It's that time of year again. My Facebook feed is starting to blow up with first day of school pictures from various places all around the country. Around these parts some of the private schools have already begun, and the public schools are gearing up to do so next week (I think? I'm not entirely sure. I guess I'll find out when the big yellow bus starts circulating the neighborhood again…) And tomorrow, our family will jump on the 'back-to-school' bandwagon too. (Back to homeschool that is. While I can't say I've never contemplated sending my children off on the big yellow bus, that bus comes through my neighborhood at 6:30 in the morning, so mostly I don't contemplate it too seriously. I don't know about you, but we don't actually get up that early….)
I did a fair amount of reading this summer. Included in that reading was Charlotte Mason's second volume Parents and Children, James KA Smith's You Are What You Love, and Cindy Rollins' brand new book Mere Motherhood. The only one of those that I had planned on reading was Parents and Children. The other two were new releases that I couldn't quite resist waiting on, despite the number of books still languishing in my to-be-read basket. More about all of those books in the weeks to come, I hope. In very brief summary, all of them talk about the importance of nourishing our children with good ideas, training them in good habits, and the way those ideas and habits form their affections and influence the people they become (although coming at that theme from different angles). All of them gave me a great deal of food for thought.
Then, last weekend we were at our church's annual family-style retreat. Our bishop came to deliver the teaching portion of the retreat – a study of 2 Timothy – and all of a sudden all of the ideas that had been floating about in my mind from my reading this summer started coming together.
Have you noticed in Second Timothy that more than once, Paul mentions the 'shaping influence' of Timothy's mother and grandmother? It was their teaching and training in Timothy's formative years that equipped him to live out his calling in the world. That 'shaping influence' is the Word of God – the Word that is powerful and effective for everything. And our end (Smith would say our 'telos') is Jesus. He is our goal. The One around whom our affections should be ordered. He is also the One who gives us sustaining grace – grace for every moment. Grace to continue with patience and perseverance even in the face of severe trials and testing. (Cindy's book is a memoir of how these ideas played out in her family.)
At the end of the final teaching session on Sunday morning, we had a communion service. In the Anglican liturgy, at the end of the service, we are commissioned to go back out into the world with these words: And now Father, send us out into the world to do the work You have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord…
One of my children – the one who, if I'm honest, is the one that I find the most difficult to parent most of the time – was right there, snuggled up against me during that service. This isn't the first time I've heard those words, as they are part of the liturgy week in and week out. Nor is it the first time that I've had a child snuggled up in my lap at the point in the service. But that day, with the words of 2 Timothy still ringing in my ears, and my nose resting against a child's head, I heard them in a new way. That little one in my lap…and the other two who were scattered in other parts of the room with their friends – they are the work He has given me to do. That is my mandate: to faithfully train these little ones God has placed in my care. To nourish them with Good, True, and Beautiful ideas. To guide them into good habits – liturgies if you will – that will guide their future lives. To steep them in His Word and point them to Jesus. To do all of this in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
So tomorrow we embark on a new school year. I have my books and lists ready to go – ready enough at least. I'm excited about the new opportunities that the coming year will hold. And I look forward to sharing some of those plans with you here in this space in the weeks ahead. But in the midst of new books and new checklists and new supplies and new activities and new schedules….let us not forget the goal that we are aiming for. The holy task we have been called to. The sustaining grace we are given to carry it out – grace that is new every morning. Let's love and serve Him as faithful witnesses right here in our homes.