Genesis 22:2 “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
It’s been a couple of months now since our oldest son, Matthew, learned he was accepted at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA. As our oldest child, this is one of life’s “firsts” for Jennifer and I; the first child to leave the nest. As many parents can relate, this is a “first” that engenders a lot of thought in the mind of a parent. Is he ready? Did we do a good job? Are we ready? Will he be successful?
I believe these thoughts have been complicated a bit for us by Matthew’s chosen field of study: strategic intelligence and national security. This area puts Matthew directly in the line of possibly becoming a part of what President Trump has called the “dark state.” Matthew stands a high likelihood of becoming part of “the apparatus;” the same apparatus we all love to criticize–government. He also stands to become a part of the most untrusted part of said apparatus. It feels like we’re sacrificing him. It feels like we’re throwing him to the wolves.
It has raised another very penetrating question in my mind. Since we are homeschoolers and have homeschooled Matthew since he could barely talk: Is this what we were preparing him for? Did we know that one day we would be sacrificing him to the world? Is this what we were thinking when we chose to go down the homeschool path?
The answer is, undoubtedly, yes. It’s only now, though, that the reasons for our decision to homeschool have become frightfully real. Our decision to homeschool was not a statement against public education, nor was it a critique of Lutheran education. Jennifer and I both got good educations in public education and Jennifer herself went to Lutheran school until High School. While we have had our concerns about both over the years, we had no interest in making our decision some sort of political or churchly statement. (We still do not).
Our decision to homeschool was not motivated by an overly sheltering mindset that was intended to completely insulate our children from the “big, bad world out there.” While homeschooling does offer some protections for our children, we always knew these would not last forever and we always knew that they would face exposure to the world just by living in it. Yes. We were building a “safe space” of sorts, but it was never entirely safe. The idea was that they would leave that safe space and go out into the very unsafe space of this fallen world as Christians ready to engage. I doubt our kids will ever join the army of millennials who cry out for safe spaces. (The reason they do is that they either never had one, or were too pampered to imagine the unsafe space the real world actually is).
Why did we homeschool? Because we knew how important it is to train up children in the way they ought to go and then unleash them on a world that needs smart, competent, compassionate, Christians. We chose to use a classical curriculum so they would learn how to think critically at a young age. We raised the bar on them because it was going to be high bar they would have to meet when they went out into the world. My wife, in particular, scrimped and saved and sacrificed to make this happen. She especially gets credit for keeping us focused and for loving her children enough to get them ready. I have always used the word “fierce” to describe her dedication to her children.
As for me, I realize my sacrifice is not the same as Abraham’s. Nevertheless, the same promise Abraham held on to so tenaciously in Genesis 22 is mine as well. I do not know what the future will bring for Matthew. It does feel like a real sacrifice. Now, I can only listen to him, pray for him, and trust God to work out all things for Matthew’s good and the good of others who he works for and with.
I think the bottom line here is that we did not homeschool just for our children’s sake, but with the very strong appreciation that our children will one day make a contribution to the world in which they live. We are not neo-monastics with an itch to separate from the world. We raised them as we did with the high hopes that the world would benefit from their lives and service. We argued and deliberated and cried and prayed for them to engage the world for its good.
One might say that all parenting and teaching is at least supposed to be focused on the good of the world, but the world’s current chaos is the ultimate indicator of how well we are actually doing in this regard. Parenting is not spoiling our children or pampering them. In this day of “helicopter parenting,” spoiled children are emerging left and right, scaring even the most liberal of their professors. In our age, children have become possessions; not privileges to be nurtured and raised in a way that benefits all. Our nation’s current narcissism is an epidemic fueled by decades of parents’ teaching children they could have whatever they want. We now have almost two full generations of such myopia.
Faithful parenting is sacrifice. It’s going to the mat for our children, not so that they would have everything they want, but that they would have everything they need. To thrive in this world, especially as a Christian, means our children need a lot. They especially need their parents to love them enough to teach them the disciplines necessary to be the most competent people in the room. That was our aim.
Our heavenly Father established the paradigm. He sent His Son into the world to be the perfect sacrifice. Again, He had the world in mind. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. As Christian parents, there is comfort that comes from knowing that our sacrifices pale in comparison to our heavenly Father’s. Our children are not called to save the world. They are called to engage it. Christ works through His children. When faith is restricted to the privacy of the bedroom, the world indeed suffers.
Many years ago, I attended a prayer breakfast with Tony Campolo. At the time, he was President Clinton’s new “spiritual advisor.” (The Lewinsky scandal was in full bloom). Mr. Campolo is not a theologian, although he is a Christian. He is actually a sociologist by trade. I could argue that sociology is a major contributor to all that is wrong with the world…and I’d be right. Still, that day, Mr. Campolo said something that was very revealing and I have never forgotten it. He said that the death of the family in America was a 20th century phenomenon, betrayed by societal shifts of a very high degree of magnitude. The first half of the century saw Americans still living mainly on the farm. Farmers had large families, which gave them cheap labor, and got rich! (With the exception of the Great Depression, the story of the “poor American farmer” has largely been a myth). The second half of the century saw Americans move to the cities… and then the suburbs. Family size got smaller in order to preserve wealth.
With these changes, parenting goals also changed. Ask an early 20th century American farmer what he wanted most for his children and he would have answered, “to be successful.” Ask a later 20th century parent what he/she wanted most for their children and the answer would be: “to be happy.” This latter option is still our answer…and the nation and the world are dying because of it.
Parents today need to explore in their own minds the correlation between success and happiness and recognize that it takes tremendous sacrifice to help a child get what he or she needs to be successful. Should all parents homeschool? I would not necessarily advise that. I would only say that they should insist on the highest standards for their children. They should teach boundaries and love their children enough to enforce them. They should see their roles sacrificially, knowing that there is a whole lot more to life than the 18 or so years we have to raise them to be adults. If we parents cannot see past graduation, our children will never see past it either.
As for Matthew, it is premature to say he will be successful. It is also premature to say we gave everything to help him be so. We continue to pray, with tears even, for his future and the futures of all our children.
And we continue to pray for our world, the world into which we always knew they would go. The world will always need smart, compassionate, competent Christians…because Christ is the one resource we can never have enough of.