22 August 2006

Between a Cross and a Fishbowl

These words are written by my friend, Mary, who has more reason than most to desire a nurturing, protective environment for her family. What was not readily granted to her, she seeks to provide for her three kids in abundance. In these words I see Mary as a wrestler- examining the motives that drive her parenting, evaluating her past, present and future through the lens of Jesus.

There is a place when our children are young, to protect them. But as they grow older, it is imperative we begin to introduce them to the real sea world out there. I know this is probably not a popular opinion. But I can say this: pioneer parents tend to swing to the other pendulum when raising their kids. If they grew up in a permissive home, they move toward a more controlling home and visa versa. We so long to see our children have the safety of a Christian home. But we need not aim too shortsightedly. Think of the long haul. Think of your children interacting with the world. And prepare them now. Teach them to swim in this crazy world. Maybe part of that teaching involves personal risk.

I wonder how many of us ALSO prefer to live insulated, safe lives in the fishbowl.

So, please, if you're homeschooling, don't hear my words as a criticism, but as an invitation to think something through.

So I took Mary's advice (feeling no criticism from her), and prayed it through for our family. We're starting our 3rd year of homeschooling soon so this is the perfect time for me to wrestle with these concepts. Here is what has come to my heart concerning our family this week.

Look at all the Pretty Fish in the Bowl
There is more than one way for a Christian parent to "fishbowl" themselves. For some, homeschooling is taking the easy way out by protecting our kids from all the perceived evils in the world. For others, using the public or private school system is living in the fishbowl because then we just don't have to deal with our kids. Either way represents a self-focus (read that: sin) on the part of the parents. Protectionism or pawning off.

As with anything I do in life, I need to be in constant communication with God as to whether or not homeschooling is still "on the table" for me. " God, is homeschooling the right thing for our family this year? Are you moving us into another area of yieldedness? Is it time to put myself aside and send my kids to learn under someone else? Am I homeschooling out of fear that the public school is going to 'ruin' my children?"

News flash to self: I'm ruining them pretty well on my own. I am a sinner. I can do nothing BUT ruin them in my own flesh, so how is that different from what the state-run system is going to do them?
Another news flash to self: Praise be to God who can bring beauty from ashes, life from death, kisses from tears, and joy from weeping! And turn students into scholars, munchkins into missionaries despite the ruin imposed by their frail parents and/or the local school down the road. :)

Parenting is a Cross
"If any man would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me." Luke 9:23

I have to ask God, "What is the cross you want me to carry this year?" ALL schooling choices (and all of parenting, really) contain their fair share of crosses to bear. For me, the question is not which cross is better or holier, but which cross has my name on it, and am I willing to bear it and follow Christ?
New flash to self: My cross is not entirely the same as my neighbor, Michelle's, cross. Nor is it completely the same as the cross my mother bore. Nor is it identical to any other cross throughout history and creation. My cross is specific to me, reflecting my weaknesses, the areas in which I fail to trust my savior, goofy ideas I have about the way life ought to be, etc.

I like time to myself. I like to read MY books, do MY art projects, take MY naps, keep MY schedule. I have all those paper lanterns I keep writing about. When are they ever going to get done? One might go so far as to call me selfish. (Big shocker there, I know.) Plus, I don't know how to teach math, science, history, grammar, phonics, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness or self-control. I need someone to teach those things to me! I am so truly inadequate for the task at hand. Sending my children to the "professionals" sounds pretty good. But Jesus has handed me a cross with my name on it, and part of that cross (at least this year) is to come out of myself and my interests to learn to consider myself as nothing more than a servant. Oh man, that's a hard cross. And I don't want to do it.

As to being in a homeschool fishbowl, the world and all its ugly baggage has an easy enough time finding my doorstep. It often even creeps into my bedroom and snuggles up close all night long. The sin that oozes out of my mouth and pores first thing in the morning is proof that my own home can be just as spiritually treacherous as the elementary school playground and the carpool or bus route. Oh yes, there's quite enough sin floating around this household of 5.

Where the Cross and Fishbowl Meet
I vividly remember being a 6th grader riding the bus to school at 7:30am, and watching the 8th graders getting high on White Out, pot, and model airplane glue. I remember one nameless, faceless girl whose mother actually came to school and beat up her own child over who-knows-what. (I assume this qualifies for Mary's description of a "real sea world.") I saw all kinds of "red light district" behavior going down all around me, and yet didn't have a mentor there to tell me a) this is wrong, b) here's what's wrong about it, c) here's what God says in response to what's happening, d) here's how you need to respond, as a Christian.

The school staff was certainly not helping me make sense of these things. My parents, well, I never told my parents about what transpired at my middle school. I thought they were fuddy duddies. I thought I was too cool and too mature to need their help sorting this stuff out. For whatever reason, I did not have a repoire with my folks that enabled me to come to them for direction.
Now it's my turn to be the parent and who will teach my children the proper way to respond to little red pills being passed around the back of the bus? Or how to address the name calling and potty talk 5th graders might use to bully a kindergartener? Or what to do with that one boy that just doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the group? I fail to see how a group of 28 nine year olds can be their own authority on what is wise, what is moral, what is worthy, what is just. Which leads me to a rallying point for all of us parents...

Parenting is the Point
Deuteronomy 11:18-20 lays it out for us as parents, no matter which schooling option we choose, "Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates..." The point is, you must be involved in giving your child the framework to view the sin and decay of this world. The tools my daughters need to understand how to respond to the ocean of worldliness are meant to come from none other than me.

I have yet to read this verse, "Verily I say unto thee, homeschool thine children. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if thou homeschoolest thy children." Nor have I come across this one, "The true fruit of righteousness is this, send your child to the school of the state. By this, your faith in the Lord is evidenced. "

But I DO find this in the Scriptures...

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139: 23-24

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35

And I love this one, in The Message translation:

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."
Romans 12:1-2

I just find that liberating! There is a certain homeschooling culture and it is not always about the business of God. There's a send-your-kids-off-to-school culture, and there are unsavory elements there too. Am I offering my everyday, ordinary school choices to the Lord? Am I listening to what He says about it? Am I obeying what He says, ignoring popular opinion? Do I make opportunites to teach my children to walk in the way of wisdom, to love as Jesus loved, to stand for righteousness and run from the counsel of the wicked? Whether or not I teach them geometry, Latin and dramatic reading or hire someone else to do so, am I parenting them? If I embrace the role of parent, I'm good.

My parenting will always have a touch of fishbowlness to it, I'm afraid. But my prayer is that this year I will willingly take up my cross and follow Him. *

*Which might mean you won't see me around Blogger a whole lot. Unless God multiplies my time. A girl can wish, can't she?


Blogger Kelley said...

Well said, Erin. Since sending Nate off to the (not so) local school, I've had those flashes of "am I doing the right thing?" I admire homeschooler moms, mostly because I can't fathom doing it myself yet part of me wishes to keep my children under my (and John's) direct influence as long as possible. We always have to examine our motives, whatever the choice facing us. Thanks for a thoughtful post on a controversial subject.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Thank you for this thoughtful approach. Even though we don't have kids yet, my husband and I have already begun the schooling discussion. All sides can have weaknesses if ignored. If we homeschool, getting involved in the community in other ways to teach the kids to be salt and light would be necessary. If public schools, guiding the kids, spending time at home teaching them to be and act Christianly and godly in the world (as well as taking time to introduce them to the art and music and literature that they are missing in today's public schools) would be important. And there's probably a dose of what is best for each child.

12:06 PM  
Blogger FatcatPaulanne said...

I was reading this and thinking, wow, she is quite a writer and then I saw your next post below that says "I'm not a writer." and I thought it was ironic. I think you have a gift for writing. Keep up the good work.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Wendy N said...

Erin, What a wonderful post. I now know why you and I have connect on this whole issue. You know exactly where I am at...
On my face before the Lord trusting that what we are choosing to do is what is truly best for our child and praying that my "self' does not mess that up.
Thanks for the blessing that I recieved in reading the post.

8:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home