In Charlotte Mason’s 4th principle, she warns us against all the tools we shouldn’t use as we seek to educate and discipline our children. In principles 5-8, she tells us what instruments are available to us to use instead. The first of these is atmosphere:
“When we say that education is an atmosphere, we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the child’s level.”
Given that this is one of the main tenets of Charlotte Mason philosophy, I’ve thought about this before. I’ve even written a bit about it before. But reading the assignments for this principle brought me several new insights on what atmosphere IS and IS NOT and how to develop it in our home. And once again, the ideas I was considering on this topic dovetailed nicely with what I have been reading in Romans.
One idea that hit home to me is that atmosphere is not the same as environment. While the physical environment is important, the “atmosphere” has more to do with the intangible things – the relationships and attitudes that permeate the home. In the article “The Atmosphere of the Home”, MF Jerrold tells us:
“And the gravest thought concerning this is that in this instance there is nothing to learn and nothing to teach: the atmosphere emanates from ourselves – literally is ourselves; our children live in it and breathe it, and what we are is thus incorporated into them.”
I don’t know about you, but I find that convicting. Very convicting. Atmosphere goes so far beyond organizing my home in a pleasing manner, choosing the right curriculum, following correct discipline practices. It is not the things I do. It starts with who I am. If I want to build a positive atmosphere in my home, it has to start with me.
As I was letting this thought simmer, I read Romans 12 in my devotions. Verses 9-21 are a beautiful description of love in action. A picture of what Christian community should look like. I won’t list out all of those characteristics here – although I do encourage you to go take a look at the passage for yourself when you get a chance – but I did appreciate Sproul’s comments in summary of the passage (these are my notes on it, not a direct quote from his St Andrews Expositional Commentary):
Christian life should be marked by:
- Joy -- which we can have no matter what because of our hope in Him. The idea of hope in the New Testament is an absolute certainty in the promises of God.
- Patience – or forbearance, hanging in there when things get tough.
- Prayer – the glue that holds everything else together. Sproul tells us: “There is to be an ongoing dialogue between our hearts and God all the time. We are to be always conscious of God’s presence, relying on Him and communicating with the Father our thoughts.”
This is the atmosphere I want to cultivate in my home. These aren’t things I can manufacture artificially, but the things that flow forth from being transformed by His Spirit and offering myself as a living sacrifice as I humbly exercise the gifts that He has given me for the good of the whole body…starting in the home. (See Romans 12:1-8 to set up the context for this passage.)
So often I fall short. So often the atmosphere of my home is not what I want it to be. So often I get discouraged and want to quit trying.
But I think Romans 12 is a good place to start. I have begun to use this passage as a basis of my prayer time - to meditate on it and let the Holy Spirit apply it to my heart. Atmosphere begins with me.
But I can do nothing without Him.