There have been a few blog posts around the internet lately on a phrase that Andrew Kern is famous for, “teaching from a state of rest.” It’s one that has left many a homeschooling mother scratching her head for hours; frankly, I’ve only been able to understand it as a few ideas have come colliding together in my own heart. Though there are many soft and grace-filled posts on the state of rest out there, this is not one that is soft. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adopted sons, and partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. Sometimes grace comes in the form of a clue-by-four: this post is for those who need a little more definition in how this works out in our lives, people like myself.
Other blogs have wonderful posts on this idea and how to attain it, but I’m going to come at it from another angle: that rest starts with observing our unmet expectations and what those expectations mean, and what they shine a spotlight on. I’ve written before on Sandbox to Socrates about homeschooling being a spotlight on what can be wrong in our households; in this case, homeschooling can be a spotlight on what is wrong in our hearts.
There is a great homily on Audio Sancto called Sloth: the Vice of Homeschoolers. When I didn’t understand the meaning of the word sloth, I was pretty taken aback by that title.
noun ˈslȯth, ˈsläth also ˈslōth
: the quality or state of being lazy
: a type of animal that lives in trees in South and Central America and that moves very slowly
Sloth is often summed up as laziness, but a truer definition is not doing what we are supposed to be doing, when we are supposed to be doing it. The cure for being slothful is knowing our place (you will hear more on that in the audio homily), which is doing what you are supposed to be doing, when you are supposed to be doing it.
Meaning, if your house is spotless, but the children’s education has fallen off the pier, that is sloth. If you have been running around like a chicken with her head off, but you are supposed to be resting, you are being slothful. If you are bound up in unmet expectations of your child’s education, are buying heaps of curriculum in hopes that it will be THE thing that gets them into Harvard, if your heart is anxious (when you are supposed to be resting in trust) you are being slothful. If you are piling worksheet after worksheet in front of your child because more of any work = success, you might be slothful.
Sometimes when sloth doesn’t look like laziness, it is shining a spotlight on our idols. What makes us anxious? Impatient? Angry? Bitter? Most of the time, it is unmet expectations. Unmet expectations of what? That our children would be gifted students and they are ‘only’ average? That the work would be easier? That our days would look like some fictionalized ideal in our heads? That the monotony of the day wouldn’t make us think that if we were out there, with a career or job, we would be doing something useful with our lives? That someone, anyone, would be a better teacher than we are?
Do we have more pride in our teaching ability, rather than trusting our children’s needs being met through us? Are we anxious and fearful of doing the wrong thing because everyone else is doing something different? Comparisons lead us to constantly question ourselves and the paths our families are on. Are we questioning our vocations as mothers and homeschoolers because the outside world looks prettier and more rewarding when our egos are are bruised because we’re ‘just’ stay at home mothers?
Look, sometimes we DO need to just clean up the house, and get the meals on the table, and put our noses to the grindstone, to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps because we’ve fallen. But even then, there is rest. There is rest because of trust. There is trust in the calling, in the vocation in our lives that is marriage and the upbringing of our children; trust in the love of Christ because he will not lead us astray; trust that when we DO get off track, He writes straight with crooked lines.
In the end, with sloth it all comes down to ego, to what we think what should be–and wasn’t pride the first sin? Us forgetting who God is and our place. In Him.
So. How do we teach from a state of rest? By repenting. Sometimes when we think of repenting, we think of sackcloth and ashes. But that’s not what it is. It means to turn around, to change your mind. Doesn’t that sound much easier–to walk toward something better? But part of repenting is acknowledging that we need to change our minds. Let’s not be so stuck in our ways that we are unable to change our minds.
“‘The beginning of salvation is to condemn oneself’ (Evagrius). Repentance marks the starting-point of our journey. The Greek term metanoia…signifies primarily a ‘change of mind.’ Correctly understood, repentance is not negative but positive. It means not self-pity or remorse but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Trinity. It is to look not backward with regret but forward with home–not downwards at our own shortcomings but upwards at God’s love. It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. To repent is to open our eyes to the light. In this sense, repentance is not just a single act, an initial step, but a continuing state, an attitude of the heart and will that needs to be ceaselessly renewed up to the end of life. In the words of St Isaias of Sketis, ‘God requires us to go on repenting until our last breath.’ ‘This life has been given you for repentance,” says St Isaac the Syrian. ‘Do not waste it on other things.’” Met. Kallistos Ware