There is a particular ritual that takes place in these last two weeks of August to do with Exam Results; every year records of some sort are broken and every year photos of justifiably relieved and delighted students fill newspapers and screens – clutching their results and jumping for joy. Before an A level result has even been received, newspaper supplements are out – offering advice as to how to procure prized places at university.
We hear almost only of the successes, those who achieved what they wanted and whose eye-watering results make a good story.
Spare a thought, then, for those whose results were not what they hoped for and who on results day slink off into the shadows convinced that the grades they have been awarded brand them a failure or a disappointment.
And less we think this happens only to students, spare a thought, too, for those who have been pipped to the post in the promotion race, those for whom life has contained unavoidable disappointments and set backs. In other words, spare a thought for that part within each and every one of us that has tasted failure and been gripped by a feeling of inadequacy.
One of the challenges of life is the need to come to terms with such set backs and put them in a truer perspective. A proper awareness of our limitations is an essential step towards happiness because there can be no happiness where there is pretence.
Perhaps Results Day can help us gain this perspective – not least because within a few weeks, let alone a few years, the grades awarded on a particular Thursday in August will no longer define who someone is!
It has sometimes been claimed that because it follows a man who died on a cross, the Christian faith is uniquely well placed to ‘make friends with defeat’. Certainly it is well placed to challenge what success might look like.
There is a telling incident recorded in The Acts of the Apostles Chapter 5 12-16. Peter and some of the other apostles are having a great impact, so much so that new believers were being added in ever greater numbers and the sick were carried out into the streets ‘in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by … and all were cured’
Of course this detail is meant to illustrate the dramatic power and pull of the apostles, but what it also shows is that many people had to content themselves with what was presumably second best; Peter’s shadow, rather than his direct presence.
Yet we are told that they were all cured. So what looked like second best turned out not to be second best at all; the shadows were just as full of life as the direct light.
For those whose exam results put them temporarily in the shade cast by the successes of others and for those of us who have come to terms with our own disappointments, the vibrancy of the shadows is reassuring indeed.