In the church, we often hear the phrase repeated
Life is a test.
And to be fair, there are scriptures that convey this message. (This life is the time for men to prepare to meet god, this life is a probationary state, etc.)
But although I understand the good motivation of this statement, I also see a lot of problems with the analogy that can cause many people a great deal of stress. Let me explain:
- In a test, you get one shot to answer the question, and once the question is graded, you can’t change your answer.
- In a test, you usually come in prepared, having studied and hopefully remembering the things you learned to pass it.
- In a test, you typically aren’t allowed to ask help from neighbors, the teacher, books, or notes.
Are you seeing the problem with this analogy? In life you can keep trying and changing your answers and improving, even after learning your first answers were wrong. In life you come completely unprepared without previous study to help you out. In life you are not only allowed to, but encouraged to, get help from people around you and use any resource you have to figure things out.
There is, I believe, a deep seeded problem of perfectionism in the LDS culture, and I personally have fallen victim to it far too often. We compare ourselves far too often to each other and believe we must achieve unrealistic levels of success or achievement.
Thinking that life is a test doesn’t help this mindset. It encourages us to think that we just get one shot. It makes us feel like we are weak if we ask for help. It makes us feel overwhelmed by how much we should know and do that we currently don’t or can’t.
I much prefer this analogy:
Life is a class.
Think about how much more close this analogy is to real life.
- In class, you come each day to learn new things, and if you participate and pay attention, you will finish far better than you started.
- In class you can have any resources you like or need to help you out. You can have books, notes, a tutor, or whatever else you need.
- In class you can learn and change your mind as you go, grateful for correction when you make mistakes.
- In class everyone can progress at their own level. Some may need more help than others, but everyone is learning the same material at their own pace and in their own way.
By realizing that life is a class and not a test, rather than being embarrassed or discouraged when we make mistakes, we can be grateful for the opportunity to lean and grow. Rather than feel ashamed to ask for help, we can take comfort knowing that everyone in a class is learning from the teacher, and the more help you ask for the better you can do. Rather than feel like we have to go at it alone, we can use every reference we have – including the scriptures (the ultimate cheat sheet since they contain all the answers!), the prophets, and, most importantly, prayer to directly communicate with the creator of the class.
God wants us to learn and grow continually. This life is indeed the time for me to prepare to meet God, but that is an active verb that we will continually be doing by learning and improving, not by having all the answers right the first time.
Enjoy the class. Take notes. Study hard. Trust the teachers and tutors and T.A.s that are in your life. Don’t be afraid to participate even when you don’t know all the answers, because that is how you will really grow and learn. Don’t be discouraged by mistakes. If you do that, you will be prepared for the end of class, and you will have Christ’s atonement as your ultimate and perfect grade curve.