It is an interesting phenomenon: the internet is dominated by people under 40. For readers of every age, this means that the web is fast-paced and fresh-faced. It’s hip, idealistic, and full of energy. For people like me, well on the other side of 40, it is a source of inspiration and imagination. It is also sorely lacking in wisdom and perspective. So, I’m a bit of a hard sell, particularly when it comes to parenting and education resources. Been there, read that, wrote the revised version from my personal experience.
So, it is with cheerful optimism that I come to you this morning to share Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching from Rest. Sarah is an in-real-life friend, the kind that has sat on my couch and talked to my kids and confided her heart on my phone throughout the years. There was nothing new for me in this book—I read Sarah’s blog regularly and I’ve had these conversations with her. But it sure is nice to see it all laid out so beautifully and to have a go-to place where I can fill my tank and remember what is truth.
I think my favorite passage was the one where Sarah talked about Peter, venturing out onto the water at Jesus’ beckoning. It was only when he took his eyes off the Master and started looking back towards the boat that Peter began to sink. Sarah reminds her readers not to take their eyes off the Master. And the whole passage reminded me of a conversation I’d had with Sarah. Sometimes, it’s very helpful to see our own advice in print because, sometimes, we need to read the memo.
I don’t think I’d ever have the courage to write a “how-to” book. I write in the “this is what I did/thought/tried and this is how it worked/failed/was revised” genre. Everything is a trial, a big idea, a tentative step out onto the water. At this stage in my life, with three children "graduates” of our home education experiment and six more still in it, I read homeschooling books rarely, but when I do, I read through the prism of testing whether the advice holds true, whether it is sound over the long haul.
Sarah’s clear, optimistic advice is excellent. She’s right and a mother who adapts Sarah’s philosophy to her own family culture will most likely have a recipe for success in both her educational and relational endeavors. Truth is truth and what is true for someone in her early thirties, still in the baby-bearing and curriculum choosing state of life can be true in one’s late forties when the babies are grandchildren only on a visit and the curriculum is pulled from bursting bookshelves groaning under years of hopeful purchases.
I did hit one bump along the way in my reading, one place where I stopped nodding and had to think long and hard about whether her words held true for me. She writes,
Much of our anxiety in homeschooling could be side-stepped by simply acknowledging who we are trying to please. It sounds too simplistic, I know. But consider that your day- what you prioritize, what you don't- will likely look different depending on whether you are doing it all for His pleasure, or doing it all (or only some of it) to please Grandma, the neighbor, or anyone else.
Whether or not you finish your curriculum, get through all the lessons in the book, or do as much as you set out to do doesn't really matter. Pacing doesn't matter. Change the way you assess your success. The quality of the encounter is what matters.
And then this
Furthermore, there is no reason why the 6th grade math book must be mastered between September and May during your child's 12th year of life. Some bureaucrat somewhere made that up. You don't work for the bureaucrat. You work for God. Funny thing about Him- He doesn't operate on the school district's schedule.
That’s not quite the way I see it these days.
Here’s the thing: we are not accountable to our neighbors or to Grandma or even to the bloggers whom we read for inspiration. That is most definitely true. And at the bottom bottom, we are accountable only to God. However, two realities to consider make this a little more complicated than it might appear at first. It does sort of matter when you get through the sixth grade math book, because after the sixth grade math book there is the seventh grade math book and after that there is algebra and geometry and the SAT. And though Sarah makes it very clear that no one is called by God to ace the SAT, there is someone who is likely to hold the homeschooling mom accountable. That someone is her child, now grown to a young adult.
He needs to take that test in order to go to college and if he wants to go to college with his peers, we need to be certain that he’s in a position to confidently approach the test knowing that he’s been held to a certain discipline throughout the years which has brought him to mastery of the topics. So, yes, there is a finite place where it matters what has been completed and the best way to get to that place without making oneself crazy is to be faithful towards working diligently throughout the school years.
The second reality is that when we endeavor to educate a child at home, the buck stops with us. And when that child is grown, he is going to look back at his schooling and hold us accountable for its success or failure. Is that right or just? Perhaps not. It is true that only God can hold us accountable. But in the day-to-day living out of relationships within a family, the idea that our children now grown will want to evaluate their unconventional upbringing is one for which home-educating parents should be prepared. The delicate dance of relationship about which Sarah writes so eloquently and to which she gives such priority will bring every mother and child to a moment of reckoning when he looks at the gift of his education and to the choices his parents made on his behalf and he weighs it and measures it.
If he is limited in what he wants to do on the brink of young adulthood by the decisions made prior to that time, the greatest challenge of all will be to persuade the child that there is a bigger picture than moment in which he finds himself and there are still greater lessons to learn. It will be a time where both parties—mother and child—take an adult inventory and both see where they have fallen short. When the moment comes--and it will come--you might not have peace right away. You might have to struggle and wrestle and repent and forgive.
There is no question: there will be gaps and failures and inconsistencies and wide learning curves. This is the place where the time put into relationship is a worthwhile investment. It’s always startling for a grown child to recognize that parents are human and they make mistakes and they stumble and sometimes even fall. It’s incredibly humbling for a parent to survey the hard work and well-intentioned path of an entire childhood and to see that she could have (should have?) done some things differently. When two people who have lived in such close community and learned so much together over such a long time reach that moment, they will both need to rest in the knowledge that God’s got this or else their universe might just explode.
And that's why the message in this book is so important.
If we are resting in God, all will work together for the good. The whole of this book speaks to the greatest good. The advice is sound—from curriculum choices to scheduling decisions. It will all work for the good even if he didn’t finish his math book in the sixth grade. (But it might not be quite as simple and peaceful and idealistic as Sarah suggests.)
I think this book is an invaluable resource—to moms just starting out and to moms who need refreshment along the journey. It is well worth the very affordable price to invest in the whole bundle and spend some time this summer truly refreshing and re-evaluating and learning how to lean into God. The gift of the book is that it begs a mother to let Jesus fill all the spaces in her heart and her mind so that He spills out into the ordinary moments and fills the ordinary days and ultimately creates an extraordinary childhood.
I have a copy of Sarah’s book to give away and with it, also the very useful companion journal and four invaluable podcasts with four excellent mentors. Just leave me a comment below and you’re entered to win! Winner announced here next Friday.