1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV) – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
The apostle Paul wrote this to followers of Christ in Corinth, who were very familiar with the Isthmian games, one of the four Panhellenic Games held in Ancient Greece, the most famous of which was the Olympic Games. The analogy of running a race in such a way to obtain the prize speaks of perseverance, discipline, self-control, humility, and caution. Certainly, we need all of these in order to home school our children! Today I want to focus on the first of these qualities – perseverance.
Any runner who wants to win a difficult race must run with perseverance. Perseverance is essential if we are to consistently pursue a goal or unwaveringly put what we believe into practice. We can pray for perseverance. We can choose to persevere in the midst of challenging circumstances. Focus on the Family offers us four biblical principles on perseverance: training, sustainability, stamina, and finishing strong.
Years ago, a friend and I decided to run a 10k race, with no preparation. I use the word “run” loosely here, because we basically walked the entire way, and, because it was a fun community event, it was no big deal. But what a mistake it would be to take that kind of casual approach when it comes to educating our children. Only a fool would set out on a marathon with no preparation. We can easily see that. In the marathon of educating our children at home, we can develop rhythms of prayer, rhythms of Bible study, rhythms of emotional care, rhythms of rest, rhythms of gleaning, rhythms of learning, rhythms of solitude, rhythms of community, and the list goes on. What kinds of training habits could you develop in your life that would help you to persevere?
The classic Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” beautifully illustrates the importance of setting a pace that is sustainable (the moral of that story: “The race is not always to the swift”). Many of us struggle with not acknowledging or accepting our limits. One of the best lessons we can learn is that we can’t do it all. We don’t have enough time to do it all. We don’t have enough energy to do it all. We don’t have enough resources to do it all. We’re going to have to choose. The best approach is to trust God to show us where our limits are to be. He’s the most loving limit-setter in the universe! When we lean on His wisdom, timing, direction, provision, etc., we will be able to sustain the pace. And He’ll show us when we need to adjust that pace. What practices or habits in your life are unsustainable? What adjustments do you need to make?
Keeping our stamina up can be one of the most difficult aspects of perseverance, especially when the course is very long, spanning a period of years or even decades. In the course of a long race, runners commonly “hit the wall,” when they feel that they have nothing left to give, physically or emotionally. I experienced that a couple of times while walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. When you get to that point, quitting becomes an incredibly strong temptation. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is to determine not to make major decisions when one is too SALT-y (Sad, Angry, Lonely, or Tired). Our emotions are simply not trustworthy. Maybe what we need is some splashes of joy. Maybe we need to forgive someone. Maybe we need to forgive someone again. And again. And again. Maybe we need a listening ear. Maybe we need some rest and refreshment. It can be incredibly hard to stay the course sometimes. God knows this. He is gracious and compassionate, and He will give us the grace we need to complete the assignments He’s given us. We’ll find that our strength is renewed, as we wait on Him and trust Him to lead us.
The prophet Isaiah wrote a beautiful encouragement to God’s people, to urge us to stay the course by reminding us of what God is like. It’s rendered beautifully in The Message translation (Isaiah 40:27-31) – “Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, ‘God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me’? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.”
Is your stamina in need of a boost? What would be refreshing to you?
What would finishing strong look like in the marathon of home schooling our children? It might be tempting to think that a strong finish means that all of our expectations for our children plus all of the expectations of others and the world were not only met, but exceeded. I hope my use of hyperbole here makes my point: That’s a lot of pressure! The world may measure success in terms of achievements, awards, or accolades, but what does success look like to God? 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT) – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” Faithfulness. Starting faithful. Remaining faithful. Finishing faithful. This is why it’s essential to know what our assignments from God are. God has assigned to each one of us two simple commandments – to love Him with all that we are, and to love others as we love ourselves. If God has blessed us with children, then our assignment also includes providing for their childhood needs. According to the National Institutes of Health, the basic needs of children include:
1. ongoing nurturing relationships (the presence of the child’s caregiver(s) and the form of constant interaction with the child, through physical care and affective interactions)
2. physical protection, safety and regulation (food, hygiene, sleep, shelter, movements, growth and development monitoring, support for healthy habits and protection against infections and accidents, as well as regulations based on laws and other measures that protect the child against physical, social and environmental damage)
3. experiences tailored to individual differences (the supply of care particular to each child, excluding any form of standardized expectation)
4. experiences appropriate to child development (actions to stimulate and add new interactions to an ever-changing process of each child’s individual demand, allowing the children to gain self-confidence and feel accepted, cared for and loved)
5. limit setting, structure and expectations (the establishment of appropriate limits, encouragement and acknowledgement of the children’s accomplishments, cooperating for the children to be able to empathize, through affect, safety and bonding)
6. stable and supportive communities and cultural continuity (that community and culture are foundations for the development of children and their family, considering the care, educational and health aspects in their social network, for the children to gain the feeling of belonging to the family and community)
Whew! That’s a lot! Who among us could possibly be the one and only person on the planet to meet all of these needs perfectly in an individual child? God alone can do that. Many times, of course, we, as parents, do provide for the explicit needs of our children. But sometimes we delegate. And often it’s a bit of both. For example, I can prepare a healthful meal for my children, but I don’t have to have grown everything myself in order to provide that. My child may need to see a doctor, but as parents, we make the appointment, arrange transportation, figure out how to pay for it, etc. No person can possibly provide all of another person’s needs all the time. It might feel a bit like that at various times in our parenting journey, but the bottom line is that God is our provider. He loves our kids perfectly and completely, so faithfulness means looking to Him to supply all that they need. We each desperately need God’s wisdom and direction, in order to discover how He will meet our particular children’s needs in very specific and personal ways! What needs are you trying to meet alone that you may need to delegate? Who or what could help you to gain a fresh perspective?
Fellow parents, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NLT) God selected you as His number one choice to parent the children He has entrusted to you. He loves us and our children. He will help us to run with perseverance, for our good and His glory.