Thursday, October 21, 2010

Honesty, Respect, Leadership, and Academic Success

Honesty, Respect, Leadership, and Academic Success
by Virginia Knowles

Dear friends,

Recently, I went to see a humorous presentation by a home school dad who travels the country to talk about family life.  I had promoted the event on Facebook and my local home school list so now I want to follow up with several clarifying comments.   Though I enjoyed and appreciated much of what he said, I am still uneasy with many facets of his message and how it will affect those who listened.  I realize his limitations in being able to fully develop his reasoning in such a brief hour or so, especially in a comedy format.  So it might be that we actually agree on what I'm going to say here.  I would just hope in the future that he might be able to tweak his routine so it doesn't come across as it did.  Another veteran home school mom who saw him the night before in a different city said she had to apologize to a new home school mom for the picture he presented of family dynamics, and other moms who were there the same night that I was have shared with me the same concerns.  I too, feel a need to offer my own perspective to balance out what he (along with other popular home school leaders) have taught.

The thing that bothered me most was his implication, via an analogy about a dog sled team, that a wife's duty is to follow her husband's leadership even if he is going the wrong direction out of disobedience to God.  I agree that a wife should not be contentious or domineering in a marriage, however, the Biblical mandate and example is that we must obey God rather than man, even if the command is given by otherwise legitimate authority (Acts 5:27-29).  A wife must never act against her own God-given conscience, even if she is under pressure from her husband.  After all, in Acts 5:1-11, Sapphira was held accountable (to the point of instant death) when she cooperated in her husband Ananias's deceit.  Besides, a Christian wife is not a sled dog panting down the snowy path.  She is an intelligent, creative, spiritually aware human being who can talk with her husband and explain what she is thinking.  She can search the Scriptures, pray to her Heavenly Father, get outside counsel to help her sort through the issues, and then reason with her husband.  And she can take a stand if need be.

Closely related to this, I was also rankled by the speaker's extended insistence that a wife should not offer any correction to her husband if he happens to do something wrong while he is trying to help out with housework or home schooling, discipline the children, or lead the family.  After all, his tender male ego will be offended and then he will never want to try to help or lead again.  He likened the husband to a puppy whose nose gets whacked and then doesn't want to venture out of hiding again. While I certainly agree that a wife should be grateful about her husband's efforts, and not expect him to do things just as she would have done them herself, I am rather disappointed at his bleak estimation of a husband's ability for maturity in the face of honest correction.  There are times when a wife needs to share her differing perspective with her husband, and he needs to take it like a man.  (If we cave in to someone else's childish tantrum and selfish demands without addressing this problem, we are actually showing them disrespect because we are coddling them like a child who can't help it, rather than an adult who has the capability for mature reasoning.) Whether it is a husband or a wife offering correction to a spouse, there are very different approaches to how this can be done.  The dysfunctional way to do this is, "You are wrong.  You blew it.  I'm really offended.  You are such a stupid jerk that you need me to tell you exactly how you messed up and exactly how you should do it next time so you can get a life and I can be happy."   Ouch!   OK, so we might not use those specific words (I hope!) but that's what can be implied even in our tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, sarcasm and loaded language.  The overall effect is disapproval, manipulation, alienation, and bitterness.  The attacked spouse will likely want to do just the opposite of what he or she is told to do just out of defensive reaction, thus escalating the conflict even more.  But that is such a faulty model of correction!  That's probably the kind of response the speaker was addressing that night, but that doesn't mean that correction is bad.  Here is an alternative that is so much more healthy, grace-filled and edifying: "I respect you so much as a person, that I know you are capable of handling an honest discussion of some issues that are causing conflicts in our relationship.  We can talk this out as adults, face the unpleasant facts with dignity, and come up with mutually agreeable solutions.  Neither of us needs to pull rank or play the victim.  I am not necessarily saying that you are wrong or that you have sinned, but that I have a different opinion which I would like for you to take into account."   Wow!  We can all live with that!  Sure, it takes effort, restraint, and creativity to speak like this, but the overall effect is an affirmation of the relationship and a respect for the other person, who will then be more likely to want to cooperate and make it work. 

My third area of concern is the speaker's portrayal of wives as both fickle and emotionally fragile.  He joked that they will ask their husbands for advice about petty things like which socks to wear and then do the exact opposite.  Blech!  Even though it was meant to be funny, that was still a demeaning comment and he did nothing to offset that attitude.  Then, according to him, 100% of home school moms feel like they are failing at what they do.  He was trying to encourage moms that they are just what God designed, that each mom is just perfect for her own children.  I appreciate his attempts to bolster our confidence and trust God's plan for our families.  However, in his manner and words, he seemed to be implying that because our personalities are the way they are, there is not much need to change our style of motherhood in response to how things are going in our families.  He thinks we just need to be pumped up with generic praise.  Yet very often, we do cause our children to stumble by not being flexible, not breaking out of ourselves and our way of doing things.  We all need to grow -- and to grow up!   As a mom, I can't just excuse my shortcomings because, "That's just the way I am, so get over it!" 

On the other hand, contrary to his dismal estimation of a mom's self-esteem level, there are many of us who justifiably believe we are doing a decent enough job of home schooling and mothering.  We've seen the fruit.  We've had a measure of success.   We know we're not perfect.   We are aware of our problems. We're looking for ways to improve, but we're also content with how far we've already come. We gratefully see the grace of God at work, which gives us renewed confidence for the journey.   In contrast, some moms do feel completely inadequate and think they are ruining their kids.   Maybe they are, maybe they aren't.  We can't just offer the blanket affirmation, "You are all doing a terrific job just because you're doing it!"  That's not necessarily true.  Some moms have botched it and need to be challenged to get with it.  Yet there are so many who are doing fine but don't realize it.  They need a boost of encouragement.  Perhaps they are being nitpicked and criticized by their husbands.  In this case, the negative self-image is externally inflicted by unrealistic expectations from someone who should be understanding and encouraging, rather than selfishly demanding perfection. Or perhaps these moms are comparing themselves to friends or mentors or nebulous cyber-Super-Mommies who seem to have it all together in every way.  (None of us do.  Certainly not me!  But I'm quite OK with being "here" and then moving forward in faith.)   Perhaps their theology is the "worm mentality" when they learn to distrust their own thoughts, dismiss their own success, and never ever give themselves permission to feel like they are doing OK.  After all (as the pious mantra goes) our hearts are all deceitfully wicked and full of sin.  It seems more holy to be down in the dumps about ourselves, but that is not humility or honesty.  If God is at work in our lives, then there are good things happening.  We  don't need to be consumed with nagging guilt or feelings of inadequacy.  Whatever happened to being more than conquerors with Christ?

A final area of concern that I want to address is what to do about a child who is struggling in school subjects.   The speaker portrayed children as seeds who grow up into certain kinds of plants.  For example, one of your children might be great at reading but struggle in math, while another might be a math whiz but "flunk" at phonics.  He would explain that that is just the way they are, just the way they were designed. (This is similar to his view of moms, I think.)  So, if your child is pitching fits when you sit down to do math and you both end up screaming every day, that supposedly means he just isn't a math person and there is little you can do about it.   The speaker says that since your relationship is so much important than math, you should just quit doing math!  He did jokingly acknowledge that this shouldn't be permanent, but that disclaimer didn't seem to do it justice in the context.  Maybe I'm being too picky with his blend of humor and serious advice.  Nonetheless, it brings up an important discussion point, especially since I've heard the same line of reasoning elsewhere.  I agree that it is unwise to push full steam ahead with academics when the parent-child relationship has broken down, but I truly can't stand to see academics pitted against character/relationship matters, like you have to pick between them.  I have actually heard Christian home school parents piously proclaim that "academics are optional"!  They are not!  Given all the resources that we have at our fingertips, there is simply no excuse for neglecting basic academics.   We must pursue excellence in all that God has called us to do, not just those things which are innately more spiritual.  This is not an either-or situation anyway.  There are other vital factors to consider.  First is that this child might need a different approach to match his learning style.  What worked with the last child -- or what fits your own nature teaching style -- might not work with this one.  It's not so much a matter of one not being born for math success, but of needing a custom-tailored strategy for his own unique brain wiring.  This might include hands-on manipulatives, rote memorization, drawing diagrams, doing practical word problems or projects, or switching to a workbook that is more visually appealing rather than having to copy problems from a non-consumable text.  Or perhaps the pace is too rushed.  In this case, you just need to s-l-o-w down and patiently go over it again and again rather than quitting.   Slow and steady wins the race, says the tortoise to the hare... It could be that your own unrealistic expectations about how fast the child should proceed are backfiring by robbing him of the confidence that he can do it.  If he can't seem to please you, he may quit trying.  The other key thing to consider -- after you have adjusted the learning style and pace -- is that the child might be lazy, and is manipulating you to get out of doing the work.  Or he may be resistant and trying to get back at you for offending him in some other area.  If you give up too quickly, you are letting him get away with poor character.  So, OK sure, put the math lesson off for a little while so you can have a heart-to-heart talk about attitudes and behavior, and so you can reevaluate your approach to teaching.  But then get back in there with renewed determination and plug away at it, working on the relationship as you work on the math.  In this way, academics becomes the very workshop where you can build character.  It's a win-win situation.

I could write more, but that's enough for now without my brain exploding.  


Friday, October 1, 2010

Truth and Grace in the Stories of Our Lives

Truth and Grace in the Stories of Our Lives
by Virginia Knowles
(Written in April 2007)

“Every happening, great and small
is a parable whereby God speaks to us,
and the art of life is to get the message.”

~Malcolm Muggeridge

I’ve always said that God is in control, that he is Sovereign. Now it’s sinking in a little deeper, a little richer, a little more personally, as he is illuminating a fresh way to renew my mind. If you are like me, you have a Life Story with countless chapters, and more than a few of them swirl up your soul with confusion, fear, guilt, or bitterness.

    “What if?”

          “If only…”

                “Why, God, why?”

Compelling questions, to be sure, but what are the answers? I am learning to reinterpret the experiences of my life by searching out evidences of God’s truth and his grace in each situation, whether past or present. In his Awesome Providence, he has a plan for my life, and that includes the bumps and bruises along with way. So: truth and grace! What do I mean?

Truth: What actually happened (or is currently happening), apart from how I have perceived it? This requires a little objectivity because our feelings can be so deceptive! What details would someone else add to the story? This could either be someone who was involved in the situation, or a mature, trustworthy friend or pastoral counselor. Now, what would the Bible say about what has happened? I have to be careful not to pick out an isolated verse, but instead seek out the “whole counsel of Scripture” as various passages round out the picture. Truth requires acknowledging my own contribution to the problem rather than merely blaming someone else.  In that, there is hope: since the circumstances are not entirely out of my sphere of influence, then I can become a part of the solution, too. Another question: What truth did I learn from (and about) the Lord in this situation, and what does he still wants me to grasp even now?

Grace: How has God poured out his mercy and forgiveness on me during this time, even though I may not have recognized it or appreciated it yet? How has he used a proverbial “brick wall” (a blocked opportunity) to channel my life in a new direction? How has he brought about spiritual growth? How have I learned to lean harder on him, rather than rely on my own self-effort? How has he provided other people to bring encouragement, comfort and truth to me? How can I experience his grace and liberty freshly, even if much time has passed? How can I find a release from my bitterness through forgiving others? How can I overcome evil with good, and respond to an insult with a hearty blessing? How am I to extend this healing balm of grace to others who might be suffering as I have?

If you have been through a troublesome time that still weighs heavily on you, or if you are still rehashing uncomfortable details and feelings, you may have been encouraged just to forget it all and pretend it didn’t happen. That’s a nice thought, but it isn’t always possible or healthy to suppress painful memories. I believe that we can learn to reinterpret our life stories so we can release the bitterness, confusion, guilt, or fear from our minds without necessarily forgetting what happened. Then we can look back on the very same story with joy and gratitude over what God has done for us. This will enable us to move on in life with confidence that he will still be with us, working his quiet wonders! I think the story of Joseph and his spiteful brothers in Genesis illustrates this principle beautifully. No matter what he had suffered as the consequences of his brothers’ jealous hatred, he could say to them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” He saw the providence of God in bringing him through slavery and prison to a position of power where he could preserve the lives of entire nations throughout a famine.

Try this little exercise. Pick a chapter from your life story that still bothers you – maybe not a big hairy one this first time, but something manageable. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you take time to evaluate it from a fresh perspective of truth and grace. (You can use the Truth and Grace questions above as a launching point.) Write your thoughts down if you can, and don’t rush through it. If you kept a journal during this time (which I highly recommend!) then read through it carefully to glean insight. If you need the perspective of someone else involved, ask for it if you can do so without undue conflict. After you have your thoughts organized in your head or on paper, start summarizing the key points. Now, write out a short “Authorized Version” – the “Grace And Truth Edition” of the story -- that you can quickly recall whenever this memory comes to mind again. I like to use the acronym GATE for “Grace And Truth Edition” because a gate is usually attached to a fence, which is a boundary designed to keep things and people secure. You can go in and out of a fenced area safely by walking through an open gate and staying on the path. Likewise, the Grace And Truth Edition of your story allows you to revisit your past on the Path of Providence, rather than veering off into destructive thorn bush thought patterns again. We must continually discipline our minds toward true and wholesome thinking, even after we know how. This is not a one shot deal, but the spiritual warfare of taking our thoughts captive to Christ Jesus. (See 2 Corinthians 10:5.)

I find these Scriptures helpful when I wonder why God is “dealing” with me in a certain way:

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:4-8, 12-13

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-11

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:26-39


I encourage you to meditate on these Scriptures and let them sink deeply into your heart! I think they are the key to understanding what God is doing in our lives through the hard times. You may also wish to read Christian biographies, such as The Hiding Place by Corrie tenBoom, in which she recounts God’s faithfulness during her years at the horrific Nazi concentration camps. She even thanked God for the tormenting fleas, and later found that this is what kept the guards out of their barracks, giving her free reign to minister the Messiah’s grace to the perishing women there. Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God by Noël Piper shares the stories of Lilias Trotter, Sarah Edwards, Gladys Aylward, Esther Ahn Kim, and Helen Roseveare. Each of these women faced trials in life that we could barely even imagine surviving, yet they not only endured but conquered with courage and thanksgiving.

Staying in God’s word, coming before His Throne in continual prayer, worshiping with songs full of sound doctrine, and receiving wise counsel and correction from mature Christians (through reading, church services, personal discussions, etc.) are excellent ways to keep yourself strong in truth and grace. Then, as new situations arise in your daily life, you will be prepared to deal with them rightly from the start, and spare yourself much future heartache and heartbreak. I know how easy it is to be plagued with fear and confusion about what will happen in the days and years to come, whether with my health, children, marriage, home schooling, ministry, finances, and whatever else touches so close to my heart. I want to be able to look forward in faith and confidence. And I can, because “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future!” God is great and God is good! I can trust His truth and grace!