Friday, 3 July 2015

Being fully persuaded (and remaining gracious)

Romans 14:5: ‘One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.’

Romans 14:12: ‘So then, each of us shall give account of himself to God.’

Romans 14:23: ‘Whatever is not from faith is sin.’

Have you ever noticed that when you have children, some of your views and opinions become more evident? For example, you might have believed something for years, but when you have children, suddenly you might be making choices that are somewhat different to the default paths of the world around you. At least that has certainly been our experience! When we were a childless couple, our choices with regard to how we lived, how we ate, how we administered our finances, how we observed the Sabbath, our choices with regard to entertainment, use of free time, the company we would choose - many of these were quiet decisions we would make which nobody else would really notice or care about. There were times when even living as a Christian, we did not feel particularly counter-cultural; after all many aspects of our life were very similar to those around us - we lived in a house, we went to work, we would go on holiday, we would enjoy nice food and friendships.

It has been different since having children. We noticed it quite early on - for example, often when I changed a washable nappy, somebody nearby would comment on the reasons why they did not use re-usable nappies. Or if we had a disciplined nap and bedtime routine, visiting friends would immediately explain to us the reasons why they had been unable to have such a pattern. Similarly, with pots of pureed fruit and vegetables, a friend sitting nearby would tell me they thought shop-prepared purees were better because they were more nutritionally balanced. And so forth. It was as though by choosing to do something differently, people might automatically see this as criticism of their lifestyle and choices.

As they years have passed, this occurs now in the realm of education. Sometimes I think it is because people feel a little threatened - 'I'd love to have my children at home with me all day, but it would drive me crazy', or 'we need two incomes in order to get by, so we've had to put them in nursery'. But also, it can sometimes be for other reasons. There are those who have a genuine concern that through home education, we are depriving our children of some of the richest aspects of childhood.

I find direct questions and challenges relatively easy to deal with. You know where the other person is coming from, what their concerns might be, and you can either debate or agree to differ. But what I find more difficult is the subtle remarks or tensions that can arise in conversation. We experienced this a little this weekend - we were with some really good friends, but on several occasions I felt that I was causing offence or being misconstrued without really understanding why this was. Granted, we were all tired, but it was particularly when discussing children, routines, Sunday-school activities (or keeping them in mainstream church) or future educational choices that I felt uncomfortable. But when I reflected, I realised that for this family, there were many teachers who had enjoyed challenging, stimulating and rewarding careers, and that they lived in a locality where the school was almost an intrinsic part of the community. For them, a childhood without being in the local primary school would really seem isolated and miserable. Furthermore, from their perspective, they had never seen a reason to consider home education, and had not known many (other than missionaries in remote places) who had made this choice. So it was hardly surprising that they did not feel comfortable to enthusiastically discuss these things! Similarly, children's church and related activities had been a major part of their Christian service for many years, and by choosing to not put our children into these groups, it may have seen that we considered this role to have no value.

At first I felt sad, then a bit frustrated and misunderstood. But as I reflected, I realised that our perspective is very different to theirs, and that it would have been more unusual had they waxed lyrical about the benefits of home schooling. I also appreciate that a true friend will raise concerns and questions if they have them, and that they only want what is best for our family.

For some people, I think the proof will be in the fruit that develops through the years; however I see the risk in that argument as it can cause a temptation for a home educating family to feel under pressure to constantly prove and to excel; in my life this can make me frustrated at times when my young boys behave like young boys rather than responsible young men. Some people will be persuaded over time, and others may continue to be skeptical. It does not really matter. What is important is that:

1) We do not select friends who always agree with us entirely - the book of Proverbs has plenty to say on friendship, and in particular there are verses which outline the importance of 'the wounds of a friend'

2) We do not seek to use our families to prove a point. Rather, as we execute the choices we believe we are called to, we should seek in all things to honour God.

3) We must be fully persuaded in our own minds. Home education (or any decision which takes us against the conventional tide) is not always easy. We will not always have encouragers to cheer us on our way. 

4) We understand that there are some areas where the Bible is not absolutely black and white - for us in our family, a major outworking of our faith is the choice to home educate. But there are other very godly people who have not reached this conclusion. We must take care not to judge.

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