About Me

I am a Christian mother of five, and our highest goal as a family is to serve God in every aspect of our lives. Jesus promised His disciples 'life in all its abundance' (John 10:10) - that has been our story, a rich life, not devoid of challenges, but certainly abundant. Previously writing at www.homeeducationnovice.blogspot.com, we have come to realise that education is just one area where our faith shapes our choices and direction in life. This blog seeks to share our adventure (using font only to enable access in settings with poor internet)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Reflections from African village life

Three weeks ago, we packed up our belongings and travelled to live and work in an African village. We left the cold, dark, British winter, and widespread preparations for what seems to have become an increasingly commercial festival of materialism, excess and superficiality (Christmas!). We have replaced a fast pace of life for one where small errands can take a whole morning, walking down dusty paths, stepping by to let the donkey carts pass, exchanging increasing numbers of greetings with the new friends we are making. Instead of Christmas excess, we hear both tuneful and not so tuneful prayer calls five times a day from the nearby mosques, and purchase only the essential items from the local market. In many ways, it is a different world entirely. The change is refreshing, peaceful and beautiful. The children seem so free. From morning to evening, they spend hours running outside, playing intricate games with various kinds of stick or leaf that they have found, and really using their imagination. They come home grubby and hungrily eat some basic, unrefined food, then return to their adventures. Ironically, I am a little more worried about their ‘culture shock’ on returning to the UK than I was about bringing them here!

But perhaps a bigger surprise has been how similar our life is here to that back ‘home’. Since having children, we have consciously examined our lives and sought to provide a solid foundation for them encompassing every aspect of their education. We have stripped away unnecessary clutter, and sought to avoid excessive exposure to unhelpful influences. We take care to live simply and within our means, so that one parent can always be at home, and this too has influenced many of our day to day lifestyle choices. 

Freedom to play. Do many children have that these days? Or have we replaced freedom and imagination with structured activities aimed at developing certain skills in our children? Do we stifle one of their most basic needs? And do we make a rod for our own back by not allowing children to develop their imaginations and resourcefulness?

Walking many miles, keeping physically fit and therefore eating and sleeping well. Do we take time to walk, or does our hectic schedule force us to use cars or public transport as we rush from one activity to the next? Do we fret about rising rates of obesity and sedentary lifestyles, yet feel compelled to follow the current trend?

Greeting others in the neighbourhood. Do we get to know those who live near us? Do we stop to spend time? Do we patronise local shops and services rather than travelling further, and so build the sense of community? Does it really matter? Do our children know any others than their own peer group? Could we make simple changes to increase their security and confidence in relationships with a diverse range of people?

Simple, basic food. Do we buy seasonally? Are we resourceful in the recipes we choose? Do we ensure the children receive excellent physical as well as academic nutrition? Does our lifestyle allow time for this?

Time with the children. Do we need to be as busy as we are? Are there any things which are unnecessary clutter in our lives? What are the greatest priorities in our lives? Is there anything which does not help in reaching these aims?

Living within our means. What is most important? Is it a certain house, lifestyle, holidays, other expensive things? Or is it really true that the ‘best things in life are free’? We cannot have it all. Choices, at times sacrificial choices, need to be made for what is most important.

A holistic education. There is nothing my boys lack here. Every aspect of the sketchy ‘curriculum’ we follow is provided for here. (I use principles similar to those outlined by Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education as an atmosphere, a discipline and a life, and basically try and make sure that we read every day, do Bible every day, and then keep a balance between other things throughout the week). Language comes from reading, and colourful descriptions of their surroundings, the landscape, the birds, the smells, the sounds. Social interaction is a part of daily life. Arithmetic and stewardship are achieved by visits to the market. History and geography are met in response to the many questions they ask. Cooking and craft, other creative arts, can be achieved through the imaginative use of local resources. And so I could go on.

Here, in the village, I feel content. The boys are thriving. Life seems whole and balanced. I pray I can keep the same sense of purpose and priority in the face of many conflicting clamorous voices back in the UK.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Book review: For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

I have become interested in the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason, and at the same time, a friend recommended I read ‘For the Children’s Sake’ by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.
The book is subtitled, ‘Foundations of Education for Home and School’, and is basically the author’s summary and interpretation of several key principles as outlined in the full written works of Charlotte Mason. Lengthy quotations from the original work are provided, together with a concise summary of how these principles can be applied in our modern day homes and schools.

I think this is indeed a valuable introduction to a method of education which cuts right across many current trends within both society as a whole and particularly relating to ‘mainstream’ education. In the concluding chapter, the desired result of such an education is stated to be that ‘our children may be so educated in a total life that they are enabled to have clear, realistic and true thinking and action based upon thought and principle. May they be strong personalities, free of self and external pressures so that they will have the power to do what is right.’ What an amazing goal, one which I wholeheartedly share!
The first, basic premise is that ‘children are born persons’. Each is a unique individual, created in the image of a loving God. Anybody who has observed children will see how much young babies and toddlers are able to learn through simple exploration and experimentation, yet somehow at the age of about five, we tend to herd them together in classrooms, talk at them, and expect them to learn the same material at approximately the same rate to a similar standard. It is illogical, and yet few parents question whether it is indeed right and best. Instead, the argument outlined here is that we should continue to allow a child to explore and develop their own impressions and interpretation of the world around them. Reading aloud from good quality literature is recommended, expecting the child’s full attention, followed by asking the child to tell back the story in their own words. Hence the child is encouraged to engage and interact with the material, rather than simply learning a list of facts for the purposes of testing, or of achieving a set ‘level’ of understanding. This approach is extended to many disciplines, including art, music, nature and science, history, geography and many others. Children educated in this way will develop different strengths and interests, but education remains exciting and is primarily driven by the questions the child himself asks; this is a foundation for life-long learning.

The three foundations of the philosophy of education are that it is an ‘atmosphere’, a ‘discipline’ and a ‘life’. I have written more about this elsewhere on this blog. 

I was interested to read that although holding a strongly Christian worldview, neither Charlotte Mason nor Susan Schaeffer Macaulay would recommend using only resources that are consistent with Biblical thinking; in fact they would caution against such an approach.  Having witnessed a slightly claustrophobic approach from some well meaning Christian families, who seek to protect their children against any possible ‘worldly’ influence in their methods of home education, I was refreshed to see it stated clearly that such an approach is simply short-sighted. ‘Have they thrashed through the reasons why the Bible is true? Do they understand the fallacies of other positions? Can they remember numerous occasions where the Bible was seen to fit like a key into the keyhole of reality? Do they know about the historical and archaeological evidence? Are they amazed at home the philosophical ideas of the Bible fit into the way we find reality to be? They should not be left only with a feeling.... That is not enough... Do they KNOW?’ Wisdom should be exercised regarding when exactly to expose children to certain concepts and challenges, but ‘At some teenage stage, the young person should also read and appreciate good secular twentieth century literature. He needs to understand where our culture is, why the questions are so acute, and how lost and desperate so many people feel today. It helps these older children to understand why some people write like this, what they think about the human being, God, morality, society’. This is what I want for my children – not to separate their ‘faith’ into some type of box, not fully integrated with who they are as persons and with the world around them. Instead, I want them to learn and understand how all things are created by God, and how much of education is about understanding the world that He made, but that there are also many incorrect ideas and values which they will encounter. 

On a similar theme is her argument for drawing from a wide range of source material. If we believe that all persons are created in the image of God, then all human creativity and expression is an expression of that nature. Again, to quote Macaulay, ‘We have tolerated a separation between the “secular” and the “religious”. Thus people have had to close their minds to all other aspects of life and intellectual questions when they entered the “faith” box, or that of “experience”. It is as if they were called upon to leave philosophy, literary questions, art, social questions, historical views, political action, since and so on in a sort of mental parking lot outside the “religious experiences”. Charlotte Mason allowed no such division between the “secular” and the “religious”. She understood that the whole of reality is part of God’s reality.’  Beauty, excellence, talent, creativity – all these should be celebrated as being part of the expression of God-created humanity.

Do I have any criticisms of the book? There were occasions when I felt a little discouraged, as though the author spoke from a perspective of having achieved that ideal balance in her own home and family without challenge or obstacle! However, she does clearly explain early on that she and her husband discovered Charlotte Mason after several frustrating years where their older two children were not experiencing the ideal, rounded education they sought. I would have perhaps been more encouraged had she described some of her own challenges as she moved to this different form of education. From my perspective, that might simply be the challenge of time and energy that is required. It is one thing to describe the beautiful freedom of children as they are provided with the rich nourishment of a diverse curriculum (often described by Charlotte Mason as a ‘feast’), but it does require energy to select resources, read stories, answer endless questions, go on field trips, allow the time and space for the children to grow and develop, and generally make choices within the home and family structure which may go against the grain not only in society as a whole but also within our churches. In the concluding paragraph, she hints at the effort required as the question, ‘Would you be willing to give your home so much vitality, life, through your creative time and effort that it becomes the “centre of gravity” in the child’s life?’ Although absolutely worthwhile, it does require time, effort, energy, perseverance, wisdom, prayer, and many other resources. As I have described here on this blog, challenges I face sometimes include loneliness and feeling misunderstood and at times exhaustion and difficulty in looking after my own health.

So, what changes might I make to what we are currently doing with our children?

Firstly, I am encouraged yet again that the choices we have made are right for our family, and worth the investment of all the God-given resources that we have. Already, I am starting to see fruit in terms of our children exploring, questioning, developing many fascinations with the world around them, and showing an incredible memory of the answers they are given in response to such questions. 

Secondly, I am encouraged to consider more carefully the resources I use. I particularly like the concept of ‘living books’, whereby (for example) a period of history is best studied by reading a biography or historical novel from that time, as it truly captivates the life of a real, knowable individual in that time period, rather than being an abstract list of facts. I am encouraged not to ‘dumb down’ material for my children by deciding what I think is within their grasp, but rather to use the most excellent, most beautiful literature and allow my children to interact with it directly rather than trying to tell them how I think they should interpret it.

Thirdly, I am yet again encouraged to read the full works of Charlotte Mason, which I recently got hold of. There seems so much robust truth and wisdom contained within these writings, and I wish to learn more! I particularly am interested to read how she addresses some of the challenges that may arise during this educational approach.

(Slow internet from west Africa; I will insert crosslinks later!)

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A field trip/ break from blogging!

In a couple of days, we are going on a field trip. Several months in rural Africa, working in a clinic and being involved with a pre-school project. (Slight touch of irony that we may be more involved in pre-school activities in rural Africa than in this country, but that's something I will write more about some time!). It's a great way for the whole family to be involved in mission work; sometimes it makes me sad when children are almost seen as 'getting in the way' of parents' ministry, and this is an ideal opportunity for the boys to have a role, and see how they too can glorify God.

Being able to do this type of short-term project is another great reason for home education! For our family, this type of flexibility is ideal. There are no complications regarding 'taking the children out' of school, and the day-to-day activities we do will have the same foundation whatever country we are in.

The internet connection will be very limited, and so I won't be able to post much on this blog. I intend to keep reflecting and writing, and then share some of these following our return. I am also looking forward to reading some good books! I am armed with:

For the Childrens' Sake by Susan Macaulay Schaeffer, which has been highly recommended by a good friend

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver which I have been told might help me feel less guilty about not always achieving a million things every day (!)

and I have also just obtained a copy of

The Complete Writings of Charlotte Mason which I am very excited about, but only plan to take Volume 1 on this trip! I have heard so many people comment on Charlotte Mason and I have noticed that much of her key tenets align with my own philosophy of education and childhood, so I am keen to read direct from the source.

Its a busy few days, trying to pack with three active little boys roaming around. Our African adventures will include a wedding, a third birthday (the request is for a 'slug' cake, which should be quite easy to achieve) and of course Christmas which will be very different to that in our UK environment. I'll be excited to report back in a few months time!

I pray that these next few months are a time of blessing for you also, and that you can see God working through your efforts to 'train up a child in the way that he should go'.


Monday, 19 November 2012

Learning Styles: a simple lesson

I've recently posted about how our children surprise us by their level of understanding of the things of God. This morning was another such example. I was running a little unprepared for a Bible study, so read the passage (Joshua chapter 8, all about the conquest of Ai) out loud whilst the boys were playing with their cars. I tried to get them to sit still for the Bible story, but to be honest, was a bit lax (in my view) and allowed them to play around me whilst I read on. However, suddenly the three year old was underneath the dining table, busily working on something. I asked what, and he explained he was setting an ambush. He then basically re-enacted the story I had just read using his toy cars. I was challenged! I had not thought he was listening, but in fact he was processing the story the whole time. This made me reflect on learning styles, and how boys in particularl can be more 'kinaesthetic', liking to fiddle or doodle rather than sitting stock still (and indeed may be mislabelled as having some form of ADHD...). I need to consider this in more detail, but today, just wanted to share an encouragement!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Challenge: Fatigue and illness

When I was researching how to set up a blog, I read several sites containing 'top tips', and one of these was never to write a blog post on a bad day! Apparently, people browse blogs for encouragement and inspiration, not to read about the trials of another person's life. However, my intention is to keep the blog honest, and whilst celebrating some of the delights and adventures, I also what to share the challenges and trials, and how we can work through them. Perhaps some readers can offer their strategies in similar situations!

Yesterday, I was just simply exhausted. I could list reasons, but perhaps those don't matter too much as each of us has busy lives and can relate to tiredness. Also, sometimes I find the days when I can 'justify' being very tired, are not all that tiring, and on other days, I can feel ready to drop without a good clear reason. We were all a bit unwell. I don't mean properly unwell, of the type where you are admitted to hospital or where it is a necessity to ask for extra help with the children. Just chronic, grumbling conditions which had flared up (for me), together with seasonal colds and the after effects of travel vaccinations. Enough that none of us were at our best. And I started to ask myself whether it was really 'worth it'. I spoke with my husband (now back from a short spell working overseas) and told him of my concerns. As usual, he reassured me, but I remained uncertain. Are our principles really achievable? Whilst I can look back at former posts on this blog regarding our reasons for home educating (which were actually written with this kind of day in mind!), are we honestly being realistic? This morning, having had a soak in the bath, taken a good dose of the right medicines and slept better than for the past couple of weeks, things do indeed seem brighter.

The question is simply this? What do other home educating parents do on the days when they would like nothing better than to crawl back into bed with a hot water bottle and some paracetamol? What do you do when you almost feel yourself falling asleep whilst reading stories? What about if you have 'non-urgent' health needs which require attendance at appointments? How do other parents manage these things? You can't take a day off from parenting and home education, can you?

For me, one thing that has become clear over the years is how physical tiredness makes everything seem bleak and impossible. Sometimes, simply a good night of sleep can make a world of difference. (But that itself can be unachievable at times, and that can be a frustration too. It can seem so much easier said than done!). Another thing, is to be honest with my husband. I've mentioned this on previous posts, but we are blessed to be very much united in our approach to raising our family in what we believe to be a godly way. He can't always solve the problem entirely (for example, although wonderful, he cannot breastfeed a baby!) but small things can make a big difference. And simply feeling listened to and understood can help combat that sense of isolation which can become overwhelming. Also, it sounds like a Christian cliche, but to spend time praying about these things is important - perhaps especially on the days when you feel that you have not got sufficient time or energy to do so. Our God is gracious and compassionate, and will not be shocked by our worries or emotions.

In Isaiah Chapter 40 verse 11, we are told, 'He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.' What does that mean, other than that He does understand that having a young family can be a strain in so many ways. In Matthew, we are reminded to: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Then there is the story related in 1 Kings Chapter 19 where Elijah was exhausted and discouraged, and God provided first of all sleep, then nourishing food, and then spiritual encouragement. We do well to learn from that.

I would be interested to know how others deal with these challenges in their lives!

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Homeschooling boys

Are the differences between girls and boys nature or nurture? Does it matter? Do they affect our educational choices? Or are we perpetuating stereotypes by considering the sexes differently? This is an area where my husband and I have some discussion! He tends to take the view that all children are the same, and that we as both individuals and society tend to impose stereotyped behaviours on them from an early age. I used to believe that to be the case, but now, whilst I do agree that there are these cultural and societal expectations, and whilst there will always be exceptions, that some important differences do exist!

I'll share a couple of illustrations from my experience (although you could argue that these are just further stereotypes of individuals who have been shaped through stereotyping but I'll dispense with the caveats now and just get to the point). Friends who have girls are more likely to invite me and the boys round for coffee and suggest that whilst the children play quietly, the mothers can drink coffee, chat and then pray together. What a lovely idea! I'd adore that, but I know that it just would not be possible, not with my boys at their current stage. The other weekend we went to a childrens' party which began with sitting round tables and doing lots of crafty activities involving small pieces of paper and glue; indeed my friends with girls talk about things like 'cutting and sticking', when that is not particularly something my boys enjoy doing. The afternoon got off to a difficult start for them, as they wanted to run around the hall and chase the balloons, and we ended up leaving quite soon. (You could argue that this is because I don't tend to do these type of crafts, but instead we do plenty of painting, drawing and baking which require just as much precision and concentration). But you start to get a picture. My friends' daughters enjoy a trip to the park, but don't seem to bounce off the ceilings if they do not get taken outside into the fresh air on a regular basis; conversely, the boys seem to NEED that time outside at least once, but often twice per day.

And so our lives (and education) takes its shape around these things. Structured, short activities, but I take care to intersperse the quiet, concentrating type activities with those which are more physical (for example, we will do some baking when they wake from this current nap, but I have plans for a long walk as soon as things come out of the oven!). I was interested to come across this website which specifically focusses on homeschooling boys. A couple of years ago, I would have dismissed this as stereotyping and not helpful, but I read on and indeed saw described many of the things I have come to observe in my own children. Some of the suggestions are things which I have come to do instinctively, and others will be helpful to me as our education develops over the next few years.

It is hardly a secret that mainstream education is often more unhelpful to boys. Girls tend to learn to read and write earlier, whereas boys are more prone to be labelled as having attention or educational difficulties; indeed, I read a recent report that suggested that up to 25% of primary educated boys are currently diagnosed as having some form of special educational need. Without minimising the challenges that can be introduced by genuine special needs, I cannot believe this statistic to be true. I am convinced that much of it is that young children in general, but particularly boys, do not thrive in an environment where they are made to sit inside and concentrate and be part of a large group with little individual interaction. Further difficulties are introduced when children are given an unhelpful label from an early age, as they start to see themselves as problems, or people lower their expectations. Even through secondary school, girls increasingly outperform their male counterparts, and I do not believe this to be due to an academic superiority but rather that they benefit more from the current educational 'system'.

I do think some people take the stereotypes too far. Discipline, for example, should be given to all of our children. I have known several parents laugh at the blatent and destructive disobedience of their sons, and make a comment along the line of, 'Boys, what can you do!'. I remember the very negative comments I recieved when my second child was a son. 'Now you'll have your work cut out', I was told. 'Now you'll see what life is really like'. It was generally assumed that raising boys would be far more challenging, and less rewarding, than raising girls. (These comments were unusually insensitive given that I had already had and buried a daughter, but I'll not get into that right now!)

The challenges are different! I spend far more time outside being physically active than I might do given the choice. At the end of the day, my back, legs and arms can be incredibly painful. I am physically exhausted (bearing in mind, that on the days that I 'go out to work', I run the 5Km distance there and then back again in the evening, enjoy climbing mountains for relaxation and could hardly be considered a 'couch potato'!) But it is a different kind of tiredness, and a different kind of challenge. What I have noticed quite clearly is a deterioration in the behaviour and obedience of my sons when we do not spend enough time burning off energy; so simply we need to recognise and adapt to their needs. I would hope that we all do this for all of our children. Perhaps a greater challenge would be to have a family where each child had very different needs, and there was a greater need to add balance so that they could all be met.

These days, I am interested to read articles and blogs which do indeed focus on some of the differences, and discuss ways to best educate the energetic bundles of creativity that are our sons. I hope other readers here find the recommendation helpful.

I'd be interested to know in the experiences of others, particularly those who have experience with both sons and daughters!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Challenge: Loneliness

One of the biggest challenges I face is loneliness. Does that relate to home education? In part, in this current phase of life, yes it does. My life consists of looking after my children, supervising them, guiding them, talking with them, reading to them, doing the basic childcare and babycare activities, and then, when they are asleep at naptime or in the evening, doing things relating to my part-time job or working through other administrative tasks. In between that, I am involved in church, a couple of ladies’ Bible study groups and a Christian organisation relating to my work. There isn’t much time for much else! On a good day, I am really happy with the balance – between the children, my marriage, church and Christian activities and continuing in my career. But at other times, I do feel lonely.

What is it that causes loneliness? Is it being physically isolated? Or is it more to do with feeling misunderstood? For me, I think it is the second. Some of the choices we have made as a family leave us without a clear ‘peer group’; not that that is a reason not to do what you believe to be right, but it can make it difficult to really discuss things and to receive helpful and empathetic responses. For example, if I were to tell many of the young mothers around me that I felt lonely, they would suggest that I should put the boys in nursery or pre-school to free up some ‘me time’. To them, that is the logical and natural solution, and therefore my current feelings are of my own making. You could argue the same for many aspects of the same thing. Professionally, I work less than full time, in order to be able to prioritise my family; therefore I don’t have a peer group there, and often am told, ‘if you would just come back full time’, or ‘when the children are in school and you work full time again....’that things might be different. Similarly, amongst some Christian circles, there can be a feeling that I should not be seeking to work outside the home, and might be told that it is unsurprising that I don’t have much free time if I am choosing to do things which I ought not to do. Does having a peer group matter? AW Tozer said, ‘the masses are always wrong’. I recently heard an inspirational speaker state that ‘true innovators have no peers’; whilst I would hardly describe myself as a true innovator, I found that quotation helpful! What has encouraged me to continue have been some wise ‘older women’ who have been honest with me. They have admitted that their choices did leave them lonely and misunderstood at times, but that they were utterlyconvinced that this was the best wise use of their time (Backlink best use of time). Online resources, in particular blog writers such as Jess at ‘Making Home’ have also helped combat that sense of isolation; a helpful blog post on this very issue is here

The Bible talks much about friendship. In our ladies’ Bible study this morning, we were discussing those type of friendships where there is true accountability, and true spiritual encouragement. We were talking about how these relationships need to be deliberately sought and nurtured. I asked the question what we should do if we felt we lacked these relationships, and I was told to go and get some; helpful on the one level, but perhaps missing the point and exacerbating my feelings of being misunderstood! How does a homeschooling, part-time working mother of three children aged three and under build relationships? When? Where? Having said that, this Bible study group has been an absolute godsend to me. Most of us have young children, and whilst we work our way through a book of the Bible, guided by an extremely gifted Bible teacher, the children are in an adjacent room having their own structured activities and lessons. It is the only time in my current week when I am not with the boys during their waking hours, and it benefits me and them both greatly. The best part of the Bible discussion is that although it follows a format, there is space for people to raise issues and questions which are directly relevant to their lives at that time; therefore we often go off on a tangent and discuss the real, practical issues of living day to day as Christian woman in our society. It’s great, and through that, I have indeed developed some relationships which are based on a shared desire to know God more.

With like-minded mothers, I have also found that a walk in the park with the children provides the best opportunity for us to talk. The children need our supervision and interaction, but can also spend some time running ahead or exploring just off the path whilst we get some time to talk. With lively boys who love being outside, that is a far better solution than inviting somebody round for coffee and having the children get restless and frustrated. I think it does us all good to be out in the fresh air, and even on the days when we feel least like it, it can be helpful. I can understand why Charlotte Mason put such emphasis on time out of doors for children under the age of six or seven!

I emailed the friend I regard as a mentor about some of the current challenges yesterday, and as always, her counsel was gentle, wise, encouraging and very genuine as she drew from her own experiences and applied her wisdom to what she knows of my family. Not all relationships have to be face to face, and the internet and ability to email round the world can be a great blessing to those who feel isolated. I would encourage you to look at blogs written by those in similar circumstances to yourself; of course all advice must be weighed carefully in the light of Scripture, and you also may not have seen how the blog writer actually functions in ‘real life’, but bearing in mind these limitations it can be helpful. Another friend of mine spoke similarly of writings relating to singleness.

I could dig a lot deeper into the balance between having Christ as our ‘all sufficient one’ yet being humans created for relationship and deliberately placed within a community which is described as a ‘body’ with a perfect inter-relationship between its parts. But today, I’ll stop here. I’d love to know how you respond to feelings of loneliness. Please share!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

What God teaches through our children. Part 4: Sacrifice

If you read this blog regularly, you will see that I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently contemplating what God teaches us through our children, and particularly what He teaches us in respect to His relationship with us. I have considered His unconditional love mirrored in the love a parent has for a newborn baby; I’ve reflected on some of the lessons learnt through the patience and times of frustration involved in maintaining consistent discipline. I’ve also celebrated some of His tenderness towards us as we make feeble efforts to step out in faith. Now, I want to think of something even more amazing than any of those things. He sent His own Son Jesus Christ to die for us.

We need to take great care never to become blasé to some of the truths contained in the Bible. Especially if we have been raised in Christian homes, or it has been many years since we came to believe these truths for ourselves, we can become almost over-familiar with some of the more amazing and powerful messages contained therein. I think one of these is the fact that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3 verse 16) Most Christians know that verse inside out and backwards. But do they really know what it means? Do they really stop to think about that? Can we possibly understand it fully?

Several years ago, I was confronted with this truth in a new and powerful way. We had been blessed with a baby daughter, and it was a wonderful time. We often reflected on Psalm 139, how God makes each of us ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ and how ‘all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’ I was amazed by the overwhelming love I felt for her; I had never considered myself particularly maternal, and had not had a good experience with my own parents, so I had been fearful that I might not ‘bond’ well, or that I might otherwise struggle. Instead, I felt as though I had just come alive. Life was new and fresh and exciting. I felt a renewed hope and zeal, and I praised God wholeheartedly for His incredible gift to us. Nine weeks later, her heart stopped for reasons which never became clear. Although we were able to re-start it (another story for another time), she had severe brain damage and died without leaving hospital six weeks later. I remember the deep, heart-wrenching sorrow; it literally felt as though a part of me had been ripped out and discarded. Even now, it as though a part of me died that day, and that fresh, unclouded hope has never fully returned. I do not doubt God’s goodness, His purposes, His provision and His blessings to us; in fact heaven seems so much more real now, and I feel acutely aware that this world is fading away yet heaven is where we will spend eternity. But the pain was real, and if you were to ask me what I would have given to have prevented her death (had that been at all possible), I would have given everything I had. I would never have chosen for her to die. I certainly would not have chosen for her to die in order to rescue people who hated us! But think about it. That’s what God did.

‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.’ (1 John 4 verse 9)And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Corinthians 5 verse 15) God knew that there was no other way, and so offered the very best thing that He had – His only son – to die in sacrifice for our sins. Can we actually understand that? I don’t think we can, not here and now, not in this life. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’ (1 Corinthians 13 verse 12) John 15 verse 13 says it simply, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reflects on how for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5 verse 7-8).

I was not a perfect parent, nor was my daughter a sinless child. Yet if the sorrow I felt when she died is even a glimpse of what God willingly endured in sending Jesus to die for us, then I can only marvel and praise Him all the more! I know people who consider that the death of a child must be one of the most difficult trials to endure; I would tend to disagree, although much will depend on the circumstances, and I am aware that we were borne up by a supernatural grace, strength and peace that can only have come from God. But people do think of the death of a child in these terms. Conversely, do we forget that our human emotions are part of us having been made ‘in the image of God’ (Genesis 1 verse 27)? Do we forget just what it cost God to send Jesus for us? And do we forget that He considered us worth that price?