" . . . for the joy set before Him endured the cross, . . . " Hebrews 12:
I have been reminded that that is one of the main reasons why we homeschool. My family homeschools for the joy set before us.
As I sit here with my stack of schoolbooks in front of me and my pen poised, ready to begin creatively filling in yet another blank weekly plan sheet (that's the goal at least), I feel my mind wistfully going back to this past summer. This year we transitioned slowly from vacation to school. We officially started school at the beginning of August, but there were many things that cut our days short: out of town guests, an anniversary trip, an extended swim lesson session and rescheduled play dates with friends. So summer vacation lingered for me and I'm finding this a good thing because I've just had an "ah-ha" moment: Learning to read is much like learning to swim.
I have five children (9, 8, 5, 3, 1) and at the beginning of the summer none of them were water safe yet. This was one thing that needed to be remedied this summer. I found an excellent private instructor and the dates were set. My oldest four would take lessons for three weeks in July. Most people would agree that my children were not too young to learn to swim. However, there were days when there were tears and they didn't want to go. I even on occassion had to keep my three year old from bolting from the pool. But with an instructor who patiently dealt with their fears, who enthusiastically praised even their smallest success, and who graciously extended their lessons, I am excited to say that all four are now swimming at appropriate levels and finally experiencing the joy set before them that threatened to pass them by. They all learned, but in different ways, and the results even look different. My children were all eager learners. I'd wager that no child ever wanted to swim more than mine did. And they were big talkers all the way to the pool. Once there however, the difficulty confronted them and their fears arrested them. There was certainly stress involved, but in the end it didn't diminish the quality of their childhood. Quite the contrary. It actually worked to enhance the quality of their childhood by adding joy and the opportunity for more fun. And isn't that why we as parents ask our children to do all kinds of "stressful" things? We know the joy that is before them - becoming healthy again by taking medicine, learning to swim by taking dreaded lessons, and peeling off ban-aids so their skin can breathe and so they can see the "owie" is healed and get on with life. And last but not least, learning to read, that the world might open up to them as well as the God of the universe Who reveals Himself through the written word (the very beginning of the joy before them!).
Now, my very most favorite thing to teach is reading and it is also my most dreaded (in a sense). My five-year-old Molly is reading. It has just "clicked" for her within the last few weeks. We are both just as excited and as tickled as can be when she points out a word and exclaims, "Mom! That says 'house' right?" But we were not excited and tickled last year. No. Honestly, there were many days I was discouraged and impatient. Molly was sometimes uncooperative and on the verge of tears. But I never even entertained the thought of waiting until she was older (I just changed my strategy). My eyes were fixed on the joy set before me and on the joy set before her. I had watched this little one of mine learn coutless things from the time she was born. She had even mastered a difficult verbal symbol system and learned how to talk (and talk and talk and talk!), so it just didn't make sense to me that she was "too young" to master a written symbol system. As a Christian homeschooler, I can not shy away from those things that may trigger "wrong attitudes" in my children or myself like anger, rebellion, laziness, apathy, etc. I must take those "wrong attitudes" to the throne of grace and plead for the Father's divine intervention through the help of the Holy Spirit in my own heart as well as in the hearts of my children.
Character is important in all of us. It enables us to not miss the joy before us. My husband and I desire whole-heartedly that our children will see all of what they are learning as keys to apprehending the truth and working for the progress of the gospel.
It is a fight to keep my eyes on the joy before me (in thinking about it, it's what enables us to obey the command to "rejoice in all things".) It helps to remember that the cross is the cross and the joy is the joy. (Seems like a no-brainer, but I tend to forget.) Generally, I don't view our homeschooling as "a cross to bear", but I will admit that there are plenty of days when my flesh rises up and wants to go a different way than where my lesson plans are leading or my children's flesh rises up and causes them to desire something other than "diligent application to their studies". So, my constant prayer is that on those days I will "run with perseverenc" by setting my sights on Jesus where my faith begins, and remembering that the joy before me of seeing our children standing firm in the truth of all that God is and in all that He has done and is doing is the hope that motivates me to walk humbly in obedience and to "continue on".
(written in the fall of 2006)