Sunday, February 14, 2016

Homeschooling When Service is Not Your Gift

It's no secret; service is not my greatest strength. It doesn't matter what setting I am in, it almost never crosses my mind to jump up and serve. I can be at a pot-luck, with kids at a social event, or with family at a party and everyone else around me may be helping in some way while I am sitting around chit-chatting. During the first several years of our marriage, I cannot tell you how many times I went to a family event and, after the meal, I would be the only woman in the room not washing dishes, or clearing plates, or helping children. My husband's family is well-gifted (and practiced) in service, and also in manners, so it took me a while to notice this weakness of mine.

I can't recall anyone ever telling me I was bad at serving. When I am serving, I do it well, and try not to complain, but I am not naturally drawn to most forms of service. On every single strengths survey I have ever taken, service has come up as my lowest scoring trait. Always! Teaching is usually somewhere near the top, which lends itself well to homeschooling. Knowledge, or rather, the desire to learn, and ambition, are often some of my top strengths as well. While these are wonderful traits to have when you desire to educate your children at home and have high hopes of changing the world, service is absolutely necessary too. In fact, if you cannot serve joyfully and continually, this homeschooling gig will be a struggle. And too often I despair in the weight of this struggle.

There are so many parts of homeschooling I love. Seeing my children learn to read, being with them as their minds understand a difficult or new math concept, guiding them to make connections between historical people and places they have seen on a map - these are all experiences I would hate to miss. Watching them grow in their knowledge is exciting, invigorating, and confirmation of this path we are walking. However, offering my time endlessly, while doing dishes, and helping my children learn manners, and social etiquette, while also taking them to the library, the rock museum, the park and more, might be a task better suited for those who love to serve.

Does this mean I should give up? Resign to put them in a more formal school setting? I don't think so, not yet at least.

To accomplish these tasks I will have to learn, practice, and ask for help with the skill of service. The Lord has been so gracious in helping me endure for this long, but I can feel myself starting to crumble under the pressure. All these service-related tasks in my day feel like heavy obligations. When other tasks begin to appear during my week, like nursery duty, a big project, or hosting people in my home, I feel the quick tingle of adrenaline hit my heart and try to take deep breaths.

To many people, these tasks are simply expected, a normal part of life. But for me, they feel like an eternity of doing things I am terrible at, or running a marathon when I can barely jog an entire mile. Before I begin my enormous list of service-related tasks, I am already despairing, looking to when I might be able to find a free half-hour to read. When I arrive at my free half-hour, I am tired, exhausted, and then despair over how short half an hour is. This is when I curl up on the couch and tire myself out by thinking endlessly about what I can possibly do to rid myself of serving so much.

If you are gifted in service, this might seem pretty comical. I assure you I am only being slightly dramatic. In one sense, I cannot help what my brain naturally does with all of these challenging tasks. It just goes, and goes, and continues going down that path of weariness and dread for a long time. But, I can make valiant efforts to keep my brain from traveling too far down that road.

The simplest trick I use to help me jump into a service-related task is to start without thinking too much. When I jump off the couch and announce "Cole, time for spelling!" and simply get to it, I am more quickly rewarded with being finished (duh, right?)! Plus, I've reached a rewarding milestone for where my strengths lie; accomplishing an important task. I get to cross spelling off my well-planned homeschool calendar, and I don't have to think about it anymore. The "undone" doesn't haunt me the rest of the day. Yes, I still spent a chunk of time and energy serving, but I also got to taste the rewarding fruit from it.

I can see God working on me in this area of being able to serve without hating life by helping give me some wisdom in how my curriculum choices affect our days. You already know I am a control-freak, but I'm finally becoming willing to give some things up. For instance, Math. No, I am not giving up the subject entirely, but I am beginning to let Khan Academy teach for me in order to preserve my serving time for other tasks in need of my effort. I would prefer to be hyper-involved in leading the kids in their math progress, but that is becoming an expensive trade-off. With the time and effort Saxon requires, I consistently have less patience and less time to read books, take walks, or create art with all three kiddos. I have less time overall to manage my home, and less flexibility to leave my home when math is still calling. I will admit, I am a little nervous the boys might "miss something" when I am not the person leading every skill introduction, but I am attempting to trust God, trust the process, and give up some control for a better home life.

Homeschooling is definitely primarily a service-oriented job. I need to come to terms with this. Despite my reluctancy, this year I can see myself slowly growing in this area. I have no problem with the other aspects of homeschooling more suited to my gifting and this gives me some hope. I can research curriculum and plan our entire year, then come away feeling ready for that marathon. I can talk to person after person, sharing all the ins and outs of classical education, Charlotte Mason, beautiful books, and wonderful adventures, leaving each conversation ready to engage in another. Sharing and learning fuel me for life! Understanding the importance of service, and letting that deeply impact me in a way that leads to revitalization in my soul, eh, that is hard work. Work I cannot do by myself. Work I desperately need God to do in my heart.

Giving up my preferences is the first step in letting God direct my heart toward service. I have to look at our home life and let that guide my curriculum choices a little more. I need to look at my kids' emotional responses to my frustration and let that motivate me to be patient and kind. I'm not exactly sure what else I need to do, but mostly, I need to be open to change. Both change in our daily life and God changing my heart and mind. Change is always hard, but it is also one of the few things guaranteed in our daily life. Circumstances, prices, jobs, cars, friends, health, houses; everything will change at some point.

Changing often feels a bit like admitting I was wrong. Like if I change my curriculum, I am saying "Oops, I guess I shouldn't have done that!" but this is not true. It's okay to change, to see the benefit of learning from what you were doing and then to be excited for what you will be doing. It is better to change with cheerful expectancy than glum remorse. It's also okay to spend the majority of your day serving, doing menial tasks, and possibly feeling like your accomplishments are small. Small does not mean unimportant, and important is made up of many small things, no matter what field, industry, or task you are involved in.

Homeschooling against and despite your weaknesses is a sharpening, challenging task. But it isn't impossible. And you will see fruit in it. If you are feeling discouraged, find the root. See that challenge or problem for what it is worth and look honestly at what is does to your family. Making homeschooling less discouraging will probably mean some type of change; in your heart, in your obligations, in your curriculum, in some way. And if you make that change out of love and sincerity, it will bless everyone involved. Even if you are not incredibly excited about said change, but go into it looking for the goodness it will bring, you will be blessed and grateful for it too.

If nothing else, when you feel discouraged about how hard serving your family feels, know I am right there with you! And then email me, or text me, and remind me we won't feel this way forever.

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