It’s the end of the school year here, and things have wrapped up pretty well. Our first day of legitimate summer was last Thursday, and it was a bit of a rough beginning. School ends, and we’re all like, “Now what?” But we’ll find our footing.
But anyway, all the projects and report cards came home, and we got to see all the heart-warming crafts our kids did that I think are tailored by the teachers to tug at parent’s heart-strings. Of course, my wife and I totally eat it up. And thankfully, according to the report cards, our kids did a good job of meeting the academic standards for the year (yay!).
I don’t know how public schools do things, but in our Catholic school, “growing in virtue” is a big deal. It’s part of the overall education. In light of this, there’s this one section on the report card that gives a grade for “Citizenship/Conduct.” It’s a grade (not told to the kids) that lets us know how they’ve been doing in the area of virtue by the standards of their age (they’re not going to compare a preschooler to an 8th grader, obviously). They get a 3 if they are progressing towards meeting the standard for the section. They get a 4 if they met it, and they get a 5 if they exceed it.
While I love my children, my oldest can be really aggressive. It’s just how God made him. He’s a tough guy with lots of energy, and I didn’t know what to expect from the “Citizenship/Conduct” section for him. I love him no matter what, but we all have our weaknesses. Not that long ago, we weren’t sure if the school would be a good fit for him. He loved going there, but for awhile, he was acting out a lot and didn’t know how to control himself when he got angry.
But while scanning his little report card, seeing all the “4”‘s in each section, I got to the very end – the “Citizenship/Conduct” portion – and the little dude got a “5”! A freakin’ “5”!! The kid wasn’t even just your average 1st grader. He was shining forth with virtues that apparently exceeded the teacher’s expectations! As I was reading it, I think Heaven parted and angels began singing above the card. My child is practically a saint! (by 1st grade standards, at least)
I could not be more proud, and the reason why is because I can see how far he’s come these last two years – thanks to everyone at our school coming around and supporting him, and thanks to his own effort and God’s grace. It’s been amazing to witness my young, rebellious little guy grow into a passionate, patient, loving soon-to-be 2nd grader.
And the more I thought about it, I wondered: shouldn’t that be the most important thing anyway? Don’t get me wrong, I hope they excel in every subject. Barring holy orders, I’d like them to be able to get a job some day. But what if they struggled in all sorts of classes, but grew to be virtuous – brave, loving, kind? I hope that in my heart, I would still count them successful. I want to always feel that way, and I want them to always feel that way.
Ultimately, for the Catholic person, holiness is all that really matters, and this is much more of a freedom than a burden. I get why people think the Christian God puts heavy loads of morality on the world. “Do this, don’t do that.” But as Jesus says:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy, my burden light.” Matt. 11:28-30
For me, the burden of being a Christian is nothing compared to the burden of living up to what the world means by “success”: make a lot of money, look pretty, look handsome, don’t say the wrong thing, be smart enough, be funny enough, don’t have any disability, don’t be steeped in the wrong culture, don’t be the wrong race, don’t be poor, don’t be needy, don’t have emotional baggage, don’t have too many kids, and on and on and on. I get sucked into the whirlpool of worldly expectations so often. I labor and am burdened by them.
But Jesus says, “my yoke is easy, my burden light” because He asks of us only what we all have the same amount of: love. You don’t have to be rich or good-looking to love. And His “yoke” is not some sort of rigid standard where you get a whack on the knuckles with every mistake. He has been human Himself. He knows how difficult it is to live in a broken world. He knows our frailty and gently lifts us back up when we fall down from the weight of life. He carries that yoke right along with us, right next to us, as Simon carried the Cross with Christ to Golgotha.
It can still be difficult. Crosses always are. But part of the joy of being a Christian is that no matter what the world says, no matter what expectations others put on us (or we put on ourselves), we know there’s only one section on God’s report card.