26 Mar 2014

I don’t know about you, but I find myself beginning every school year with goals paralleling my mental image of a homeschooling Cleaver family. June wakes up cheerfully at least an hour before the rest of her family. She spends time with the Lord, starts one of her many loads of laundry and completes her daily exercise routine with a smile on her face. She quickly showers and gets ready for the day before she cooks a hot breakfast for her happy family while wearing a dress, heels and a pearl necklace. Ward, her husband, compliments her fine cooking skills and the latest successful Pinterest recipe, grabs his briefcase and kisses his well-coifed wife goodbye before he heads out the door to work. Their children (more than just Wally and The Beaver because this is a homeschooling family) quickly and efficiently complete their morning chores without complaining and rapidly settle into their school day routine. They are learning far more than other children their ages: Peter, the eldest, is the first fourteen-year-old in their homeschool group to master Greek; Mary, the next in line, is modeling the most recent dress she designed and sewed herself; John, soon to be ten, is trying to decide the name of his latest composition for their family quartet; and Susie squeezes her six-year-old hands around her workbook, anxious to complete another ten pages. June dries her hands, admires her pristine kitchen and sits down in her neatly labeled and containerized school room to work with her children on their daily lessons.

Fast forward about five months to January. My aspirations to be June Cleaver have been completely decimated. First of all, that perfect schedule isn’t so perfect when the stomach flu sweeps through the family one person at a time, or even worse, it hits in waves—first a couple of children, then the next couple, then Mom and Dad. The house, which doesn’t clean itself, seems to get messier by the minute as spills, piles and clutter vie for first place. The hot breakfast idea has quickly disintegrated into choosing your own adventurous cereal or making a creation with what’s in the refrigerator. Exercise is a dream of what once was and the reality of what is not. Curriculum that seemed so perfect during the summer just isn’t working. Two of the children hate math and are resisting it at every opportunity. The “oh no” feeling keeps re-appearing every time I realize we’re missing yet another crucial part of the science supplies. Our writing curriculum was a great idea, but it takes time to make it work with even the most motivated student. On top of all of the academic issues, my calendar has grown so full that I dread looking at it. Spinning quickly out of control, the plates of my responsibilities have multiplied far beyond what I can handle.

It’s at this point that the idea of quitting begins to flicker. Images float through my mind: a day with children at school, the house peacefully perfect, dinner simmering quietly in the Crock-Pot and me pursuing a lifelong career aspiration. The serenity of the picture is almost palpable. The possibility of reducing my load tempts me the more it flitters around my mind. The children need a better teacher. Someone else would know how to solve that reading issue. A professional could improve their academic skills. I count the opportunities I think a real school would offer: greater detail to daily lessons, subject matter expertise and, of course, quality social time with classmates. I begin to wonder about logistics; surely I can make this dream my new reality.

I have reached the crisis point. I’ve lost my focus. Not only that, I’ve also misrepresented the possibilities in our home by comparing my situation to that of those around me or a local school’s classroom. In fact, I’m not even comparing it to reality around me. I’m using my distorted perceptions to set a standard that is impossible for anyone to achieve. I don’t personally know, at least I don’t think I do, a perfect family with a perfect homeschool. After ten years of classroom teaching, I know there isn’t an infallible teacher with the ideal class. Matter of fact, the impossibility of such a thought is evident around me. I live in an imperfect world full of imperfect people.

Many years ago I had a sweatshirt sporting the Chinese character for crisis. The character is actually derived from two symbols: danger and opportunity. When I find myself at a crisis point in my life, it’s important for me to recognize both of these aspects. Danger is present. It looms dark, lurking for a ripe occasion to rob me. The whirlwind of danger, and its accompanying Deadly Ds, attempts to blind me from opportunity that is coming.

Discontentment can be a primary source of danger in my life. If I focus on what I don’t have instead of what I do have, I can quickly find myself sliding into the slough of discontentment. Webster defines discontentment as “the condition of being dissatisfied with one’s life or situation.” Comparison is a quick method of falling into this trap. When I try to compare my homeschooling, or mothering, or whatever, to someone else’s, I am no longer focusing on what God has planned just for me. Instead, I’m doing what he has commanded against: coveting. When I covet, or strongly desire, something that someone else has, I am fueling my discontentment. By looking at other schooling options as ideal and mine as far below that, I’m empowering discontentment.

Doubt dutifully follows discontentment. When things aren’t going as I had planned, I can doubt my teaching and parenting. Most importantly, I can doubt my calling. My husband and I didn’t choose homeschooling as an escape from a more traditional school experience. We chose it because we know God has provided this opportunity as the best option for our children. We are called to teach them not only academic subjects but subjects of the heart. It’s our job to disciple them to be more like Jesus, to raise them up in his Word and to lead by example. As the leader of our home, my husband paves the way in these areas. It’s my job to continue to develop our children and train them in the way they should go.

Distraction is a determined detractor. Although I have learned to say no to many good activities, I still don’t have this concept mastered. It’s easier to turn down temporary invitations or responsibilities that require more time than our family can afford than it is to relinquish positions which can bring me personal satisfaction or pleasure. I am most definitely not suggesting I shouldn’t be involved in church, another ministry area or even an employment situation. Instead I believe I need to regularly examine my priorities and rightly determine before the Lord and in agreement with my husband, if they’re aligned in a way that blesses, and not hinders, our family.

Dynamically wrapping up the Deadly Ds with the most power of all, is despair. When life becomes overwhelming, passes burnout along the way and ends up at exhaustion, something needs to change. Despair has no mercy. It’s without hope, dreams or a future. Despair looks inwardly at the failures, frustrations and faults that blot out any glimpse of reality. Despair is filled with “I should” not “I choose to.” Despair’s depression steals my energy, passion and vision. When I have reached a moment of despair, there’s only one option: desperation.

Desperation is opportunity in disguise. It arrives in the form of futility; yet it can transition into a fountain of faith. When I’m at the end of what I can do, whether it’s in the form of teaching, planning, cleaning, leading or being a wife, I reach a pivotal point where I have to die to myself and rely on God. I used to not understand this concept well, but as time progresses, I think personal application has helped me grasp it in a new light. As I die to myself and surrender my dreams and desires, I am more able and willing to seek what the Lord has planned for me. This doesn’t mean I can’t have aspirations or personal hopes for the future. Just the opposite is true. I am able to loosen my hold on the things I was grasping with all my might, and put my priorities back in their rightful order. I’m able to relinquish my grandiose ideas of perfection and achievement. I’m able to release the horribly unrealistic expectations I have repeatedly piled on myself. I’m able to see my children with God’s eyes. I can let go of whether or not the multiplication facts are completely memorized this year. The science experiment can wait. Now I’m able to smile and enjoy the Christian qualities I see developing before me. I can spend time marveling over God’s creation and sharing those moments with my children. I can even give up my perfectly planned lessons for a spontaneous field trip or activity. What I thought was a burden becomes beautiful.

Opportunity brings me possibilities, openings and options. It provides a hope for both today and the future. Opportunity allows me to find joy, experience peace and demonstrate love. The stomach flu will still make its appearance. Laundry will continue to multiply. I don’t think I’ll ever become a morning person. Yet, as I allow the Lord to use opportunity to change me, I will be more able to reflect the character of Jesus to my husband, children and others.