I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday; lying on my best friend’s sitting room floor at 6:00am, taking deep breaths and trying really, really hard not to throw up.
4 hours to go until I could open that little brown envelope, the contents of which felt as if they would determine my future happiness.
GCSE results day. Looking back, it seems so insignificant. In the light of AS levels, A levels and now overall degree results, GCSEs seem so irrelevant. But I don’t know if I’ll ever forget that feeling of crushing disappointment in the pit of my stomach when I opened my envelope, unfolded the piece of paper and found … not what I’d hoped for.
They were good marks, I couldn’t dispute that. And yet, they weren’t good enough. Nothing below top marks was good enough.
Two years later, it happened again. Different city, different school, same feeling. Good results. But not good enough. Never good enough. You would have thought I’d be used to it by then – the feelings of failure, of having let myself down. I always set myself targets almost impossible to achieve. But this time, I’d really thought I could make it. Yet I hadn’t managed it. What. A. Failure. Lost cause. Hopeless case. Now that I’d failed to achieve the best academically, I didn’t know who I was anymore.
Who was I if I wasn’t the girl who was always top of the class? Who was I if not the one whose results were all As and A*s, firsts and high 2:1s? Who was I if I wasn’t who I thought I was always going to be?
And now, it’s six years later, and I’ve bagged myself a degree. It’s a good’un, and I’m thrilled.
But still there are moments, looking at the numbers on the screen in front of me, when I question my worth.
There are still moments when I look to my friends who did better, and worry that I’m still not quite good enough.
There are still moments when who I am seems to be all tangled up with how well I do. I still so easily fall into the trap of deception, into the tangled web of lies that tells me I am nothing if I achieve less than the best.
I know I’m not alone in this. And I’m writing this as much to myself as I am to you.
So pause, just for a minute, and rewind. Back five years, back ten years, back before you were even born. And look, look at what God says to you: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart’ (Jeremiah 1:5) Stop, and listen to how God sees you: ‘The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’ (Zephaniah 3:17). Understand the truth of who you are, ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14), ‘God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance’ (Ephesians 2:10).
Now, come back. Come back to this moment, with the thoughts, the feelings, the pressures. The voices telling you you’re not good enough, infiltrating your thoughts, whispering condemnation and failure into your very being. Recognise them for what they are – lies. This is not the truth of who you are. The letters and numbers on the page in front of you do not reflect your worth. You are a child of the King. Created, loved and redeemed. Covered by grace and clothed with Christ. Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39) Nothing. Nothing at all. Not even exam results.
I wish that on that day 6 years ago, opening that little brown envelope, I had asked for God’s strength and truth to reign over the anxiety and the feelings of failure. I wish I had been equipped with the truth to conquer the lies. I wish I had listened to the still, small voice amidst the raging sea of my emotions.
I wasn’t equipped then, but I am now. And so are you. No longer is your identity based upon you and your achievements. Instead it is where it truly belongs – hidden with Christ in God. Your identity is what your creator says it is, and, praise the Lord, nothing you do – or fail to do – changes that.
An edited version of this article first appeared on Open Doors Youth in 2013
Hi, I’m Alianore. I used to be known as 'Nell Goddard', but then I got married and changed my name. I’m an author, blogger, and speaker. A theologian, on a good day. A Christian, a storyteller, and a friend. I tweet as @alianoree and you can find more of my writings in my first book, 'Musings of a Clergy Child'.