4072948_sDuring a recent trip to Hong Kong, I had the joy of attending Sunday service at a vibrant international church there, together with some dear friends. The pastor’s exposition on Romans 12:1 & 2 was illuminating and engaging as he drew from personal experience to illustrate his points. What made me really sit up, though, was his description of the competitiveness in the Hong Kong education system — where even little embryos are on the waiting list. Many parents, including Christian parents, were registering their children-to-be in the schools of choice way before their little progeny had even entered the world.

On the one hand, I was tickled to know that Singapore was not the only place on this planet where parents queued overnight for a place in a premium nursery or play-school. On the other, I was saddened by the fact that knowledge of an ever-faithful God did not immunize Christians from “worrying about tomorrow”. I guess our cultural inheritance as children of the Chinese diaspora still holds greater sway.

I have been equally guilty of succumbing to “the pattern of this world”. Oh, with the best of intentions, I started out life as a parent determined that I would be different. I wouldn’t allow the paper chase to hijack our family’s priorities. So, when son No. 1 came home from kindergarten with a neat little circle by the side of “Chinese Language” in his report card, I made little fuss over it. Thankfully, the kindergarten was enlightened enough to use little shapes in place of grades. So it was a triangle, a square and a circle (in descending order of achievement) if my memory serves me right.

Alas, the years went by, major government exams were taken and passed by our sons with varying degrees of success, and I soon realized that being in mainstream education meant that my courage and defiance would only go so far. I wanted to be a good steward, see our children achieve their potential (a.k.a. academic excellence) and spare them the pain of failure. So, instead, I subjected them to the pain of always trying to better their grades. Truly, it is by the grace of God that they have grown up into young men who love the Lord (and still love their parents!).

In my days as a young parent, home-schooling was not a much-talked-about option, so mainstream education was the regular route. It was only later on in life that a wise friend shared how he had opted out of the system and allowed his sons to develop at their own pace. They did not do spectacularly in school and, at a time when going to the polytechnic was deemed a lesser option, he readily supported their choice of attending one. I know for a fact that both his sons are doing well in their chosen fields.

When Jesus taught us in Matthew 6:25-34 not to worry about tomorrow, He knew full well our propensity to forget that we have a heavenly Father who will provide for all our needs.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (TNIV)

What has worrying about eating and drinking got to do with pushing our children to get better grades? Well, better grades mean better jobs, which then mean not having to worry about where the next meal is coming from, or about having a roof over our heads. But where does seeking to steward our children’s potential cross the line into an idolatrous striving for excellence? How are we going to be salt and light in the world if we continue to conform to the world’s pattern of “educational insecurity”? Can we make a difference by celebrating our children for who they are? By seeking God’s will and purpose for their lives rather than imposing our unfulfilled aspirations upon them?

Soo Inn and I were really blessed by the fellowship we had over dinner with two special friends of ours on Friday. One of them, the wife, works in early childhood education and was regaling us with anecdotes from her daily engagement with both preschoolers and their parents. Her school has the dubious honour of being one where the children “just play” and don’t do much formal learning. She has heard often enough from parents who complain that their children do not seem to be gaining very much by way of rote learning. Yet, the school continues to stand firm by their philosophy of providing the little ones with a holistic education that recognizes the uniqueness of each one and fosters a process of self-discovery through play. There are obviously enough parents who value the merits of the school — enrolment is full!

Well, exam season is upon us yet again in this part of the world, and perhaps it is a good time to hear Christ saying, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 TNIV) It’s taken us a long time to internalize these wise words, and we’re still learning. Having seen how God has blessed our four young men with their respective life journeys, we’re thankful that this is in spite of the fact that we didn’t queue them up while they were yet embryos.