A few months ago I was talking with a dear friend of mine, and we got onto the topic of homeschoolers losing their grown children to the world. These are not just run-of-the-mill unbelievers, either, but the kind of prodigals who are actively, vocally opposed to Christian homeschooling. The internet is teeming with this sort of article by what seems to be a whole generation of children raised by religious zealots who won’t even let them out of the basement for fear of being contaminated by the world.
“Rebecca,” I said. “We have to find out why this is happening! What are these parents doing? What can we do to keep our own generation from making the same mistakes? We have to figure this out. I don’t want to lose my kids!” (Her answer was characteristically wise, and I suggest you go get to know her blog as soon as you finish reading this post.)
My mommy-heart faints at the idea of my children turning on me because I gave them Jesus as I know Him. And in such a public way! For shame! That’s the kind of thing that keeps a Christian homeschooling mom up at night, isn’t it, Dear Reader? What if I ruin my kids, and bring dishonor to the name of Christ? And yet, Jesus is all I can give them. He’s all I hold dear!
Since that conversation with Rebecca, I have read many articles about the grown non-Christian (or worldly-Christian) children of “fundamentalist” Christian homeschoolers. Not one of them contains any evidence beyond the say-so of the unbelieving child, and not one of them is even-handed enough to actually give the accused parents a chance to defend themselves. (Here is another example.) These aren’t news items, but gossipy hit pieces. But they’re useful hit pieces, for all that. Though they are most likely only half true in their descriptions of their homes, I think that these parents are, in fact, making some major mistakes that every Christian ought to know better than to make. And lest you start to feel too anxious, Christian homeschoolers (because that’s a whole ‘nother post, and I don’t want to keep you in suspense), what I’ve figured out is that having been raised on a steady diet of Jesus is not the problem with these prodigal children.
Don’t get too comfortable with that conclusion just yet, though. The truth is a heavy burden, and I’m about to lay it on you the way it’s been laid on me.
Look at the way Jesse and I are raising our children. We’re not as far out as some, but the non-Christian world would certainly call us radical. The first thing I do with my children every day is pray at breakfast. Then we clean up, and then we pray some more during our family devotions. And then we read the Bible, after which we do scripture memorization. When we walk outdoors, we talk about how God made things, and we thank Him for those things. I quote scripture to my children all day long. We sing hymns. Not all of our curriculum is written by Christians, but our worldview colors everything. Even in math, Christ is King, for he ordered the universe in this marvelous way! When the day is over, we pray again, and then I pray for them all before I go to bed. Our whole life is a prayer!
And this, according to scripture, is how it should be:
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
There are in addition to these constant prayers and hymns, many other things that we do (or don’t do) that set us very much apart even from the average Christian family. I won’t go into those here because they are personal convictions of the sort that God leads His children to in His own time, and for His own purposes, and I don’t want to be seen setting down rules that aren’t really rules.
We do this stuff because Mommy and Daddy love Jesus. We love Him, and we want our children to love Him, and so we teach them what we know of Him. Suppose these families simply did what we’re doing, and their children are twisting the truth about their upbringing to justify their own unbelief? Do we really think that these parents whose children so malign them are so different from ourselves?
Now, I don’t want to be taken to be saying that I know that there are no legalists out there who have decided that Biblical living stopped in the nineteenth century, and so they stuff their girl children into ankle-length Little House on the Prairie dresses and make them churn butter and watch their mother’s children all day because that’s all girls can do.
But even while admitting that those people might be out there, and condemning, at the very least, the kind of Phariseeism that could bring these reactions about, I can’t fail to notice that, in appearance at least, I’m doing a lot of the same things that these supposedly horrible parents are. If you’re a homeschooler, chances are that you are doing a lot of these things, too. Having more than the usual number of babies, or screening your curriculum for evolutionary beliefs, or wearing skirts—these are all the kinds of things that come under the scrutiny of the world when we let our children out into it. When you strip away the complaints about skirt-wearing, fuddy-duddy dress codes, the expectation of homemaking for mothers, and all the other things that many, many Christians believe not out of a desire to earn their salvation through works, but out of a worldview drawn from the scriptures we so love, what is left is this one complaint:
Too much Jesus. Not enough me.
The threat in these articles is clear: Christians who raise their children at home with Jesus as the first, last, and only purpose of their lives will lose their children. The world is coming to rescue them from us because the Bible is drawing us toward all sorts of unpopular conclusions that just won’t stand up in our scientific, feminist age. And do you know what keeps me up at night, praying for wisdom and mercy and courage to continue on the path of the Cross?
These people aren’t entirely wrong.
If my children leave my home without hearts that have been changed by the Gospel, I will lose them in the same spectacular way that these parents have. If my children find themselves identifying strongly with the world when I release them into it (and this goes for non-homeschooling Christian parents as well), they are going to think of me in the same hateful way, because I am human, and I stumble. I give the Accuser ammunition to use against me daily. Every time I get mad over spilled milk instead of smiling and wiping it up cheerfully, I give my future grown children tales to tell, not just against me, but against Christ himself.
This reaction, as much as I’d like to think I could prevent it through some action of my own, won’t have a thing in the world to do with the convictions with which Jesse and I raise our children, but with the condition of their hearts. I know this, because I was once a bitter child of good, Christian parents, and I said similar things about them. I called them hypocrites. (What a filthy liar I was!) I said they didn’t really love me, and that all they cared about was their stupid religion. I said they just wanted me to be good for the sake of my dad’s ministry, not because my soul mattered to them.
I slandered my own parents, not because they’d done me wrong, but because they represented Jesus and I didn’t want anything to do with the real Jesus. (Note also that I was not homeschooled.) And I know others who were just like me, and still slander their parents in this way.
Knowing that my children may resent me for it someday, I must now take up that lonely Cross, just as my parents did. This is what Jesus meant when He said
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.”
He meant that we must be prepared to lose even those people we hold dearest. And, for the majority of us who still battle the idol of Self, this also means being willing to be maligned by our own children for the Gospel. Even if it were a certainty that my children would judge me so harshly and so publicly when they are grown, I could do no other than I am doing now. This is the way of the Cross, rejecting the world, even if the world is the child your heart breaks over every time you close your eyes in prayer.
Moms and dads, this doesn’t let us off the hook. We are responsible for our choices. We are responsible for everything we do in the name of the Lord. We are responsible for our words. We are–listen carefully–responsible for loving our children to the Lord, without imposing harsh legalisms born of our own self-righteousness.
But we are not responsible for our outcomes. GOD is responsible for our outcomes. And I rest in that, just as much as I tremble over the uncertainty of it and cry out to Him for mercy for my babies. I can’t love Jesus for my kids. I can only love Him in front of them. My convictions come from Love, not Law, but the world—the world that my children could leave me for someday–doesn’t know the difference. All they see when they see Christ is hate, because they hate Christ.
That’s a risk I have to take.