When I first realized that the taking the Graduate Record Exam © was on my horizons, I trembled a good bit. As my friends burned, sold, and threw away their textbooks after finals, I ordered two test preparation books and settled down for two months of math, reading, and writing prep. It was in the midst of my math study doldrums that Tom Grosh IV [Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network] asked me to consider writing a post about preparing to take the exam. I told him I would brainstorm some ideas, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything I’d have to talk about. My draft post would have consisted of a lengthy stream of consciousness about what it feels like to look out at a beautiful summer’s day, to see children flocking to the river, and to stare a math problem in the face. (No worries, I’ll spare you the pain of reading that!) But the Lord re-fined my understanding of faithfulness in the midst of preparing for my standardized test. What was most important through all of this, I realized, was that this process was about remaining faithful to the Lord, and His remaining faithful to me.
Remaining Faithful to the Lord
Obviously, remaining faithful to the Lord involves studying well. If God is calling us to pursue graduate school as part of our work for His Kingdom, we need to be faithful and honest soldiers for Him, ready to “let our manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). If I had intentionally slacked in my preparation, my manner would not have been worthy of the Gospel of Christ.
Also, if I had failed to prepare well, I would not have been a good steward of the mind, time, and other resources He has given me. Faithfulness in these things the Lord has given us leads to stewardship of greater things (Luke 12:42-48). If we are to be stewards of a graduate education, we need to be capable of demonstrating faithfulness in the steps towards that education.
Even the modern graduate school application process demonstrates this Biblical principle. An applicant with a low GPA in their field of specialty or a missed application material or recommenders who do not speak highly of them will have a difficult time convincing an admissions committee that they deserve the responsibility of a graduate education.
This said, as I prayed through the anxiety and worries surrounding my testing, my Mother reminded me of God’s priorities for my time: that I would first be faithful to His calling. For me, this meant not spending every or even most waking or available moments working on test preparation. As my Mother pointed out, the only things that will matter in eternity are our relationships with the Lord and our relationships with other people. So on a typical day off of my summer job, I might spend a solid three hours taking a practice test or reading up on test strategies, but only after I had spent quality time in the Word and invested in my relationship with a sibling or parent.
Sometimes this meant that I felt like I wasn’t being faithful to prepare for the exam. For example, I remember days when, after finishing work at my job, I would have a study plan and a topic in math or reading to practice, but my family’s needs or a spontaneous event would derail my study time completely. At the end of the day, I would often feel that I had not been faithful to the Lord to study effectively. Actually, I had been effective for His Kingdom in a different way. He had given me grace to be faithful, and I needed to trust Him with the outcome of the test in the end.
There were many days I was unfaithful to prepare for the test. I do indeed have some regrets about the time I didn’t spend wisely this summer, but “the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8). He is faithful to forgive us.
In the end, I can trust Him because He is Faithful to Us. No amount of test preparation or worry can equate to the perfect score or the perfect admissions and stipend offer. As I’ve learned over and over again in this journey, if we are meant to serve Him somewhere, He will make it happen. We are not called to work out the details or the direction. He is our leader and our guide. Because He first loved us, we love Him, and our desire to please Him is a result of His love for us. I prepared for this test in order to be faithful as a servant of His. His are the results and mine is the stability in knowing that His hand is capable to bring me (and my scores with me) where they should be. Proverbs 16:3 tells us to “Commit our work to the Lord, and our plans will be established.” As those who love Him, we can trust Him to fulfill His plans in our life regardless of standardized testing.
So, on a bright and sunny morning summer as I emerged from a stark, fluorescent-lighted testing center to the great outdoors, test completed and heart filled, I could rejoice in the Lord’s faithfulness. I could rejoice in His perfect ability to fulfill His plans. Even if my scores were not what I had hoped for, He was faithful (even if I needed to re-take). Stability is not with my scores—it is in the faithful character of Jesus.