(This is a talk I gave to a wonderful group of homeschooling moms today)
Homeschooling is a wonderful journey, full of adventure, joys, discovery, hard work, reward, and dangers. Like the routes the pioneers chose in their great journey west, Christian homeschooling pioneers have chosen an unlikely route to a great and promising place. It is a promising means to fulfill the Biblical mandate to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. However, like the routes west, homeschooling is not without its inherent dangers.
As the pioneers traveled, they used to write back home with recommendations and warnings to loved ones who hoped to follow. Some routes were in fact better than others, but none were without pitfalls. So is the case with homeschooling. I wonder if in our endeavor to defend this unusual and counter-cultural route, we have neglected to objectively reflect on the potential dangers and pitfalls of homeschooling and, in so doing, failed to learn from our mistakes as well as pass on the precious gift of our experience to those who follow.
After a decade of homeschooling, I am more convinced than ever of the incredible opportunities it avails for personal, family, and spiritual, as well as academic growth. I enthusiastically recommend it to any hearty and humble soul that would venture onto this path. At the same time, I am keenly aware of my own mistakes. Some of those mistakes seem to be rather common. As a Christian homeschooler I am also keenly aware of my enemy, who, no matter which path I choose, sets himself firmly against me if my goal and destination is to lead my children in the ways and to the throne of the Lord.
Our family is entering our twelfth year of homeschooling. Over the past eleven years I have taught many lessons, but learned many more. Like the pioneers of old, I want to share some of the lessons I've learned and am learning in the hope that they may forewarn you of dangers I've met and encourage you along the way in your journey.
And that is lesson #1. Homeschooling is not a destination, it is a journey. It is not an end, but a marvelous means. Days upon days woven together to give warp and woof to a life. And while many things serve to ease our journey and make it more comfortable, there is one thing that is absolutely necessary. And that is knowing where you're going. Without this, you are not on a journey but a wander.
Most of us started our homeschool journeys with a very clear understanding of our destination. We wanted to explore God's creation together, learning to love and grow with one another, as we discovered our child's gifts and purpose and prepared them for their role in His kingdom. In short, to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, with a vision for something bigger than them. It doesn't take long though, maybe an hour into your first day, to come face to face with doubt and the temptation to dismiss your eternal goals as idealistic and unrealistic and to settle for temporal goals that are pragmatic and measurable . . good grades, more subjects, more activity all with the hope of impressing others and validating self. As long as you find success here, life is good. The trouble comes when life gets "lifey" like it tends to do. Then striving enters in and too often becomes what characterizes more of our homeschooling days than naught.
Think of a current struggle or maybe a recent bad day or scenario in your home. Now imagine it through the filter of each of these varied goals . . eternal and temporal. Consider how our reaction is determined by our goals. To glorify God in all we do or to check off every thing on our list. To stop and pray when my temper has found its voice or to justify harshness in the name of discipline. To give thanks in everything or to despair and wallow in self-pity and condemnation. Do you see how our reality fits into eternal goals perfectly? The things that stop us in our tracks, paralyze our progress, and steal our joy when we are focused only on the temporal are transformed into opportunities to live out grace when brought into the light of the eternal.
Lesson # 2. We cannot teach what we do not know. We cannot teach the joy of learning before we've known the joy of being. We cannot teach the joy of homeschooling, before we've cultivated and experienced the joy of home. Homeschool ambition gone awry can quickly turn our homes from havens to places of turmoil. The ability to homeschool our children is an awesome gift, but it seems to be human nature to make idols of our gifts. We are not unlike God's first children the Israelites, who being blessed with the wealth of the self-plundering Egyptians, turned their gifts of gold into a bovine idol and proclaimed, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." The story seems strange and ridiculous from our vantage point. The God who reined down wrath on their enemies, parted the Red Sea, led them with fire and a cloud, fed them from Heaven, this God takes a few days to consult with His main man Moses, and His faithless followers forsake Him and turn to an idol made with their own hands. Their own efforts. Their hard work and resources. Maybe not so strange.
As homeschoolers, we must resist the ever present temptation to bow at the idol of academia. Rather, we must faithfully fill our homes and days with praise, thanksgiving, prayer, affection, loving correction, humble apologies . . grace.
We must purpose to take note of and to enjoy God's good gifts as they come. Grasping at tranquility. Seeing interruptions for what they are . . opportunities brought by a loving Father.
We must keep true perspective and rest. Our "kingdom" fits inside the eternal purposes of God's kingdom. And nothing can thwart His plans.
Lesson #3. This job is too big for you. Training up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord is a task greater than you, your husband, your curriculum, and your plan for discipline.
In John's account of Jesus feeding the five thousand there is an interesting phrase that is absent in the other gospel accounts. Jesus says to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?' He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do'."
He said this to test him. To see where his trust lay. Where he looked for the provision. To the seen or the unseen. We know the story. How Jesus made something out of practically nothing, feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fish. Philip was faced with a quandary. A task that was bigger than himself, and he looked to the temporal to provide.
Only in recognizing and daily acknowledging the true scope of our task will we look to the right resource to be equipped.
This is "The Harvest" by Van Gogh. I love this painting because it represents all I work and pray for in my children's lives. With most of my children in their teens and one in his twenties, I can tell you my brief experience with reaping a harvest has been humbling and glorious! To see God's faithfulness in the face of faults and mistakes I am so well aware of is a comfort like no other.
The Harvest is the reaping of all the hard work sown. The farmer did indeed work . . . tilling the soil, digging out rocks, plowing, planting, watering, hovering. But for all his work, he didn't make the seed grow. The rain fall. The sun shine. He had no control over flood, drought, pestilence. The faith of the farmer to work hard doing all he can, but then recognize the one who can bring the miracle of growth is a perfect analogy for us as parents and homeschoolers. If the farmer looked only at what he could see, he would soon grow despondent. His eyes were "[fixed] not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Lesson #4. You are perfect for this task. Yes, it is indeed bigger than you. But before you were born, "All the days ordained for [you] were written in [His] book before one of them came to be." (Psalm 139:16) Your Father knew you'd be in this place on this day with these children and these circumstances and these strengths and these weaknesses. All the days up till now were to prepare you for this day. Some of you are thinking, "Well, if this is prepared, someone wasn't paying attention."
The Biblical analogy of the potter and the clay is rich and frequent. It speaks of God's authority, sovereignty, and ability to make what He wills out of us. Now had he consulted me, I might have arranged to look something like this. Classic. Nice shape. Understated but not bland. Glazed . . at least on the outside. Most importantly, flawless . . no chips, cracks. (light candle)
Fortunately, He did not consult me. This pot is a more accurate representation of the vessel called me. (light candle) For His is an upside-down kingdom. Where my weaknesses become strengths. My flaws become fodder for His glory.
I wrote this poem as a sort of auto-biography. It's called "Potter's Prerogative":
broken by design
to my ignorant eye
pain, heartache, meaningless
to Your all seeing
redemption made real
in the cracks and broken places
the healing begins
wounds and pieces glued back together
with love and truth
parts become whole
cracks made conduits
a vessel of light
it seeps and pours out everywhere
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:28, 31-32)