Romans 14:5: ‘One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.’
Romans 14:12: ‘So then, each of us shall give account of himself to God.’
Romans 14:23: ‘Whatever is not from faith is sin.’
Everybody has opinions on how children should be raised! Recently, a family member suggested that I was selfish for not putting my three year old in a nursery five mornings per week. The main reasons cited were social: He needs time apart from his younger brothers; needs to develop independence; needs to form his own social group. I had expected such comments to be made in the future, but not as early as his third birthday! But it illustrates an important and recurrent theme: others are not slow in telling us what they think about our choices.
I sometimes get upset by such comments. But when I stop to think, the benefits of consistent, dedicated time with parents at this phase of life cannot be underestimated. Even this week, we jumped in puddles and danced in the rain; we made bread learning about the activation of yeast, and then formed it into a range of interesting shapes before baking it (and eating it hot with sticky jam!); we went to the beach building sandcastles and digging channels, learning about tides and currents; we painted with primary colours and learnt about making new shades (and mess!); we played the African drum in time to some of our favourite songs.... I could go on. At the same time, we met with friends on several occasions, reading stories and playing games together, and spent hours running around several different parks, as well as going to an adventure playground with a group home educating families. My boys asked questions regarding creation, and came to understand more about God’s incredible workmanship, and then came home wanting to read Bible stories and sing songs relating to what they had seen and heard. I love to see their curiosity, their desire and hunger to learn. And I know that an adult with many children to look after would not have the patience to answer each of the many questions asked, or take time to explain things time after time.
So why do I waver when negative comments are made? The Bible does not give us precise instructions regarding the minutiae of parenting, but rather gives guiding principles. (I must be clear that I do not think that all Christians should home-educate, and that not to do so is wrong; the Bible does not say that! However, for us as a family, we believe it to be the best way of putting into practice the responsibilities to which we are called, and we are thankful that we have the freedom to make such a choice.) One of my favourite passages is from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, discussing how we should teach our children the things of God: ‘You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up’ (Deut 6:7). This week has illustrated that for me graphically – so many times when we have been walking, or talking, out and about or at home, and my boys have asked me huge questions regarding the world, about God and about themselves. The verses from Romans Chapter 14 illustrate how we must each consider our responsibilities and make choices based on our conclusions; and that one day we will give an account of ourselves before God. I shudder at times to think of saying to the Lord Himself, ‘Yes, I know I should have taken a certain course of action, but I was afraid of what others might think!’
Proverbs 29:25 both warns and encourages, ‘The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe’. Psalm 118:6-9 is similar, ‘The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust the Lord than to put confidence in princes’.
Sometimes I waver in my convictions (regarding home education, not regarding my faith in God!) because I am aware of my own inadequacies. To home educate does carry a cost – in terms of time, energy, motivation, creativity, perhaps in terms of certain social activities and ‘freedoms’. Nobody promised it would be the easy path. Having reached our convictions that this is how we are called to raise our children, I then fear that I lack the resources and abilities to do so. Paul’s letter to the Romans also comments on this: ‘Whatever is not from faith is sin’ (Rom 14:23). I feel like the father described in the gospel of Mark, who brought his sick and demon-possessed son to Jesus for healing: ‘Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24) We are reassured on many occasions that we need not worry about the future, as at the right time, God will provide us with the resources we need. Jesus spoke clearly on this when He gave the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, encouraging the believers to ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.’ (Matthew 6:33-34). This follows shortly after the exhortation to ‘lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Matthew 6:20-21)
I wonder whether you ever feel like this too? There is a man described in the letter of James: ‘For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.’ (James 1:23-24). On an earlier posting, I listed some of the positive reasons for our choices regarding our childrens’ upbringing – and a major part of that is our conviction that this is God’s calling for our family. So whilst to do otherwise would not be itself sinful in itself (although may involve sinful attitudes and motives!), it would be to go against our conscience. James goes on to give the encouragement, ‘But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. ‘(James 1:25)
Today, as I reflect on the adventure of home-educating our children, and consider the reasons for my discouragement when facing critical comments, I am strengthened in my faith. It is my prayer that I can be steadfast and obedient, and joyfully live as He has called us to. It is my prayer that I can be gentle and patient with those who do not understand, and have genuine concerns about our choices: ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ (Proverbs 15:1). And I pray that I can keep an eye on the bigger picture, the eternal perspective, and one day hear the words of the Lord Himself, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’ (Matthew 25:23)