January 11, 2016 (Elizabeth Foss) — I heard a story the other day from a mother about my age. She's a faithful, hardworking, dedicated homeschooling mother with a loving, faithful spouse. They've done everything they can to raise their children in the light of Christ. She lives her faith authentically and though she's the first to admit that she fails daily, she has absolutely worked hard to have a Christian plan and to live moment by moment faithful to that plan.
And today, she wants to curl up in a ball and die.
The eldest of her eight children, a beautiful girl who has been carefully raised and loved wholeheartedly, is wearing all black, tattooing her back, piercing her navel and her nose, coloring her hair pink, and engaged to be married to a man who is a professed and angry atheist. She is rejecting her family, their values, and their faith.
Her mother feels like her entire life is a shredded heap of failure. This–the raising of children for God–has been her whole life's calling. When she was young and newly married, she sat in church basements and parish halls and listened to energetic, inspiring mothers a few years older than she tell her all about how to be a virtuous wife and mother. They detailed home-management systems and homeschooling curricula. They talked about raising children of virtue. They promised that if she only listened to God's call and lived her life intentionally, faithful to the precepts of her religion, she would raise holy children. Some even went so far as to promise that Catholic homeschooling would guarantee she'd never be confronted with trials of secular teenaged and young adult culture.
She believed those women. They were well-intentioned, good-hearted and living their own lives in the manner they described. Together, they'd all raise a holy generation for the glory of God.
Now. Now she looks at this child-grown-woman, this first beautiful soul with which she was entrusted, and she is sure of only one thing: she has failed. So sure is she that she doesn't even see the point of pressing on. There are seven other children still at home. Why work so hard–try so hard–if all that lies ahead is the inexplicable decision by those children to walk a path that is clearly not the path she envisioned? She wanted to do nothing more with her life than to return to God the children He entrusted to her and now, her child has chosen to live apart from Him.
Whether in this space or in person, there are some things I'm never going to tell you. The longer I live, the longer the list grows. Please don't misunderstand; most Christian homeschooled children are faithful, well-educated, wholesome kids. They're hardworking and engaging and just exactly the kind of friend you'd want all your children to have. But more than a handful are fully grown on the outside and still a long way from what their parents hoped on the inside. So…
I am never going to tell you that if you mother your children with all your heart, embrace your vocation and dedicate home and family to God, instill in your children strong moral values and carefully protect the seeds of faith that the following things won't ever happen. Because they might. I have seen them happen, either in my own home or in the homes of people I know personally.
I'm not going to tell you that your child won't go to college and party just as hard as the kids who went to public school and never went to church.
I'm not going to tell you that one day, your grown son won't scream at you it's all your fault that his life is a miserable mess because you didn't send him to school and furthermore, you never let him eat junk food. And he will mean both with equal passion.
I'm not going to tell you that your twenty-year-old won't be arrested for being drunk in public.
I'm not going to tell you that your daughter won't get pregnant her first semester in college.
I'm not going to tell you that there won't be tattoos and piercings and pink hair.
I'm not going to tell you that your daughter won't send text messages so laden with profanity that they'd make a sailor blush.
I'm not going to tell you that homeschooled girls don't post mean status updates to Facebook during youth group. I won't tell you that by homeschooling you will avoid any teenage drama at all.
I'm not going to tell you that despite all your charts and the careful planning of household chores to instill responsibility and work ethic, your twenty-somethings won't drive cars that smell like old Taco Bell and live in rooms so full of dirty laundry that you can't see the floor.
I'm not going to tell you that you won't learn your daughter has a secret online identity and that she has been cutting herself.
I'm not going to tell you that one day you won't find a six pack of beer and a Playboy in the back of your seventeen-year-old's pickup truck.
I'm not going to tell you that you won't catch your highschoolers looking at very questionable websites when they're supposed to be doing online Latin.
I'm not going to tell you that your daughter won't enlist in the Navy and not go to Mass once in the first eighteen months she's away from home.
The list could go on. The reality is that homeschooling families are not immune to any of these things, no matter how hard we try and how long we pray.
Only one woman in the history of mankind has raised a perfect child and she would be the first to assure you that it was all by the grace of God.
If my mail is any indication, we need to start talking about the fact that homeschooled kids grow up and sometimes they make poor choices.
Saint Peter walked with Jesus. Jesus was his teacher in the faith. Jesus was the Master Teacher. And still, Peter was a liar, a denier, a weak-willed wimp– right up until the time that Jesus died. He was taught by God Himself, surely the best teacher of all, and he didn't get it at first.
But in the first few moments of the Acts of the Apostles, after he has been filled with Holy Spirit, he is every bit a man of God. He speaks boldly and eloquently. He is a leader for Christ and that very day, three thousand people are baptized at his invitation.
I think, dear ladies, that some of us will be called to wait in faith for the Second Act (or our own version of Acts 2).
We need to encourage one another to walk this walk of faith, but we need to be very careful that we don't rally around a certain prideful arrogance. Sometimes, in our zeal to hold each other accountable to a Christian life of virtue, we step dangerously close to pridefully suggesting that if we just do prescribed things all the right way, we will turn out brilliant, holy children. And we forget that it is not mothers and fathers who make Christians of children; it is God Himself, in His own time, according to His own plan.
Are we prideful enough to believe that if we just do things a certain way we can overcome free will in our children and raise perfect, sinless saints?
Because we can't.
There are no sinless saints.
An important corollary to this idea is the fact that we must be careful not to assume that it's a flaw in parenting that has resulted in a child's decision to live outside the life of faith. Children–even carefully raised children–grow into adults with free will. Every choice a child makes is not a reflection of his parents. It's reflection of that child's own relationship with his Creator.
God isn't finished yet.
Where does that leave us in our mission as parents? What hope do we have?
We can only labor together towards heaven. We can homeschool because we believe that, in the words of Willa Ryan, quoted in Real Learning, ” [we]want our family to meet in heaven someday, and [we] think we have a better shot at it if we journey together as much as possible. God put us together for a reason.” We can build a strong family culture. We can walk together, just as Jesus walked and worked with Peter, every day, day in and day out, endeavoring to be Christ to one another, sure that we have free will, but we can have grace, too. We can be confident that they will leave home and that they will all make poor choices and some of them will make very poor choices. However, we can cling to the truth that as we wait for God to work in the hearts of these children in whom we've invested so much, it is we who can rely on the grace of all those years of doing.
It is we who soak up the encouragement of the noble, true, right and lovely things we taught them and cling to the faith that the seeds were planted and one day the fruit of potential we know is growing will ripen on this tree we tended lovingly when it was just a vulnerable sapling. We can reflect on the years in our homes and know that that those children–despite their poor choices in the moment–do know who Christ really is. They have walked with Him in the lives of their families. They just don't really think they need Him right now. But soon enough, I think, they will.
And, in the waiting, Mama need not curl up in a ball and feel like a failure. Instead, she can reflect on what those years of careful tending have taught her, on how they've watered her own soul. It's not all about the kids; it's about our journey to God, too. His car might smell like Taco Bell after 24 hours in the Texas sun, but her home reflects an order and an appreciation for beauty that has grown in her soul over the years of her own growing up–the years she has spent as mama and wife. All those days of carrying heavy babies and cranky toddlers to church to be in the presence of our Lord, all those long nights rocking and praying, all those mornings wrestling with commas and apostrophes, all those hours laboring to bring life into the world–they are not for naught. They are the many moments of grace that strengthen us for the pain of the thrice-spoken denial and sustain us in hope for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
So I don't leave you with promises that all will be rosy if you just work hard enough at it. I only leave you with the promise of His grace in the hard moments, the moments that you are sure you've failed at the one thing you've worked hardest at your whole life. I leave you this morning with words of hope for mothers in anguish:
Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. (James 1:2-5)
Reprinted with permission from In the Heart of My Home.