Monday, December 8, 2008

First Things First!

I began my homeschooling journey with a deep conviction that this was God's call upon my family. Many of you felt that same calling. You knew God had great plans for your children's lives and that He wanted to lead you as you guided their spiritual and academic development. God hand picked you to be their mom—and no teacher could love them, nurture them, or care about their success more than you. No teacher, except you, could pinpoint early on their unique talents and gifts. No one but you could nurture them while lovingly helping them with their weaknesses. God uniquely positioned you to be a devoted teacher, spiritual mentor, and coach for these precious ones entrusted to your care.

As I stepped out in faith into this wonderful journey of homeschooling, I discovered an exciting new universe: a world of curriculum, educational philosophies, supplementary activities and courses, academic endeavors, field trips, and opportunities abounding for the betterment of my little protégés. With a thrill I realized I really could give my children a better education. Only one major problem existed: fitting it all in. So if we were going to do it all, we had better get on the stick!

Can you guess what fell by the wayside in our zealous efforts? Personal discipleship: Bible reading, morning devotions, deep spiritual discussions, heart training, and even our dear Lord Jesus. Sadly, I caught a terrible case of "Academics Attack," a malady that strikes many a homeschool mom. Indeed, my quest to provide my children the "best" education and the "best" enrichment resulted in an attack on our true purpose for homeschooling—to nurture their hearts for the Lord and help them grow into children who have their own personal walk with God. A walk that is Spirit led and powerful.

Though I believe God desires our children to do all things with excellence and to infiltrate every arena with light, including fields of study and trade, we must intentionally bear in mind our true purpose as home educators. If we are not proactive, we'll pave our homeschool highway with good intentions unfulfilled. There is a way that seems right to man, and focusing on academics and achievement would seem to provide a bright future for our offspring. Yet, in God's economy, we must continually seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to us as well. Seek ye first.

Our first priority should be training the hearts of our children to love the Lord, to love others, and to really, really know God. We should diligently make heart training the important first in our day—a quest we purposefully and actively pursue—rather than wait and hope for teachable moments to arise. Frankly, academic or extracurricular interests can quite easily become an idol to our hearts and to the hearts of our children. We find ourselves obsessively devoted to these pursuits, dedicating most of our thoughts and attention to them. It's quite a task to keep heart training the priority, but God promises that our diligence to do so will yield tremendous results: He will take care of everything else on our behalf. Yes, He will do it. He will fulfill His promises (Psalm 138:8).

When a love for God is truly cultivated, everything else—including academics and other endeavors—will fall into place. In fact, if we neglect spiritual training, the other pursuits won't yield the fruit God intended.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. John 15:5

Apart from God, all our efforts come to naught. Nothing. Zip. Zero. A law degree? Maybe. But in God's eyes, it's worth nothing apart from Him. If we genuinely focus our homeschooling on spiritual training, it will produce fruit. Fruit far superior to that which we could ever manufacture through our own efforts. Spiritual maturity produces academic success with less effort. Spiritual maturity allows our students to be led by their Maker into that which they were created to be—and it's always better than what we could plan or hope for.

After a year or two of relentlessly working to provide the best education and enrichment for my children (putting spiritual maturity on the back burner), I was at the end of my rope. I found myself driving slowly by the public school. Needless to say, things were not going well. My kids were fighting constantly, and no one enjoyed school—including me. I realized that all the field trips we took were just an excuse for a day off and no one learned anything. No one wanted to do his work. Each day we were frantically rushing through the curricula because we usually had somewhere to be in the afternoon. Anger was the flavor of ice cream I served up on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Yum.

Finally, in silent desperation, I did what most of us do when we find ourselves in a deep, dark pit: I gave up and fell on my face before God. With fresh revelation, I emerged with a new plan: morning devotions instead of school. Yes, for a while we just gave it all up and only did devotions. We did them for more than an hour every day.

Within a short time, our entire family life changed. Peace reigned where chaos was once our dictator. Kindness marked our attitudes. And diligence began sprouting up in my children's little hearts as they completed their assignments and did what they were asked. When I said it was time for school, I no longer heard the familiar groans. No amount of begging, pleading, rewarding, or threatening to call Dad could have produced this behavior. It was the fruit of my children's renewed walk with God. Their faith grew as their prayer lives matured, and they began to regularly pray on their own—in every situation, especially before subjects that were the most difficult.

There were times over the years where we had fallen out of the routine of devotions. Either we couldn't find a good devotional book to read, or we went on vacation and couldn't get back in the groove. Or I just allowed busyness to distract us. Invariably, within a short time of neglect, things would begin to crumble again. Unfortunately, we simply can't coast on the manna we received last month. We'll ramble along for a bit before we begin to slide downward into another "Academics Attack."

If I could tell moms only one thing that would help their homeschooling it would be this: Give regular morning devotions priority over everything. Truly, nothing else blessed our homeschool experience more.