Tuesday, 31 May 2016

What legacy will you leave?

Sometimes I really do feel life is like a spiral curriculum! You learn certain lessons, move forward, move into new areas and new challenges, and then after a while, find yourself back asking a question which you thought had been answered conclusively.

I recently turned forty, which might be the source of my current unrest! I know it is just a number, and really doesn't mean much. And physically, I am as fit and healthy as I have ever been, although a little tired of late. I suppose the question I have been asking is whether my life has had value. I know that might sound a strange and self-centred question, and perhaps it isn't even one that a Christian should ask. But it is there, and I often find writing helps me reflect and consider. I hope these musing might bring encouragement to others elsewhere too!

A good place to start is always the words of Jesus. In Matthew Chapter 6, He says, 'Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'

Treasures in heaven? What are those? What has eternal value?

Often I reflect on Psalm 127, and the words, 'Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain'. In considering what has lasting value, we must consider what God is calling us to do with our lives. Each of us only has twenty four hours in a day. We all have different relationships and responsibilities. I imagine most of us feel that there are more things that we would LIKE to do than we actually CAN do, and maybe particularly in this season of life with many young children we can feel stretched very thinly. But what is God actually calling us to do? Do you know? If not, how can you find out?

As I write that, I am not going to discuss in full the different ways that God guides - many others have written on this topic. There are different perspectives here - some believe that God has a specific perfect will for each believer. I am not so sure about that since it would imply that if we make a single wrong decision, then we could be 'outside God's will', and His plans are perfect; it also tends to negate that we are given free choice. I am more convinced by what some term the 'wisdom' approach - that God has a clear moral will ('Is this sinful?' 'Does this route lead to excessive temptation or compromise?') but otherwise we are free to choose between the options which provide the greatest spiritual opportunity. There may be several different options through which God can be glorified, and we are left, through prayer and seeking wise counsel, to make the best choices. 'Decision Making and the Will of God' is a helpful book reviewing this concept.

But I digress. Even having made choices - many of which were made long ago (to train as a doctor, to marry, to have children, to work overseas) - there is still that day to day question: Does this have eternal value? Why am I doing this?

As home educators, I think we are often challenged about whether we are making the best use of our time. In our culture, it seems that looking after other people's children is a reasonable thing to do, but to prioritise your own children is not worthwhile. I recently read a blog post encouraging me that I am not alone in having some days when all I seem to do is correct behaviour and attitude. I was reminded that in fact this is one reason why we do home educate! Our priorities are not simply academic achievement with a few hobbies such as music and sport thrown in. Rather, godly character and wise choices are of great importance, and these things cannot be taught in simple 30 minute instalments but rather through the day to day grind, the challenges, the arguments between siblings, the times when ungodly character is visibly displayed. I need to remember that. Because otherwise it is easy to get discouraged. I haven't achieved my to-do list today and don't have a beautiful piece of art to show you, because we actually spent most of the day discussing attitude and having time-out as a consequence of disobedience. Yet, that has greater lasting value.

Which leads on to another big challenge in today's generation, and yes, a challenge I struggle with often! I am very goal-orientated. In the workplace I am efficient and have lists where I can tick items off with a sense of satisfaction and completeness. Yet parenting (whether or not one home educates) does not lend itself to check lists! And if it were to, it would miss the point. Our goal is far longer term, and not one in which it is easy to see progress or achievement. We need to remember that. In Galatians, Paul writes to the Christians, 'Do not become weary in doing good...' There are times when the world around you seems to scream that you are wasting your time, and making sacrifices in vain. This is where support networks (online or in real life) can be of immense value, to remind one another that what we are doing is worthwhile!

Professionally, things are going well. But it is always easy to look at others who have achieved more, or faster or have visible success. Even there, one must remember that you rarely see the whole picture. I may see evidence of grants awarded and papers published. But what I do not see is the hours and hours spent working on grant applications which receive harsh reviews, or the manuscripts which are rejected and cannot be improved upon. Also, probably more importantly, one does not see another researchers' life and eternal destiny. And hence here also, one can miss the point entirely. Work is good. We were created to work, even before the fall. Glory Days by Julian Hardyman expounds upon this beautifully. But work is really just a means to an end, and if we lose sight of that, we have missed the point. Would I be more 'successful' if I were a professor by now? If I had a massive research portfolio? Or if I had made a discovery which had a huge impact on global health? Or actually, seeking to work at everything with all my heart as working for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23) am I doing well enough by keeping that eternal perspective, encouraging others in their work and making a small difference to a vulnerable population somewhere? Even in the workplace, it can be easy to prioritise wrongly. Teaching and mentoring the next generation is important, and as a Christian I believe brings great opportunity. But it does not bring the kudos of large research grants and high impact papers. What should be the priority? We all know those who are motivated by selfish ambition and will do almost anything to achieve their goals; but this is clearly diametrically opposed to what Christ calls us to. 'Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself' (Philippians 2:3).

What matters most? Is it not summarised in the words of the prophet Micah? 'He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?' Micah 6:8

So as I reflect, I see clearly that I am asking the wrong question, or asking the question with the wrong emphasis. It is not what I have achieved in life that matters. It is what eternal legacy I will leave. My greatest priorities are to my family - to my husband and children. And then in the workplace, the priority is to swim against the tide where need be, and to seek to use every opportunity for the glory of God. It may be that I never see clear, well defined fruit from these labours, or it may be that I do. It certainly is not a matter of a simple formula or checklist for success. But the Bible makes clear that living in the light of eternity is our calling, and in His strength I will continue.

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