged when I was 17.
At 17, I switched from being in Singapore’s education system to an American homeschooling system. The decision to do so garnered plenty of surprised and alarmed reactions from people in my school. Many asked me where I got such an absurd idea from, and whether what I was going to do would even guarantee me any future at all.
A Road Less Travelled
When God impressed upon my heart to make such a drastic change in my education route, I thought I heard Him wrongly. However, the thought of homeschooling did not leave my head. Eventually, I told my parents about it and they said that for a decision as major as this, they needed time to pray about it as well. Inside my heart, I knew that if this were what God wanted me to do, He would place the same conviction upon my parent’s hearts.
A week later, I came home from school and my mother recounted to me that she had received a confirmation from God. Whilst doing her quiet time, she was led to Isaiah 41:10. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.” Instantaneously, she felt an overwhelming sense of peace flooding her heart, and she knew that it was a clear sign to change my education route.
Stepping into something that wasn’t recognised in Singapore definitely struck plenty of fear in my heart when I pondered about the future. In the initial stages, I battled with thoughts like “What if my American certification cannot land me in a local university? Will I have any universities to go to? If I don’t, what if I don’t even manage to get a job? How am I going to survive?”
I thought that by my human strength, I could work hard, get good grades, and get where I wanted. However, with my drastic change in education path, I knew that it wouldn’t be as simple as that. I had to come to a realisation that wherever God is leading me, He will bring me there, with or without the required grades.
Walking In Faith
Stepping out from Dunman High and into homeschooling didn’t mean that everything became easier. I still had to ensure that my grades for the assignments and the exams I took were satisfactory. Stress was unavoidable and inevitable and I still felt the need to “chase” grades to ensure I was able to progress to the next grade level.
However, I realised that when I was caught up in the continual pursuit of good grades alone, it made me miss out on life itself. When it was the crunch time of exam seasons, I would scale down the time that I spent with my family and friends. Instead of going for family dinners, I would insist on staying home to study instead. Going for cell group proved to be a struggle, for my thoughts were preoccupied on how much revision I could have completed in that span of time. My priorities were a mess and the only important thing to me was my studies.
I have had to learn that my grades do not define my intellect, and that the numbers on my exam script are not a prediction of my future success. When I changed my education route, it wasn’t just to take an easy way out, but a step in this faith journey to trust God above studies and grades.
The Numbers I Trust
I have just finished my senior year in homeschooling and will soon be starting on my university applications. To be brutally honest, there are times when I still find my heart gripped with fear over whether my qualifications are on par with the students in Singapore who are going to apply for the same course I want in university.
But I know that when I changed my education path two years ago, it was a God-led decision. Perhaps the numbers on my report card may not add up to a grand and satisfying figure. However, what my heart knows full well is that if there are any numbers that I trust in, it is the verse numbers of the promises in His Word.
Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.”
For similar articles, you may purchase our devotional for young women 'Made For More' here.