What if I Fail (On Home Education Part 2)

Every task requires faith

Elisabeth Elliot

In my last post I defined education as an extension of discipleship. The task of educating our children is not confined to merely math and literacy, but seeing those disciplines within the whole framework of life. Education ought to blur the lines that have been mistakenly drawn between “life” and “school”, “faith” and “everything else”. As Christians, we have to cast off the secular mindset that compartmentalizes Christ.

Phrased this way education suddenly feels very daunting. Parenting is a serious responsibility, education as an extension of parenting, therefore, ought to carry the same weight in our hearts. Just as a parent walking out of the hospital with their baby for the first time may feel a sudden surge of panic as the weight of their responsibility settles on them, so too, parents will feel similar panic at various points in their educational journey. There will be doubts. There will be fear. But as Rosaria Butterfield reminds us:

God calls us to walk in faith, not to be paralyzed by doubt.

Education is an act of faith.

As I mentioned in Part 1, I am not a Pragmatist. Christianity and Pragmatism cannot coexist. Pragmatism claims something is true or right based on whether it works to produce a desired outcome. A Pragmatist might look at home education and say: if I educate my children at home they will become Christians. Or alternatively: if I educate my children at home they will rebel against my faith when they are in the larger world. Neither of these approaches are based in a Christian worldview.

The truth of something does not depend on outcomes. It depends on God.

Obedience to God should never be confused with the outcome it produces. We do not love our neighbor so that they will come to know Christ, we love our neighbor because God commands us to, and it is a blessing if God uses our weak and flawed efforts to draw people to himself. Similarly, we do not disciple our children so that they will become Christians, we disciple our children because God commands us to, and it is a glorious blessing to see him use the seeds we plant. We do not educate at home to save our children, to ascertain academic success, nor to make “good” kids, we educate at home because we want to use every opportunity to magnify God in our children’s lives and we trust the outcome to God. Their story of faith and how God draws them to himself is not something we know, and their life at home is but a small sliver of it. Our efforts are not what bring our children to Christ, and this is a great freedom. We have a burden of obedience, but Christ’s burden is light because we carry it through faith in him.

So how do I answer the question: What if I fail? You will. Home education will expose you to yourself. You will see how much you really do fail, and how desperately you need our grace-giving God. This is precisely the point.

Jesus said:

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

Luke 6:40

As we wrestle with our weakness and sin, our children are watching. We are discipling them both directly through teaching, and indirectly through our daily actions and our own personal faith in Christ.

When I lose my patience over little minds trying to grasp vowel blending, and I return to them in humility with apology, and when I state that I need Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf, I am teaching them more than literacy. I am teaching them who we turn to in our failure.

We will fail often, just as we fail in every other area of sanctification when we move our eyes from Christ. We will be like Peter, sinking beneath the waves because we’re apathetic, or we’re tired, or life hits us hard, but ultimately because we’ve taken our eyes off the One who never fails. What will mark our success in obedience is not our perfect application of educational discipleship, but how we respond to our failures.

Will we justify our sin, or will we repent? Will we try to be self-righteous, or will we humbly admit we need Christ’s righteousness? Will we deny our responsibility in educating our kids because we are “just too impatient”, or will we run to the Source of patience? Do we quite, or do we fall to our knees in prayer for our children, ourselves, and the task at hand?

As Elisabeth Elliot wrote:

If the work is soaked in prayer, the beauty will be there, the work will be established.

This is not because prayer is some kind of magical incantation, but because prayer comes when we admit that we do not succeed by our strength, we do not teach from ourselves, but in full reliance on the God who is the source of all good.

There will be days where you don’t acknowledge God in the gaps. You won’t be pointing your children to Christ because you yourself are not treasuring him. This does not mean we should buck the responsibility of discipling our children, as G.K. Chesterton wrote:

If something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

Our failures ought not turn us way from the task at hand, but instead they ought to drive us to take our own advice. If the disciple becomes like the teacher, as Jesus said, then we had better turn to our Teacher to be made more like him.

This doesn’t mean our children will emerge from our homes believers for certain. We do not know the road of faith ahead of them, where they will stumble and fall, or where God will grab hold of their hearts. It does mean that we will have done our best in faith. It means that we will have planted seeds in abundance, with the knowledge that only living water will make them grow.

We will fail, and in our failure we can magnify Christ. We can point to the cross that takes our failures, hammers them into the hands of God, and removes them from us, as far as the east is from the west.

So, what if I fail?

You will. But God won’t.

3 comments

  1. Such a good reminder. We don’t parent or teach our children and find the right to demand God rescue their souls. We steward the days we have but trust Him completely with the outcome. It’s hard to surrender that fallacy of control.

    And how important to remember that even our failures and our response to them are part of the seeds we plant. Thanks for your thoughts 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Hard to surrender that fallacy of control”
      Yes!
      Thanks for your comment

      Like

  2. […] Firstly, we must ask ourselves: Why educate? As I mentioned in my previous two posts (Part 1, Part 2), we do not educate for careers, honor, or money as our ultimate aim. We educate for the glory of […]

    Like

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