Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Charlotte Mason's thoughts on introducing children to God

"There is one thing the mother will allow herself to do as interpreter between Nature and the child, but that not oftener than once a week or once a month, and with look and gesture of delight rather than with flow of improving words--she will point out to the child some touch of especial loveliness in colouring or grouping in the landscape or in the heavens. One other thing she will do, but very rarely, and with tender filial reverence (most likely she will say her prayers, and speak out of her prayer, for to touch on this ground with hard words is to wound the soul of the child): she will point to some lovely flower or gracious tree, not only as a beautiful work, but a beautiful thought of God, in which we may believe He finds continual pleasure, and which He is pleased to see his human children rejoice in. Such a seed of sympathy with the Divine thought sown in the heart of the child is worth many of the sermons the man may listen to hereafter, much of the 'divinity' he may read" (Vol. 1, pp. 79, 80).

"The parent must not make blundering, witless efforts: as this is the highest duty imposed upon him, it is also the most delicate; and he will have infinite need of faith and prayer, tact and discretion, humility, gentleness, love, and sound judgment, if he would present his child to God, and the thought of God to the soul of his child." (Vol. 1, p. 345).

From Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Handbook

I found myself hesitant, intimidated, almost reluctant to introduce the idea of God to my children for the first time. I want nothing higher for them than that they learn to love and follow Him, and Deuteronomy 11:18-19 urges God's people to teach their children His words as part of daily life. But I was reluctant to mar their understanding of God by doing it poorly. I didn't want to steal from them the pleasure and profound life change that results from discovering truth on their own. When something is too familiar, the brain shuts off, and you build up a sort of immunity to it; I experienced those things myself growing up, and I wished there was a way to keep it from happening. I don't suppose there's a way to prevent boredom with Sunday school Bible stories retold and retold, or to keep the eyes from skimming the ending to stories that conclude with a moral and a verse. But I think Charlotte Mason has the right idea by prescribing an approach of delicacy and tact, setting an example and planting ideas sparingly, without a lot of preaching and moralizing. It leaves room for a relationship and understanding of God to develop naturally, to maintain a sense of intrigue and mystery. I do not worry that reading the story of David and Goliath to them from I Samuel 17 will lead to boredom. They request it again and again and again. His Word isn't boring. I think the real danger lies in preaching to them and moralizing with "flow of improving words", watering down the stories and drawing trite "lessons" from them.

Now for some self-examination, because I know, even before sitting down and trying to recall specific examples, that I'm guilty of losing their interest by talking too much.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


How to Nurture Geniuses

Never Pursue Pleasure

"There is only one real power
That you should long to own: Self-denial!
Spend all you have to purchase it.
Lust after chains of servanthood--never thrones of pride.
For servants, worn by willful drudgery,
At last wear diadems.
Bridle all desire: For having what you want,
Will leave you groveling in wantonness.
Feed yourselves with hunger,
Then savor all you slowly eat.
Thus, self-denial will give you richness but keep you from excess.
Use this world, do not consume it.
Never pursue pleasure, rather let it find you...
At the end of every day...
Where you made discipline your friend."
~Calvin Miller, A Requiem for Love

These lines pierced me as I read Miller's story about the fall of mankind. Too easily my mind is filled with thoughts of my next indulgence...peace and quiet? Ahh...time for a book, curling up on a comfy couch with a cup of steaming tea. Kids are finally in bed? Hmmm...are there any shows I haven't caught up on?

Whenever I stop being intentional about how I spend my time each day, weeds crop up. There's a difference between scheduling in time for relaxation and pleasure, and being pulled around by my ever wandering, never really satisfied desires. Even good projects turn sour when I begin them at the wrong time, without enough time to finish, without thought of how to care for and occupy my kids while I work. The kids become unhappy and troublesome most quickly when I don't have a plan.

Sometimes I'm tempted to try to remedy issues like this by putting rules on myself. Do I get sucked into TV shows to easily? No TV. EVER! And since in free moments my mind tends to begin dreaming of cookies or cake or chocolate, should I purge my life of those things entirely to rid myself of the problem? The passage above brings to mind monks, and their deliberate self deprivation. I've read countless times from a variety of sources that their lifestyle was not what God is calling us to, but I can see what brought them to that point, and I think they must have experienced some good results from living a life devoid of some of the more obvious pleasures. I can see how legalistic churches and groups were formed, too, but personal experience with them leaves a sour aftertaste. The truth is that I could make rules for myself to follow to try to keep myself out of trouble and on the right path, but those rules would not really help my situation. I would only find new ways to indulge myself. Or fall off the wagon completely, if I were to ever try to cut, say, cheesecake, completely out of my life. The only solution I see is to humbly climb up on the altar each day, and give my life again to God, and let His will direct my day. So that when I'm with my kids, my words are patient, my actions gentle, my attitude right. And when they're down for nap time and I have some precious quiet time to myself, that time still belongs to God, and I choose a way to fill it that I know pleases Him. If I curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea, I do it with a clean conscience and a sense of His pleasure, because there's nothing else I should be doing instead. There's no other way than to daily beg for His help, and live every moment humbly and open to his leading.

I practiced self-denial a few days ago, inspired by the passage above. It was nap time, lunch was cleared away, and I was reading. I could hardly focus on what I was reading because my mind kept throwing me images of sweets I could snack on. I had already determined that I was addicted to sugar again, and needed to cut back. So I decided beforehand that I wouldn't have any...that this self-denial was necessary, and a way to practice what I had just read. I was shocked by how difficult it was. It was a mental battle that actually made me tired. It shaped the rest of my day...left me feeling weak, and much more dependent on God. It was exercise, the kind that, the more you do it, the stronger you become. The next day was similar, but a little easier. Since then I've had some busy days, too full to focus on the things that matter most, but today I refocus on the exercise of self-denial, determined not to brush it away or excuse myself that these are trivial matters. This is my one life, and every time I choose the easy, lesser way, I waste it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

13 things that make me glad:

138. A long, hot day after weeks of rain.

139. Blistered hands, dirty feet, withering weeds, a happy garden.

140. Teabag of spicy chai, steeped in steaming water in a white mug, a little milk and sugar.

141. Contest between baby girl and 30 year old mama: pink hairbow in darling fine baby hair just thick enough to hold it again, yanked out continually by chubby baby fists.

142. Four year old boy reading Go, Dogs, Go to two year old brother. Really reading. I have dreamed of this moment. "Read to your bunny often, and... your bunny will read to you!" -Rosemary Wells

143. Babies, daughter and niece, bopping together to bebop cellphone game music. No self-conscious shyness, no restraint.

144. Two dear girl friends and I, plotting a morning together, just us, to talk and drink coffee.

145. Wedding plans...for a sweet sister in law and her sailor husband. September. Two small sons in black tuxes. Tiny daughter and niece in gauzy white.

146. Scales falling off my eyes. Why is He not King every moment of daily life when I am so entirely convinced that's the right way? Weeds. The small distractions, self indulgences that call for my attention in my spare moments. The path to life? Self denial.

147. Humble gratefulness that He doesn't leave me to my errors. Hope: He values me enough to keep teaching me.

148. Funny texts between My Hero and me. Jokes that keep us laughing.

149. Ambling through a bookstore, quiet, unhurried. A couple of hours without children, just My Hero and me. 8 years ago...just beginning our honeymoon.

150. The book of Proverbs. Pithy sayings, nuggets of truth. Guidance along the path of life.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The peace of three small ones napping was rudely blasted away by the grating wail of two year old Peanut Butter.

I sighed helplessly. How do I respond? I knew from experience that the wail meant nothing more than that he was grumpy. I knew that in another minute or two his brother and sister would wake up from the noise. Going in to spank him for indulging in such a selfish outburst would only wake them up more quickly, and what good would it do? I had spent the last several months cracking down on his behavior to no avail. I was tired of always coming across as angry to him. But ignoring it doesn't seem to help, either. The grating wail blasts loudly on until I face it, somehow. I reluctantly entered the bedroom and met the grumpy two year old and two other sleepy but wide awake faces.

Discouraged, later that evening I described that scene to My Hero. "I just have to accept that it's the way it is," I said. "I've tried to change him, and nothing makes a difference. I'm tired of coming across as always disapproving. Especially since it doesn't help." A few days before, Christopher Robin had told me that Peanut Butter said to him, "Mommy's mean to me." Putting that together with the kind of days we had had, and my heart sank. I didn't want him to see me as targeting him, a mean, angry, impossible to please mother. I decided to put my effort into accepting him for who he is, even when the behavior is ugly. "I can't change him," I told My Hero. "Oh, he can change," My Hero countered. "It just takes a long time. Remember how long it took us to teach him to stay in his bed at bedtime? You just have to get through to him that it's really not worth it to him." Light dawned, hope stirred. He can be taught, it just takes way longer than I would expect. It takes consistent, painful discipline. For a LONG time.

So that's what I'm working on these days. After a 5 day visit from their grandparents, both Peanut Butter and Christopher Robin have needed a lot more spanks to curb the whining and misbehavior that accompanies the mindset that life revolves around them and their whims. I think before I had kids I expected to be better at disciplining them than I am, but I do believe I'm getting better as I see good results come from it, and their misbehavior is less and less cute.

Also, any self-doubt I have about the importance of disciplining them is washed away by these:

"My child, don't ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don't be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights." Prov. 3:11 NLT

"If you refuse to discipline your children, it proves you don't love them; if you love your children, you will be prompt to discipline them." Prov. 13:24 NLT

"Discipline your children while there is hope. If you don't, you will ruin their lives." Prov. 19:18 NLT

"A youngster's heart is filled with foolishness, but discipline will drive it away." Prov. 22:15 NLT

"Don't fail to correct your children. They won't die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death." Prov. 23:13-14 NLT

"To discipline and reprimand a child produces wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child." Prov. 29:14 NLT

"Discipline your children, and they will give you happiness and peace of mind." Prov. 29:17 NLT