Part of being a school chaplain is writing college recommendations for students. Most colleges want similar information. Is the student responsible, driven, civic-minded, a good student? Some colleges ask more specific questions. What has the student done to serve their community? How is the student committed to making the world a better place?

The recommendation requests that stand out almost universally come from Christian colleges and universities. I recently received a request for a senior from a noted evangelical college in the midwest. The “Pastoral Recommendation” form asked a few questions that gave me pause.

I answered them to the best of my ability on the recommendation form with the knowledge that my recommendation holds some influence in the life of this student. After completing the recommendation I realized that I would love to write an honest recommendation to a Christian school. What follows are some of the real questions from the pastoral recommendation form and the answers I would write to recommend myself.

To the best of your knowledge has the applicant made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ?

Who knows? Every day is a tsunami of selfish choices and bad decisions. From one moment to the next, I make personal commitments to a number of causes, movements, and religions. I am constantly looking for salvation and will gladly choose any number of methods to achieve that goal. I have made a personal commitment to Chipotle, green smoothies, my undergraduate alma mater, and any number of other things in my day, today.

The truth is that Jesus Christ has made a personal commitment to me. God has made a covenant with me that I cannot keep, but through the faith of Jesus Christ, it has been fulfilled. The problem with the personal commitment narrative is that it puts human will above the decisive action of God. It also implies that I have any idea what I’m doing from moment to moment.

In your opinion, does this student possess any outstanding abilities or spiritual qualities?

I am outstanding in my ability to disappoint others and myself. I am very good at making goals and not keeping them. My foot is permanently in my mouth. I have a vision of the person I would like to be that is forever just out of reach. One outstanding spiritual quality I possess is the ability to drop my spiritual commitments. I once committed to praying the Daily Office every day and failed after the third day. I promise to read through the Bible each year but stop before the calendar turns to February. If we are honest, most of us are outstanding in negative ways. If people really knew….

Please describe the applicant’s social and spiritual influence in your church or organization.

I am a fool stumbling in the dark. Anytime I begin to think that I am an influencer I run into trouble. (See above.) Of course, there are worse things than not being influential. When I hear ‘social influence’ I immediately think that I am being sold something. I imagine a friend from high school that I haven’t heard from in ten years messaging me on Facebook about the new diet shakes that are going to change my life. In the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t come across as an influencer. He comes across as a renegade preacher, a rebel with a cause, one who teaches with authority. Jesus does not influence, he heals. He does not persuade, he loves. Ask me to describe my love for my church or organization and you are onto something. Ask me how I influence those bodies and I will come up empty-handed.

Please describe any leadership positions or significant roles the applicant has held in your church or organization.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t herald leadership as the queen of virtues? What happens when a group is made up of only those with leadership qualities or roles of significance? I remember well the line from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the leaders, for they have roles of significance.” What about the person who isn’t a leader but is a good team member? What happens to the person that lifts others up instead of stepping into the spotlight?

Of course, I’m not talking about myself. Any significance I have is in my own mind. Left to my own devices, I will mess up any and all leadership opportunities given to me. (Again, see above.) To adapt a quote from Sarah Condon, perhaps people are not meant to have significant roles. Perhaps I don’t need a massive social media following to be enough. What if I never lead anyone other than my family or a small church?

To your knowledge, does the applicant have any attitudes or behaviors that are inconsistent with biblical principles or with [this Christian college’s] lifestyle expectations (for example, dishonesty, abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs, or inappropriate internet usage)?

Oh goodness yes. Most of what I do is “inconsistent with biblical principles” and I will never meet the “lifestyle expectations” set out for me. I’ve failed at two of your three examples and it is not even lunchtime yet. If my own attitudes and behaviors were disqualifying in the eyes of God, I would never be saved. The positive note here is that my salvation doesn’t depend on lifestyle expectations. (See Ephesians 2:8-9)

Based on your observations of this applicant’s spiritual life and character, how strongly do you recommend this applicant to [this Christian college]?

Based on my own observations, I could never recommend myself to anyone, let alone this prestigious college. My spiritual life and character are spotty at best. I am a sinner stumbling through life one day at a time. I am dishonest. I fail. I drop the ball. I let people down. If I am completely honest, I couldn’t recommend myself to be the person with the shovel at the end of the Christmas parade. I have nothing good to bring. A favorite Christmas hymn of mine sums it up well, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what can I give Him? Give Him my heart.”

The only recommendation or good news I can offer is this: it is not up to us. Admission is not dependent on the recommendation of teachers, friends, family, or yourself. It is not based on leadership abilities, significance, or outstanding spiritual qualities. We have a Savior that has filled in the questions on our behalf. We have a Father who looks with love at his motley family full of ragamuffins. Our recommendation is Christ who has imputed his righteousness to us.

This is a silly exercise poking fun at a silly process, but it points of a facet of human life that runs deep. We always want to be enough. We want people to recommend us so that we can get in or get by. We hope that others will recognize what we don’t recognize about ourselves: that we are enough. Unfortunately, we are sorely hindered by our sins. We cannot be enough through our own effort or according to our own resume. Our only hope is that we aren’t the ones filling out the form. Our only hope rests in Jesus Christ, the one who has made a personal commitment to us, even unto death.