You might be surprised to hear that I get homeschool burn-out. At least some of the friends in my co-op circles have mentioned as much to me. They seem relieved to hear that other moms sometimes get the blahs, too. Well, here's my moment of truth: Through this past year, I have not only had the burn-outs... I've had the "4-Alarm Fire Burn-Outs"... the kind they have to send other fire departments from other cities to help put out. I've never in my homeschool "walk" been as broken and doubtful of my abilities as I have been this past year. With financial trails, moving to another state, being away from family and friends, learning new places and people, having lots of time off-schedule, and living in a cramped place with only half of our belongings (minus most of the craft supplies)... this year has been NO PICNIC. So, when I talk of burn-out, I don't mean the "blah" days that you might get in-between your Horse Unit and your Kings and Queens Unit when you just feel like moving on to something more exciting. I'm talking about on your knees in tears asking God if you really should be homeschooling because someone has stolen your joy and you feel like you are a complete failure. Believe me, these days are not fun for the kids, either. They know Mommy has left the building and some strange weepy, angry, unsettled zombie-like creature has replaced her as if by body-snatching. It's not a pretty sight.
I don't know if I'm the only one who has experienced the 4-Alarm Fire Burn-Outs... but I have experienced the grace of God through this year in ways that I never would have imagined or understood without them. Have you ever had one of those enlightening moments when you just KNOW in your marrow that God meant for you to SEE THAT or HEAR THAT or SMELL THAT or TASTE THAT or TOUCH THAT at just the moment that it came into your life? I call that a "God Moment" or a "God Thing". I have them all the time... even in the middle of my burn-out days when I'm about the farthest thing away from a bread-making roll-model of Christ-like homeschool loveliness. It is so reassuring that God can look down at you in your worst moments and love you just the same as when you are at your best.
Fire Alarm: Calling for Help
It reminds me of the story of Elijah, running for his life in complete distress... his enemies pressed in on all sides, and he just knew his life was over. Even after the fire of the Lord had fallen and consumed the prophets of Baal before his very eyes, he was afraid of those that sought to take his life and believed in his own isolated way that he was the only prophet of the Lord left. Not only did God allow Elijah to whine and pray for God to kill him... but he lifted him up and strengthened him by way of an angel and bread from heaven that filled him so that he could journey forty days and forty nights! That kind of strength is supernatural. We need that kind of strength today. Homeschooling is not easy. Yet if we are following God, He will provide what we need.
After Elijah reached the cave at Horeb that the Lord had led him to, the Lord further refreshed him by speaking to him and appearing to him.
1 Kings 19:11-13...
11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Sometimes when we are in the storms (the "4-Alarm Fires"), the feeling of anguish that we have is not just because of the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes our lack of peace is that we are not walking with the Lord (doing it on our own strength will always wear you out). When we get on our knees and seek Him in those times, it is then that we hear the whispers that lead us to renewal. Sometimes we have to go to a solitary place and give the troubles to God and ask Him to show Himself to us. Then we have to listen for the answer and stand before Him. I know that when my prayer or Bible time suffer, what usually follows is chaos. And even after all of my training in this area, I still backslide. We truly are a stiff-necked people!
Answered Prayers (..and a Book Review)
There have been many small moments this year when I have heard the whisper. Most recently, I have heard God through devoted Christian friends and through the Christ-centered words of homeschool books. I'm not sure I know how I've managed to homeschool for four years without reading "Educating the WholeHearted Child", but I'm certainly glad that my friend Ammie led me to Sally Clarkson's lecture at the Arlington Homeschool Book Fair. I know that God leads people into our lives to create a fellowship that sharpens and refines us as Christians (Proverbs 27:17 - As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.), and I think that certain books and experiences are brought to us by the Lord in the same way. This book has been one of those things... a "God Thing"... at just the right time in my life.
Yesterday was a really bad day. I didn't break my "other toe", but I certainly had my share of homeschool disasters and more. Aside from the worksheets hidden in the bookshelf and closet and dealing with a reluctant learner, my husband got bad news of coming surpluses and we ended up at McDonalds for dinner. The list didn't get checked off. I began to question myself again. Right before bed I picked up "Educating the WholeHearted Child". I opened it to page 4...
The Cross Factor
Home education is a ministry of discipleship with much the same concerns as Jesus addressed. You are building your child into a disciple. - you must be committed to finishing what you start. You are heading into a battle that will require all your resources to fight - you must be prepared to face that battle wisely. Whether building or battling, you are taking up the cross for the sake of your children, and the cross always has a cost.
Wow. And there's more... I only wish I could put the whole book in here for you. Talk about pearls of wisdom. I read all of page 4 about counting the cost of homeschooling and your commitments before the Lord to build Christian character in your children (where Sally says "It [homeschooling] is the most biblical way for you to 'bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord'."). Then I flipped through the book and landed on page 184. The title for the page is "Know Your Breaking Point". I laughed. The first sentence? "Homeschooling is not easy." Amen! I kept reading...
Sally discussed how burn-out feelings will come, but what is important is what we do with them. She discussed four ways to prevent our joy in homeschooling from being extinguished (Lowering our expectations, Accepting life's limitations, Learning to wait on the Lord, and Expecting adversity). I would type the whole page in here if I could, but I would rather suggest to you... if you are suffering from the heat of those burn-out flames, please... buy this book! It is almost like a homeschool mom bible study.
Beauty from the Ashes
I'm feeling a lot better today, and I'm listening for the whispering voice of God. Yes, the problems are still here... the reasons to be worried are still here... and I've had my share of worksheet woes this morning already (we're working on yesterday's math still and it's nearly lunch-time)... but later on, we're going to curl up on the bed together and snuggle with some good library books. I'm going to tell the kids how proud I am of them. I'm going to give them a fun art assignment and let them regain their love for school again (and show them that I'm not really a zombie after all). I might even let them help me make a list of all the benefits of homeschooling - to remind all of us. I'm going to keep reading my Bible and my homeschool books... and keep visiting with my favorite homeschool friends. We're going to persevere.
It's nice to find strength and peace - even when you are still in the storm.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
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