Highlands Blog

A Broken and Contrite Spirit

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A Broken and Contrite SpiritClichés don’t just happen to become clichés. They have to earn their stripes—a feat that requires, most of the time, that the principle contained therein has a high truth quotient. We know, for instance, that we ought not to bite the hand that feeds us because we’ve found that such bitten hands tend to stop feeding us. We also wisely teach that “more is caught than taught” because, well, more is caught than taught. Our lives are the most potent form of sermonic interference.

Sin & Parenting

Homeschooling families experience this peculiar truth more, perhaps, than we would like to. If our children behave as though they have been sitting in the seat of the scornful, we can’t blame little Jimmy down at the public school. They have not been sitting down there but rather in our home. Our children caught their bad habits, in all likelihood, from us. They are potent and often distressing mirrors into our own sins.

We communicate to our children more by what we do than by what we say, whether we like it or not. Some families communicate their commitments through Bible art, little plaques, or needlework creations that display important biblical wisdom, such as Joshua’s bold proclamation at the covenant renewal at Shechem, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15, NKJV). However, too many of us leave those words hanging on the wall, while our true commitments are silently spoken through our decisions.

If we send our children to schools where His name cannot even be mentioned; if we seek to debrief our children every evening over the supper table to sift out all the world’s wisdom they bring home from state schools; even if we send them off to youth group and Sunday School, then we still communicate to our children this lie: “The Lordship of Christ is something that can be instilled over the supper table. It only matters on Sundays and Wednesday evenings. Every other day of the week, Jesus is a matter of indifference.” We verbally teach them to honor Christ, but what they catch is something altogether different.

Of course, homeschooling won’t eliminate this problem. All the godly curriculum in the world will not “unteach” what we teach through our own behavior. So if we want our children to learn only truth and wisdom, we need to stop sinning. This is, in fact, the solution for virtually every problem: to stop sinning. All that stands in our way is another cliché—that nugget of wisdom that is universally affirmed because it is universally experienced, “To err is human.”

Teaching by Repenting

Since the end of sin yet eludes us, however, what we need to communicate to our children, in both word and deed, is repentance. If our children witness their parents owning, acknowledging, and abhorring their sins, they will learn to do much the same. Together we will rejoice, for a broken and contrite spirit He will by no means despise.

Repentance is the cure to two particular thorns that tend to assault homeschooling families. Pride made its first appearance with the serpent’s temptation in the garden. It has not left the stage since. We homeschoolers are particularly susceptible to this ugly and foolish sin in part because of the beauty and wisdom of our homes. That is, we have made a wise and biblical decision to homeschool our children. Typically, the behavior of our children demonstrates the wisdom of our choice. Our children are more intelligent, more respectful, less worldly, and more committed than their public school counterparts, by and large. That’s all good.

But the serpent slithers into our homes and whispers pride into our hearts. We forget that we have nothing that we were not first given. We don’t homeschool because we in ourselves are so wonderful. Rather it is due to the grace of God shed abroad in our hearts and in the hearts of our children. And we, fools that we are, repay that grace with our pride. Repentance is the answer.

Repentance Does What Pride Cannot

The second temptation is particularly strong for fathers. Homeschooling fathers have made a decision to lead our homes and not to have the state raise our children. We tend to be biblical in our understanding of our call to act as the heads of our homes. We know that the buck stops with us and not with the local superintendent or the super-cool youth leader down at the church. We feel a great weight on our shoulders, and we do not want to be seen stooping under the burden. We are tempted to believe that if we confess our sins we will lose the respect we so need from our families if we would lead them. We listen, once again, to the guy in the red flannels on our shoulder. Better to cover over our sins than lose the respect we have labored so hard to acquire, we reason. How ironic that we construct a view of reality wherein the good of the children supposedly requires that we not own up to our sin.

Fathers, it is not abdication that turns leadership into “servant leadership”; it turns it into no leadership. Rather, repentance does the job. It reminds us that we—those who follow and those who lead—live by the grace of God. And it models for both what we are called to—broken and contrite spirits.

Let us throw off the folly of this world that confuses uncertainty and weakness with humility, and let us put on the true humility of repentance. Let us live out, before the watching eyes of the world, our families, and the Lord of both, that wise cliché that he leads best who leads from his knees.

Originally published in Homeschooling Today® magazine July/August 2004, used by permission. All rights reserved; www.homeschooltoday.com

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