15 May 2013

Sometimes in life things get thrown at you, and they knock the wind out of you. As you find yourself on the ground, surrounded by circumstances that never should have happened, you find it easy to question your decisions and limit your life to the manageable and safe. And when that disaster involves the loss of a spouse, the first thing some jettison is homeschooling. But press on.

Many years ago a Jewish rabbi, Paul, wrote to encourage a struggling congregation in Greece. The Corinthians had begun to let go of their belief in the resurrection of the dead. They were losing their grip on the ultimate reality that should have been driving their daily lives. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, they had a hope that they too would be raised from the dead, imperishable, the mortal putting on immortality. Death swallowed up in victory. This hope, this eternal reality, enabled Paul to fight with wild beasts at Ephesus, to persevere through shipwreck and stonings. (Even bad homeschool days aren’t this rough.) And it was this same expectation that would see the believers in Corinth through their difficulties.

Paul wrote “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, (in light of eternal realities) stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:57-58)

I memorized this verse in high school, and it came back to me as a young mother of five. Over fifteen years ago, when the youngest was three months and the oldest nine, I began the journey as a single parent. We had fled an abusive situation, came all the way across the country and started over without the involvement or support of my children’s father. God’s grace was tangible—provision for my family, a supportive community and His presence with us. But it was not easy. Concerned family and friends assumed I would go to work and put my children in the state schools. But that was not what the Lord was telling me. We were to continue homeschooling. At the time it looked impossible, and it was. But fifteen years later, I have one college graduate, two college students and two teens still being homeschooled. All of them are passionate about their faith and are pursuing the vision for the future that God has given them. And we can do no less. Keep your eyes on the prize.

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.” But what is the “work of the Lord” when we talk about single parent homeschooling? Perhaps a better question is what is “the work of the Lord” in regards to my children? What is God’s heart for them and how do I participate with Him in their lives? I’d like to offer four suggestions.

First, be in His presence. You were made to be in relationship with the Living God. Before you are a parent, a friend, an employee or business person, if you know Jesus, you are a child of God. Every thing you do and every relationship you have flows from this one relationship. It is your identity. It is the only identity that does not change or alter. He is your Source, your Lover, your Hope and your Life. Spend time with Him, in His word the Bible, in prayer, in worship, in stillness. You can’t know how to direct or nurture your child fully unless God tells you. You won’t hear His voice unless you practice listening. Do you need help? Be in His presence. Are you discouraged? He is the great encourager. Are you tired? He is your strength. Are you confused? He is your wisdom. Are you stressed? He is your peace. Be in His presence.

Second, be in the moment. How can you possibly “give yourself fully to the work of the Lord” if you are not fully there? My family will never forget the time Annalise, my then sixteen-year-old, called home to tell me that she had been in a car accident. She was fine; she assured me. So, I did what any non-engaged parent would and kept working. It wasn’t until I mentioned it on the phone to her older sister, who responded with the classic “Mom!” that I realized I was in the wrong place. In that moment, I belonged with Annalise. Are you working math problems? Work math problems. Are you playing soccer with your children? Pay attention to the game. Are you doing the dishes together? Know what’s going on around you. Whether or not you are able to enjoy your children says volumes. What did they say that was funny? What concerns them? What problem needs immediate attention? “Give yourself fully to the work of the Lord” The most important work you will do for the Lord right now is to raise your children. Be engaged and don’t miss the moment. Is your son or daughter talking to you? Listen!

Next, be wise. Part of giving yourself fully to the work of the Lord is doing those things that will enable you to continue. Your car will not go very far for very long without gas, oil changes, proper tires and maintenance. If you want to go somewhere in your car, you have to take care of it. And to “give yourself fully to the work of the Lord” you have to get enough sleep, exercise and healthy food. There is nothing noble or spiritual about running yourself into the ground. “You are not your own. You have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your bodies.” This admonition applies to a lot more areas than you may think. And be careful with whom you spend time. Surround yourself with like-minded people who will be supportive of what God has called you to do and who will encourage you. Guard who your children spend their time with—and that includes the Internet and television. Point them to Jesus—all day long.

Fourthly, be generous. “Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.” I don’t care how little you have to live on or how tough it is, you can’t afford not to give. So often people make the mistake of thinking that generosity is about money—how much you have or don’t have. Being generous and tithing is about faith. It’s making a statement that God is your provider, and He will not let you down. It’s reminding yourself and your children that you don’t walk in fear and that God is sovereign. One December, early in our single-parent adventure, I found myself $2,000 short of what I would need just for basic expenses to finish the year. This was an exorbitant amount for us when every dollar mattered, but the Lord assured me that He would provide. My response was to tithe on the $2000 immediately, even before God gave it. I would trust Him. Needless to say, by the end of the month God provided the money. He is always true to Himself. So give when God says to, regularly and extravagantly. Be generous and prove the faithfulness of God.

Finally, do you really know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord? If you do, you’ll not waste time second guessing, regretting or vacillating. Webster’s defines “vain” as having no real value or significance; worthless, empty, idle, hollow. Without force or effect; futile, fruitless, unprofitable.

Key is the phrase “in the Lord.” John 15:9 says that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. He who abides in Him and in whom Jesus abides bears much fruit; for without Him we can do nothing. When we labor by the power of the Holy Spirit, God sees to it that fruit is produced. It is the natural result. Our responsibility is to abide. The fruit will come.

Your labor, your homeschooling, has real value and significance. It is not in vain. The training of your children not only prepares them academically, it has eternal consequences. As they choose Christ for themselves, they choose life. Homeschooling is effective because it changes lives. It allows you to nurture natural gifts and abilities while strengthening weak areas. It bears fruit in your life, the lives of your children and the lives you touch with the love of Jesus. It is not in vain.

Several years ago we had a pool. For eight months of the year, an enormous piece of black plastic protected our pool from frogs, leaves and other debris. By spring the rains would put it under four feet of water. So we pumped off the water, leaving a thick coating of green slime and leaves. My children then labored to get the plastic off the pool without dumping the rubbish into it. One memorable day, it was Josiah and I who wrestled the cover through the little gate and out of the pool area. Our plan was to hose it off once it was clear of the pool. But before we could do that, we had to get rid of the huge pile of rotting leaves on it. Unfortunately, the most effective means of getting them off proved to be just using our hands. The slime clung to us in thick chunks on legs and arms. The smell of decay was strong. Then, just as we were finished laying out the massive plastic in the yard, four young bulls raced by. The neighbor’s calves were out. Well, what are you going to do? You help get those calves. And before you know it, there you are, covered in slime, chatting casually with the neighbor you only just met. And you wonder, why can’t we deal with just one mess at a time? Why do your children get poison ivy all over their face before the grandparents visit? Why do financial problems happen in the midst of emotional disasters? Why do you still homeschool without a spouse? Why do you have to fight beasts in Ephesus while trying to deal with immature believers in Greece? I don’t know.

But the value of the pool to my family and the value of the pool to our friends was not in the slime Josiah and I battled, or the cattle that interrupted. The value of the pool was experienced later. We persevered because we had hope that our actions were part of a big picture.

Likewise, don’t judge your homeschooling by the slime, the bad days, the difficulties, the failures. And don’t think it strange that you press on in multiple arenas. Keep your focus on eternal things. Fight those beasts because you have an eternal hope, a hope that led you to homeschool in the first place—a hope that will see you through to the end.

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”