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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Character Training for All


One Easter, after sitting with my children in their fort and telling them the story of Christ, I watched as my oldest child hid resurrection eggs for her three younger siblings. Immediately, I was struck by the preciousness of the lives they live. The relationships they are forming will be a source of support and comfort to them their entire lives. We have seen many dear friends come and go, with relocation and other circumstances taking them from us. But the immediate family God has given us remains a constant. The joy our children derive from one another is in direct proportion to how much we train them to love and sacrifice for each another.

As homeschooling mothers, we are blessed with time to spend with our children. However, making time for character training is a choice that involves daily self sacrifice. It must be a priority in our day or we will find ourselves missing perfect opportunities to point our children to Christ. For it is much easier to reprimand and move on in academic pursuits than it is to stop and faithfully disciple their hearts. Inspiring faithfulness in our little ones requires that we mature in our faithfulness with the time we have been given.

We must constantly remind ourselves that homeschooling is not just about academics. What will constitute success when our children are adults will not be whether or not they can identify a direct object, write a persuasive paragraph, or rattle off the answer to 8x7 before their coworkers can produce a calculator. Though important, these things will not enable them to be healthy, happy adults in the sight of God and man. What will? Is it not learning how to sacrifice their desires for the good of others? Knowing how to love and care for the hurting and weak? Loving those who are unlovable (as their siblings and all people can be at times)? Knowing how to be thoughtful, gracious people who accept their circumstances without complaint—people who have watched their parents model a life devoted to God? These things are not learned in institutional schools, nor can they be. A teacher cannot address every mean spirit exhibited, or every hateful word and deed children commit against one another. No, these events are left unchecked, teaching the children that power and force are king while humility and kindness are weaknesses. And day after day, God is not elevated in their experiences. Even the traits that form healthy academic habits, such as working with diligence, are best learned under the watchful eye of a mother who knows the child well and can identify sloth. Few would earnestly pray for and help our child overcome poor habits. Yet as we seek to train our children in the ways of God, we find that God is training us as well.

When I was teaching one of our children to read, the frustration level I experienced was unbelievable. I would get so irritated when he could not remember the letter I had just spent 30 minutes teaching him. I’m ashamed of how distressed I got with the poor little man. I would throw a miniature fit, exactly the sort of which we do not allow him to have. Why, I had a rotten attitude about the whole thing. One day, the Lord convicted my heart about how I was teaching my son it is acceptable to become angry when things don’t go our way, something that didn't need anymore reinforcement in our home. I was modeling impatience and irritation with one who was younger and weaker, which does not bode well for his younger siblings. I was modeling an ungrateful, discouraging, and selfish heart. I was discipling him to believe academics are more important than character. I was walking out an attitude that was unholy and unrighteous. I had to repent to God and to him. And the Lord began to change my focus. I became aware that how I teach is much more important than what I teach. I realized that all wisdom and understanding comes from the Lord. If my child doesn’t understand, praying for him is more effective than raising my voice. If my child still doesn’t understand, I trust that the Lord will open his or her eyes when the time is ripe. It is imperative that I believe with all my heart God is sovereign over my children. That He will accomplish in them all His purposes and plans. He wants me in a place of resting, not striving.

God is always economical in his purposes, killing the proverbial two birds with one stone, if you will. You see, as we seek to shape the character of our children, we too, are being sanctified. I believe that as homeschooling mothers we have more of an opportunity to be challenged to walk out our faith. Daily, yea, hourly, we are forced to look at our true character and die to that which is wrong. There is little else that brings about the opportunity to follow the examples in Scripture—in the face of unrelenting odds—than homeschooling our own dear children. We must be transformed by the Spirit of God in order that on any given day we remain Christlike toward our sometimes whiny, demanding, opposing, and moody youth. Our children are given all the advantages in life as they witness, first hand, a child of God, their Mom, being shaped into the image of Christ. They watch and listen as we seek to glorify God in our attitudes and actions—repenting, praying, and releasing ourselves to be transformed by the only One who can do it. This is, indeed, true discipleship. As I survey the years of homeschooling, I know I am changed. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m so thankful to be a bit more like Christ than I was in the beginning. When my eyes are on Jesus, the place where they always return when the emptiness of a worldly focus catches up with me, He exposes Truth and He produces the changes in me. All my efforts cannot produce one single godly attitude or thought. It is by ceasing to strive that I release myself to the transforming work of God.

I believe homeschooling is a genuine example to our children of what surrender to God truly is. They will one day know the sacrifices we made for them; and it will minister to their spirits. It will challenge them to choose to do the best thing, even when it is the hardest thing. What a joy it will be one day when we see that our lives and choices actually imparted wisdom and gave our children the tools to live a joyful, abundant life for the Lord. They will one day rise up and call us blessed. And in the mean time, we can simply enjoy seeing the fruit of their lives played out as they open little plastic eggs with one another.

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