As I mentioned in my Daybook this week, I've scrapped the idea to write about depression. Ever since I mentioned burnout last summer, I've been struck by the emails I've received from mothers who were suffering burnout and even depression. They are not the same thing, but writing about burnout often prompts readers to tell me about depression.I've experienced both.
What was curious about my mail this summer, though, was that much of it -- most of it -- was from experienced, veteran homeschool moms who were looking at a new school year and struggling to find the joy and inspiration they'd always had for this way of life.It was as if some great plague was sweeping through the homes of established home educators and putting out all the lights. Dark and foreboding, this plague threatened to extinguish a great good in our society.
I believe in spiritual warfare. I believe that the good guys and the bad guys are duking it out up there ( out there?) and that evil prowls the world for the ruin of our souls. And that evil has a vested interest in our children and their future. Where better to fight the fight than at our kitchen tables and home libraries, on our field trips and nature walks? And how better to wage war than to zap the energy and enthusiasm of the mother who is laying down her life for this grand adventure in holy, alternative education?
Indeed. The Commander of Evil had a battle plan: Put doubt and discouragement in the hearts of the experienced mothers, the mentors, the teachers. Rob them of their joy; dry up the wellspring of their gratitude.
Instinctively, we turned to prayer. How, God, did we arrive in this barren place? Show us how.Give drink to thirsty souls who, despite the discouragement of our days, do long to joyfully do your will in our homes with the children you have entrusted to us.
We saw that discouragement and burnout creeps in little by little, one sleepless night at time. We have more children now and find that big kids rob us of sleep in an altogether different but no less exhausting way as small ones. And if we are blessed to have both big and small, sleep is a stranger indeed. Sometimes, we are so tired that we don't even recognize that it is tiredness we feel. It's a blurred line between fatigue and despondency. We are so weary we can't even remember why we thought that this lifestyle was a good idea in the first place.
Burnout begins to erode the rhythm of our days when our guard is down and poor habits take root. The bright, fresh resolve we had as new homeschoolers frankly gets a little tarnished around the edges. We get a little lazy. We are still working hard, but yes, if we are honest, we see sloth in the corners and crevices. It's time to fine tune the habit training for everyone in the household, time to commit again to the principles we know to be true.
Discouragement is allowed to fill the rooms of our heart when emptiness leaves space for it. A curious thing seems to happen in the middle years of home education. Loneliness. Co-ops become much trickier to navigate because they don't fill the needs of varied ages. Mom's Night Out is given over to carpooling teenagers. Time alone with our husbands becomes such a precious commodity that we guard it with our lives and rarely sacrifice it for time for female fellowship. Inevitable differences in philosophies of education further separate us from each other. And so very many of our comrades choose school in the middle years. The ranks dwindle. We are increasingly alone.
What to do?
That's all. Find God. In the beginning, we can be carried through the challenges of this lifestyle on the shoulders of great ideas and good friends. But that's not enough for the long haul.
Because God knows that this is our vocation and that vocation is all about becoming more like Him. He must increase. I must decrease. I must let go of my notions of magazine-cover homeschooling success. I must let go of my dreams of children growing up in a community of completely like-minded families, never to be challenged by the world or left alone by a bosom buddy. I must let go of my idea of what this is all supposed to look like. Less of me. More of Him. Until it's all Him. We're climbing Calvary here and it's getting steep all of a sudden.
My prayer must be the listening kind. Not the wish list kind. What is it, God? What are you telling me?
+Let go of the failures. You see that child who did something you never thought a child of yours would do? You see that test score that is so not what you imagined? You see that house that doesn't look at all like the one you envisioned? You see failure? I see grace. My grace is sufficient. My plan is perfect. I will take those apparent failures and in the broken emptiness, I will pour abundant grace. I will grow there. Not you.
+Don't listen to the sideline conversation about the excellent education at the topnotch private schools, the promises of intellectual rigor and growth in virtue. Don't hear the women talking about all the good they are doing in the world outside their homes. Don't even incline your ear towards the glowing reports of homeschooling success. Quit comparing. Take joy-genuine joy--in knowing that others are doing God's good work. But don't compete. And don't compare. I want to see you improve and you will only improve if you fix your focus on me, not them.
+Be prepared to set aside your plans. Oh, dear, I know you love those plans! They give you great pleasure, crafting them and sharing them and envisioning how they will come to life and bless your children. But be prepared-- because life will happen. And your plans will be cast aside. I will force you to bend until you break. And into your brokenness, I will pour my grace. First though, you will have to be emptied and laid bare, without the crutch of your own design. My plans are bigger, better. My plans are for salvation.
+Finally, know that you will be be scorned. When you receive only reproaches and blame, when the world looks aghast at the work of your hands, if you can know that you have done my will, you will know peace. And you will know joy. Real joy. The kind that sustains you and lifts you and lights the darkness and warms the cold, tired emptiness. Do my will. Live for me. Do you trust me? Can you surrender?