There’s been a lot of talk about the concept of rest in the homeschooling world lately, and rightly so. We live in a frenzied world, running around at a frenzied pace, taking on extracurricular activities and bombarding ourselves with information and images on social media. Rest is good. Leisure is good. Having time to slow down and enjoy each other’s company over good food and good drink; these things are blessings to be sought after and treasured, for sure.
But today we’re not going to talk about rest. We’re going to talk about work. Hard work. Work that makes you sweat, hurt, and maybe even cry because you think you can’t do it and you just want to quit.
If you have given birth to children, think back to the day that you brought each of them into the world. Yeah, there’s a reason we call that labor! You sweat. You bleed. You probably even cried because you didn’t think you could do it, and you just wanted to quit.
My husband and I went on our honeymoon in New Mexico and we thought it would be a good idea to do some day hikes. Mind you that while we were both young and fit, neither of us had done much for mountain hiking. So one day we set out to climb a peak near Santa Fe called “Mt. Baldy.” It was about a four mile hike up, and I believe the starting elevation was around 10,000 feet and finished at 14,000 feet. It wasn’t registering with us that this peak was called “Baldy” because it was above the tree line. Where there’s still snow. At the end of May. We were wearing tennis shoes and shorts, and I think we might have each packed a granola bar and a bottle of water. Smart, right? We sure were thinking ahead. And so we started walking...and walking...and climbing, and walking some more. Up, and up, and up. Finally we emerged above the tree line and could see the summit about a quarter mile away...with two feet of SNOW on the ground between us and the summit. I was dead tired. I was sweating. Blisters were bleeding. I didn’t think I could do it, and I just wanted to quit.
Now fast forward eight years. Our sons Micah and Ezra had just turned 7 and 5. We heated our home with a wood furnace in the basement at the time. Dan was busy with youth pastor work, I was busy inside with Levi, who was a small baby, and we had a huge pile of wood in the yard that needed to get thrown down the wood chute and stacked in the basement. So, guess who got that job? Yep. Seven year old Micah and five year old Ezra. It took them several hours. They were sweating, bruised, and I’m pretty sure they might have even cried a little because they wanted to quit.
Fast forward five more years. “Baby” Levi was six years old, and Solomon was a toddler. It was time to start doing some school with Levi. At least, that’s what I thought, but he didn’t think so. He fought me tooth and nail. Every day was the same struggle, just to get him through a very short phonics lesson and a little handwriting. He would get so upset, often breaking his pencil in half when he got frustrated. It wasn’t so much that he couldn’t do the work; it was more like he didn’t think he could do the work. Many days we ended up having to call the “principal” (my husband!) to talk him out of his attitude. This went on for months. I even questioned whether homeschooling was the right decision for Levi. Such a personal conflict was growing between he and I that I wasn’t sure I could ever be the right teacher for him. I was tired. I felt like my heart was bleeding for my son, and there were many, many days when he and I both cried because we wanted to quit.
All four of these examples have some things in common. First, all were extremely difficult. And second, we didn’t quit, we pressed on. My husband insisted that we push through the snow and weariness to make it to the summit. Those two little boys got all the wood stacked in the basement. Levi and I kept working through our conflict and emerged peacefully on the other side. And of course, the day you’re in labor...I suppose quitting really isn’t an option! But oh, the blessing after (literally!) pushing through the pain!
...Which leads us back to the idea of rest. It is the pain, the struggle, the wrestling, that makes the rest so sweet and gives the reward its meaning. You toil and labor to bring a child into the world, but the moment that child is born, the work is forgotten in the precious miracle you hold in your arms. As my husband and I took the final few steps to the mountain peak, we were in awe of the view that surrounded us, and had such a sense of accomplishment for completing what we had set out to do. That evening we finally got back into town around dinner time and we went straight to a Chinese restaurant, and let me tell you, dinner had never felt so good. We both sat there, muscles aching and feet throbbing, and we ate. That day that Micah and Ezra finished their wood, I’m pretty sure their little boy hearts took a huge step towards becoming little men’s hearts. They were so proud of the work they had done, and rightly so. And as Levi and I pushed through our schooling struggles, we learned so much about each other. He learned that progress requires hard work sometimes, and I learned that he is so very different from the older two, and that I need to respect who God made him to be. It’s a joy to “do school” with him now. He is creative, funny, and bursting with life. I can’t imagine our homeschool without him.
I believe this whole concept of work, struggle, and exertion is so important for kids (and grown-ups!) today, but especially for boys. There is something inside of them that wants a good fight. They need to be the hero; they need to conquer. What happens to little boys who aren’t given opportunities to exercise that God-given drive in healthy ways? They seek out unhealthy ways to satisfy it. They become bullies, or they constantly belittle their siblings. They will say and do just about anything to make themselves look bigger and those around them look smaller. As adults the consequences become even more grave. These little boys grow into men who have a need to conquer, but have no idea how to use their energies in positive ways. So, they use their power to conquer women, or to take advantage of their coworkers, or to “conquer” the business world by striving after as much wealth as they can without caring about who they trample on the way to the top. As early as possible, we need to be challenging our little boys with real challenges, giving them meaningful tasks that they are not sure they are capable of doing. As they experience again and again that they are indeed capable of doing big things, their strength will grow; not just physical strength, but a fortitude of character that is so lacking in so many men of our day.
This quote from Future Men by Douglas Wilson sums it up perfectly:
“...parents who rob their sons of a work ethic have taken from him one of life’s most precious gifts - sabbath rest. The fourth commandment has two parts, and they depend upon one another. One part, of course, is the day of rest, but the other part is the six days of labor. Without the labor, the rest is nonsensical. Without the rest, the work is slavery. Learned together, a boy comes to comprehend the dignity of labor that is offered up to God in the name of Christ. He learns to rest on the first day of the week in a way that consecrates all his subsequent labors.”
All of this raises so many questions for me. Is the value in the rest, or in the reward? Do we work for work’s sake, or do we work so we can “earn” our rest? Is it possible for our work to be done in a “restful” way? How does all of this relate to salvation by grace through faith, and not by works? These are some of the questions I’ll be working through in Part 2, so make sure not to miss it.
Take the next step:
When have you worked so hard that you didn't think you could do it? When you wanted to quit?
Did you finish anyways? What did you learn about yourself through that experience?
What are some ways you can give your children opportunities for real, hard work?