I’m Beginning to See It

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

— Galatians 6:9

When my husband and I first decided that we would homeschool our as-yet-unborn children, in my mind’s eye was a purely idyllic version of what that might look like. I pictured myself puttering around in the kitchen as the kids happily read great literature on the couch, peace and coziness wrapping around our household like a warm hug. We’d do messy science experiments in the back yard and explore art at the kitchen table, giggling and joyful and enthusiastic as I guided them to discover all the riches and wonder in the world of learning.

The reality was harder than I had expected.

Boots on the ground, real homeschooling, I found, meant wading through hyperactive days and sibling squabbles. Fielding endless complaints about grammar and fits of tears about math. Writing off my plans for messy wonderful projects because neither the kids nor I had any stamina left for them after the battles of the day. Wondering whether the multiplication tables would EVER stick, whether my kids would EVER remember to put punctuation at the end of every sentence, whether their character flaws were terminal, and whether I was just doing them a colossal disservice by even trying to homeschool at all.

Maybe you can relate to that. Homeschooling is a lot of work – repetitive, thankless, seemingly endless work, with results that are very slow-coming and often really difficult for us to see from the middle of the struggle. But if that’s where you’re at, take heart.

I have good news for all you mamas in the trenches. It’s starting to happen.

I’m beginning to see the results of all the years of thankless, endless labor that tested the limits of my patience and heart. And it is so, so worth it.

Don’t get me wrong. My family still has hard days – the kind where we’re all tired out, the weather is gloomy, nobody wants to do much of anything, and Mommy loses her cool after three hours of enduring petulant kid behavior and soundly yells at everyone (then wrestles with guilt for the rest of the day). But they are fewer and further between than they used to be.

And I’m starting to see those beautiful moments, more and more often. The kind where the kids are both happily reading school assignments while I putter in the kitchen. The lightbulb moments in discussions where some deep truth about God and humanity clicks for them so viscerally that I can see it in their faces. The moments where they run up to me full of excitement because THIS thing that they just read relates to THIS thing that they studied last week or at co-op or read in a fun book, and they’re so excited about it. The moments where peace and harmony really do wrap around us like a cozy blanket, where I revel in a profound, exquisite happiness so deep it aches, and I thank God with tears in my eyes for our family and the privilege of living this life with them.

It has taken work. It has taken endless repetitions, and not giving up. It has taken days when school work got sidelined because character issues needed to take center stage. It has taken patience with the growing process of children and their need for a LOT of hands-on guidance before they can become more independent. It has taken adjusting my expectations to meet them where they are at, rather than being married to an unrealistic standard and trying to impose it on everyone else by maternal fiat. (That never ends well.) And it’s taken love, and apologizing when I’m wrong, and keeping going even when I feel like I’m failing, and above all else, falling back into utter dependence on the Lord’s help and trusting that he’s able to make up for every single one of my failings. 

So don’t give up, mama. Keep fighting the good fight. Remember that children start out with foolishness bound up in their hearts, and it takes training and energy and time to teach them wisdom. But don’t become weary in doing good, because at the proper time, you WILL reap a harvest. If you don’t give up.

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Christian Parenting – What Are We Trying to Do, Anyway?

I can’t tell you how many afternoons I spent when my kids were babies, driving aimlessly around on back roads with them buckled into their car seats in the back. They were both so feisty, sometimes it was the only way I could get them to nap! Some days we’d drive for hours, taking turns down roads I’d never been down before, just to keep the car moving and to see what was at the end of the way.

Old farm highways, meandering between green fields and weathered barns; long open roads that stretched out toward the ocean, only to dead-end a few blocks short of the shore; winding forest roads that opened up onto vistas of mountain and sky. My kids would get an hour or two of good, solid sleep, I would revel in the blissful reprieve of quiet, and I explored more of the area surrounding my home than I had ever even known was there before those years.

To the casual observer, I’m sure it looked like I was driving around randomly without any purpose at all. In fact, my purpose was quite clear; it just had nothing to do with my destination!

Sometimes in parenting, our purpose isn’t always so clear. Sometimes we jump in the metaphorical car and just start driving, not really knowing where we’re going. Other times, we might get to the destination we thought we wanted, only to realize that we really should have gone somewhere else.

So, when it comes to Christian parenting…what are we trying to do, anyway? It’s important to ask ourselves this question, because our destination, whether conscious or unconscious, will determine where we end up.

When I look at what Christian parents are doing, and at what Christian parenting resources offer, this seems to be more or less the goal I find tacitly expressed:

We want to raise good kids. We want kids who are well-behaved and respectful. We want kids who memorize Scripture and know the answers to Bible questions and know how Christians should behave. We want kids who don’t swear, don’t drink, don’t do drugs, who make smart and biblical decisions when the chips are down.

There’s nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. In fact, I want all of that for my kids, too! But there’s one big problem with that goal: It’s profoundly incomplete.

Back in Jesus’ day, they had a name for a group of people who did all the right things. They followed God’s Law to the letter. They could quote whole books of Scripture. They knew the answers to the Bible questions. They knew how God’s people should behave. They didn’t drink to excess or sleep around or use foul language.

Handwritten Torah scroll. Photo credit: Adobe Stock

They were called the Pharisees.

I think if we were honest, most of us would give a lot to have our kids live as outwardly godly lives as the Pharisees did. Wouldn’t we? And yet, they are the New Testament’s villains. They had the outside right. But they got the inside all wrong.

As Christian parents, we don’t want to be raising kids who simply look good. We want to be raising children who genuinely know Jesus.

So what were these Pharisees lacking?

A number of things, no doubt. But chief among them, they lacked what Jesus spoke of at the very beginning of his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) This is the starting point of Jesus’ lengthiest sermon recorded in Scripture, and it is the starting point for all of us.

Poverty of spirit is usually defined in Bible commentaries as having an acute, desperate sense of one’s own spiritual lack. Someone who is poor in spirit doesn’t think he has it all together. She doesn’t congratulate herself on the excellency of her behavior. Such a person knows his or her own spiritual brokenness and recognizes his or her genuine need for a Savior. The Pharisees didn’t have this. In fact, in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus used a Pharisee as the example in a parable intended to reprove those who “were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (v. 9, NIV). This parable clearly and vividly illustrates what poverty of spirit looks like…and what it doesn’t.

Poverty of spirit is absolutely essential to our ability to embrace the Good News of Jesus Christ. I’ve heard it said in Christian circles, “There is no good news in the Gospel unless the bad news comes first.” Unless we recognize the depth and wickedness of our own sin, can we truly appreciate the profound beauty of grace? Until we come face to face with our brokenness, our need for a Savior, our complete inadequacy to save ourselves, what miracle can we find in Jesus making a way for us?

If our goal in parenting is to raise kids who look good, who know the right things to say and do and who make us look really good as parents, we will be raising excellent little Pharisees. But if our primary goal as Christian parents is to lead our children to Christ himself, we must recognize that the first step toward Jesus is knowing how deeply we need him.

This last year, my prayer for my children was that God would reveal himself to them in such a way that they really began to own their faith for themselves. I can teach them so much, but only God can make it really sink in and become alive to them, so I was asking him to do what I could not.

I expected he’d answer by somehow speaking to them, or that they would experience some answered prayer or some tangible sense of him near. For my daughter, this is more or less what happened. But for my son, God answered this prayer in a way I did not at all expect.

My son this year found himself making a huge mistake. He sinned big…the kind of sin that wracked him with guilt for months as he tried to make sure we never found out. When we finally did, he was expecting the worst. But we had the opportunity to demonstrate to him the grace of God – not minimizing his sin or hand-waving it away, but recognizing its seriousness even as we affirmed that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was powerful enough and sufficient enough to cover it completely. For the first time, that kiddo had the visceral sense of not deserving forgiveness…but having it offered to him anyway.

I think that’s the night he really understood the Gospel for the first time. He prayed with me for salvation, and while it wasn’t our first time praying those words, I think it was the first time he really understood and meant them. It took recognizing the depth of his own sinfulness and his inability to save himself – the bad news – to make the Good News so precious and sweet.

Ever since then, when he writes down each day the three things he’s thankful for, forgiveness is one of them. It was never on the list before. It has been now, nearly every single day since. (We’ll work on the spelling of it eventually – hehe! That’ll be a different blog post.) He owns his trust in Jesus now in a way he never did before. And it came, not through a booming voice from Heaven, but from coming face to face with his own brokenness.

So, how can we cultivate poverty of spirit in our kids? I’ll share my thoughts in a couple of upcoming blog posts on poverty of spirit and how to get ourselves out of the way in parenting. For now, take some time to consider what your goal has been in parenting your kids. Have you been looking at the outside, as the Pharisees did? Let’s become parents who focus on what Jesus looked at – the heart.

The Truth Needs More Voices

I’m not sure how long I’ve procrastinated on starting a blog.

It’s been on my heart for years. But despite the encouragement of friends and my husband (who is truly my biggest cheerleader), something would always stop me. Could I really commit to writing something EVERY WEEK (or however often you’re supposed to publish things on a blog)? Would I run out of things to talk about? Would anyone be interested?

More importantly, did I have anything worth saying at all?

There are a lot of people out there on the Internet saying things about Christian parenting. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a parenting or homeschooling blog. (Hehe.) And I found that the same thing kept happening to me over and over: I’d come up with some great idea, some insight or tip for parenting or homeschooling, and I’d think – at last! I’ve found it! MY unique contribution!

Only to see it in a Facebook ad for a parenting book a week later. Or hear it in a podcast. Or at a parenting conference.

Really, I thought to myself, there are so many gifted and insightful people out there that my voice isn’t really needed. I don’t have anything unique to share and, therefore, nothing really of value.

But a few weeks ago, something else happened.

A long-time friend shared that they’d* been having doubts and struggling with their faith. They’d been searching YouTube and the Internet for answers to questions, watching debates, making a reading list. And at the end of it, they’d decided they didn’t believe in God any more.

Quite apart from the gut punch of sorrow I felt, I was bewildered. I’ve done a lot of reading and researching myself. To me, the evidence for a Creator who transcends time and space is so strong and ubiquitous that it’s beyond doubt. My friend shared some of the questions that troubled them, and I thought to myself…I know the answers to those questions. I’ve studied them. I know that they’re out there. If this friend has been looking so hard for answers, why haven’t they found them?

And then my friend said something that stunned me:

There just aren’t that many people arguing for the Christian side.

All of a sudden, the realization clicked into place. See, it didn’t matter that the answer was out there somewhere, or that someone had already thought of it. It wasn’t in the places where this friend was looking, and when push came to shove, there weren’t enough people talking about it to make it easy to find.

It didn’t matter that Truth existed. Because a few lonely voices of Truth weren’t easy to hear over the cacophony of everything else.

That friend is still struggling, and I’m still praying for them. But that conversation made me realize something too about what I have to offer.

Truth needs more voices. And so do good parenting, discipleship, and homeschool ideas. Maybe I don’t have anything new to say that someone else wiser or more experienced than I am hasn’t already come up with. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need a louder, broader chorus of voices saying it. Because you might never read that book, listen to that podcast, attend that parenting conference, but you’re here, now.

And in the same way, I want to encourage you. You have something to offer. And even if it’s not new or groundbreaking or totally unique, that doesn’t mean it isn’t world-changing. If you know Jesus Christ and his Word, if he’s been changing you from the inside out, you have access to a rich storehouse of Truth. And Truth needs more voices.

So share what you know, and say it loud. You never know who has never heard it before.

* Pronouns are intentionally vague to protect my friend’s identity. It’s hard enough to struggle with your faith without people scrutinizing you or being unkind while you’re doing it.