Many of the lessons that I have learned along the path of homeschooling have been taught to me by my children. Can I say that the most important ones have actually come from them and they have often been the hardest ones to learn?
This has been especially true when it comes to understanding what grace really looks like as we put it into practice.
When we began homeschooling in the early 1980’s, we homeschooled for a year before we joined the Advanced Training Institute, Bill Gothard’s homeschooling program. One of the highlights, for me, of the annual ATI training conference was the mass choir made up of several thousand smiling students dressed in navy blue dress pants or skirts, crisp white shirts and blouses with navy blue ties and neck bows. It was a sight to behold as they sang “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus” my heart responding to the intended message “Hang in there, moms. One day you will see Jesus and all those years of giving your life to raising children will be worth it.”
But there was something interesting you could observe about these young men and women if you had a trained eye. In that sea of navy and white uniformity, there would be imaginative touches in the accessories…flashes of other colors in the ties, neck bows with flair or shoes that made a fashion statement, hair styles that were just under the radar of acceptable conformity but obviously “toned down” for the week.
For many years I “just knew” what was acceptable dress for homeschooled kids, my ideals being challenged as the artistic children among us grew older. Though each of the children are creative and artistic in their own ways, clearly three of them, 50% of my children, obviously march to the beat of a different drummer when it comes to personal style.
My daughter was Anthropology nearly 10 years before there was Anthropology, which was often hard for me to understand in my personal, preppy, matchy-matchy life. Do you really think that red velvet jacket goes with EVERYTHING? What do you mean your hair is going to be purple? You’re covering your footstool with what? Faux fur? I just couldn’t get it.
Then there is my youngest son who looks as though he dropped into Ned Nickerson’s argyle closet to do a little shopping before meeting Nancy Drew at the malt shop. Toss in just a touch of 1960’s Haight Ashbury paisley and you get the picture. Some of his peers might not approve but little old ladies love him because he looks like the dream boy from their own teen years.
But it took the 4th born child to really show me what grace ought to look like as you stare it right in the face.
The boy wanted a tattoo.
I had read all the admonitions about tattoos being the sign of slavery. Sermons and articles in homeschooling publications that addressed teen rebellion always threw in a tattoo reference or two for good measure along with drug use and riotous living. Certainly the prodigal son MUST have spent some of daddy’s inheritance on a tattoo.
So being a homeschooler with a tattoo did not compute. Clay told him that we didn’t really like the idea of a tattoo but that we wanted him to think about it for a while and to really consider the pros and cons before he got one and to do so in light of being a Christian. Visions of skulls and crossbones danced in my head.
And then this son came home for a Christmas break from school and on his forearm there it was…not just a tattoo but one he had designed himself. When he showed it to us, he gave us the whole story.
After our initial talk with him, he had gone to see his Old Testament professor to ask him about the teachings we had heard about tattoos. Together they examined all the Bible references and related verses. After considering the context of the passages and being sure that he would not be sinning by getting one, he drew his own design and went to a tattoo artist.
As he explained it to me I found myself quite moved and ashamed of how judgmental I had been toward him. The drawing was of a face with a cross forming the nose and eyes in the center of the face and he explained that it represented the concept of imagio deo, being made in the image of Christ. He told us that it is a constant reminder in front of him of who he is in Christ and shared how he had been able to present the Gospel to several people who asked about its uniqueness.
In his wonderful book Grace-Based Parenting, author Tim Kimmel notes that the first characteristic of grace-filled homes is that they allow children the freedom to be different. He says “Grace can’t be some abstract concept that you talk about in your home. It has to be a real-time action that ultimately imprints itself in your children’s hearts. To talk about grace, sing about grace, and have our children memorize verses about grace – but not give them specific gifts of grace – is to undermine God’s words of grace in their hearts. Grace means that God not only loves them but that He loves them uniquely and specially. The primary way to give our children grace is to offer it in place of our selfish preferences.”
As I read these words, I realize how often I have been loath to extend grace to my children and have allowed my own tastes and opinions to be presented to them as a holy standard, when the truth is that God’s Word is the standard we ought to be pointing toward. How often I have even been tempted to put my own spin on Scripture in order to “prove” that my preference is the “right” one. And I have remembered the times when my first thought was “what would other people think about me, especially as a homeschooling mom, if my kid does x, y, or z.” It has caused me to repent of my own sin of loving myself more than I have loved God or my children.
But here is the wonderful truth of discovering grace in parenting as found in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Praise God, “all” includes those times when we have failed to extend the same grace to our precious children that the Lord has extended to us!