Studies

7 years after PSLE, I no longer want to chase a number

by Joanne Chua // November 24, 2021, 12:14 pm

Chasing psle numbers

When I saw the news that the PSLE results would be released today (November 24), I could almost feel the shivers that thousands of 12-year-olds would have felt. It’s been seven years, but the entire journey remains close to my heart. 

I think the saddest thing about primary school was that I never fully enjoyed it. I struggled a lot with my studies. Stuck in a “mixed-ability” class, the label served only to remind me that I was a weak student.

I dreaded math especially. Numbers floated and danced in my mind; I couldn’t make sense of them. Hour after hour, drawing model after model, I just couldn’t do better. My anxiety was so bad that almost every morning on the way to school, I’d suffer panic attacks.

One of my worst memories happened a week before PSLE. I had just finished my last lesson with my math tutor. Instead of thanking her, I ran to my parents’ room and broke down in tears. There was a week left to the paper, and I still couldn’t grasp certain concepts.

By God’s grace, I did okay for PSLE. Though I felt the results weren’t proportional to the effort I had put in, I was content. Having struggled so much, I didn’t expect a lot.

That PSLE math question: What is my worth if I can’t solve a problem?

When I see primary school students stressed out, I really understand. After all, we’re taught to study hard, do well in PSLE and go to a “good” secondary school, then to a “good” junior college (JC) and then to a “good” university. And, of course, eventually a “good” job. That was all there seemed to be to life.

A few weeks ago, I came across a video ad that highlights the Singaporean obsession with numbers. Featuring people of different ages, it tried to show that at every stage of life, we chase the next big number.

“150 PSLE score… Your life is ruined”.
“Not even earning at least 5K a month?… How embarrassing.”

As the narrator echoed the critiquing voices in society, my heart sunk. He was right — we have fallen into a chase after numbers.

At school, we’re chasing after a better grade. At work, we’re aiming for a higher KPI and the amount on our pay cheque. Among friends, we compare our follower count on Instagram. These numbers are important to us because they validate our lives… but do they? 

For a long time, I believed that life would be better if I could just have a better score. I worked harder in secondary school and, for the first time, began doing well.

God opened doors for me, giving me “good” classes, “good” grades and a “good” JC. I thought I had made it. I was finally on the path of life I thought I should be striving for.

But when I had all these great numbers on my results, all I could think of was the next number for the next exam for the next school.

These numbers could never fill my deepest need for love or acceptance; they just fuelled my anxiety. They faded in significance as the initial happiness fleeted away. Over time, the report became a weightless paper, the badge on my uniform, a hollow shell. 

I also realised that numbers could only take me so far. I did well at the end of JC, and could get into almost any school or course I wanted. Except that I didn’t.

God closed the door to a course I had been so set on. My grades did get me into the first round of selections, but ultimately God stopped me in my tracks.

The door slammed hard in my face. It was a necessary rejection, a timely wake-up call. What was I chasing after? What was I going to chase after for the rest of my life? 

The numbers on my report didn’t guarantee anything. Slowly, I began resenting them. They looked good, but what could they do now? The more I looked at them, the more they became what they were — numbers on a paper.

They couldn’t overrule God’s sovereignty.

What brings you joy? One man’s search for more than the 5-minute life

In His love and patience, God invited me to take a gap year with Him. Having nowhere else to turn to, I said okay, not knowing where He would bring me.

As I wrestled with these frustrations and uncertainties during my gap year, I caught up with friends from a country I had visited on previous mission trips.

I learned that they were organising mission trips to different villages, mentoring and discipling their peers, and leading ministries in the church, all while still schooling.  

I was amazed by their fervent passion for Jesus and single-mindedness in proclaiming the gospel. But, at the same time, it felt like reality had slapped me in the face. 

These were people just a few years older than me who lived in a poverty-stricken country and were struggling with daily finances.

Yet month after month, they’d ask me to pray for them — not for them to get into a good school or land a high-paying job. Instead, they’d ask me to pray for boldness and courage as they shared the gospel, and for God to provide for their expenses. 

For years, I’d been so concerned with numbers and grades, which school I was going to, what work to do. And here were my contemporaries, all in for Jesus.

Yes, we have obviously grown up in vastly different societies and economies, but all of us are called to follow Christ. Their hearts and minds are evidently set on the kingdom, can I say the same?

As I reflected on my friends’ lives, God reminded me of the rich, young man in the Bible. He had asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Having diligently kept all the laws, he seemed perfect. Yet, one thing he couldn’t do. 

Jesus replied, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Jesus didn’t condemn the young man. In Mark’s gospel, before Jesus replied, it says “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21) That’s the beauty and mystery of God. Even when we struggle to lay down our lives for Him, He loves us and wants to help us.

Jesus wasn’t criticising him for being rich — rather, he knew the young man’s divided heart. His heart was wrapped up in his wealth, which he valued more than God. His possessions were keeping him from his steadfast love for God.

I don’t blame the young man. In fact, I see myself in him.

Like the young man, my heart was set on material things: I had been running after “good” numbers to obtain a “good” report card so I could get into a “good” school and a “good” job.

But I am deeply saddened by the young man’s decision. He walked away from Jesus. 

Jesus was inviting the young man to a life pursuing something far greater — Jesus Himself. What will we do with the same call that we have received? 

Grades don’t define your future

Being His disciple requires that we steward everything God has entrusted to us and to do things His way for His glory. However, we must guard our hearts, lest we reject God by valuing the gift above the Giver.

If you see your results, job, income — or even a relationship — as a means to obtain the purpose you desire in life, your heart is already set on this world. 

We’re called to pursue Him and His Word, with all of ourselves.

The greatest commandment is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with your soul and with all your mind… the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) 

It’s a high call to abandon our lives for Jesus. But when I look at life with kingdom eyes, the choice is clear. I’m tired of chasing after numbers that mean nothing in the kingdom.

As I learn to lay down my life and chase Jesus with all my heart, I take heart in remembering this truth, “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

Praise God when we do well and praise God when we don’t. Because we’re not running after a number.

THINK + TALK 

  1. Be honest: What are you really chasing after in life? Results? A job? More income? 
  2. If you were facing Jesus and He asked you to lay down the things of this world to follow Him as He did with the rich, young man, what would your response be?
  3. How will you begin to surrender your life to God and pursue Him with all your heart instead? 

 

About the author

Joanne Chua

If you ever meet Joanne, expect her to either be vlogging on her camera or recovering from a laughing fit. She hopes that everyone will start talking to Jesus.