A few months ago there was a clever little comment on Twitter that said something about it being easy to give up on a belief that was never really yours in the first place. I wish I could find it because it was one of those pithy little truisms that are so simple yet so profound in their application. The tweet was talking about ensuring that your children own their own faith rather than merely living mechanically through that of their parents.
As daughter of a 10 year old, this is, of course, a subject quite dear to my heart. And with good reason. You know yourself the tragic number of Covenant children raised in sound Christian homes who never come to know Jesus Christ as their own personal Lord and Saviour. And always we ask ourselves - why? How can we ensure this doesn't happen to us?
I am aware, of course, that salvation is a sovereign act of God and that no parent controls the ultimate spiritual destiny of his children. How often do we read in Kings and Chronicles that the sons of Godly kings do evil in the eyes of the Lord, and then conversely that the sons of these evil kings do what is good and right? That said, it is also true that we can do much to prepare the hearts of our children so that they will not fall away. Our challenge is to live lives that glorify God; to teach our children the His Word; to help them develop an intimate acquaintance with our living Lord, and eventually, hopefully, to help them take ownership of those biblical values and make them their own.
In our home this challenge took many guises and forms. Most importantly, we intentionally worked on our own relationships with God and tried to ensure that Jemimah could see our faith worked out in our lives. We had our own quiet times. We prayed aloud and we looked for opportunities to speak about what God had done and about our faith. We told our young daughter Bible stories, sang Christian songs and Psalms, and began memorising. Young children even as young as two and three have phenomenal powers of memorisation, and even at this age Jemimah loved to learn new verses and to say them aloud. Beginning with quite short memory verses and catechism questions she quickly advanced to whole Psalms and Chapters. I love that she has hidden so much of God's word in her heart and I believe that it will hold her in good stead whatever happens in her future.
A little later we introduced formal Bible teaching through Family Devotions at dinner time. A simple time of Psalm singing, Bible story and prayer, family devotions gave us an opportunity to learn about God as a family and gave us a time to meet together and talk about what God was doing in our lives.
It was around the time that Jemimah was three or four that we introduced personal devotions into our days. I had just read For the Children's Sake and began to consider homeschooling about this same time. Initially this consisted in a reading from a children's devotional book like Leading Little Ones to God, singing a Psalm and praying, but as I read more into the methods of Charlotte Mason, it is perhaps not surprising that I was influenced also by her as we made decisions for teaching Bible and Faith.
Probably the worst thing we did in hindsight was to incorporate Bible and Memory Work as subjects into our school day. What we continued to do during this time did not change much, but what did change was that Jemimah naturally began to regard her personal devotions as school subjects and not as quiet time with her Heavenly Father. I had managed to give her the discipline of being daily in God's Word, but only if it was a weekday, and certainly never, never on holidays! I was worried about this.
The inappropriateness of what we were doing sort of niggled away inside of me until last year I read this blog post. The Four Little Penguins' mum begins her post this way:
The most important thing I can give my kids is a relationship with Jesus. I really want them to understand that even though they are little kids, their relationship with Him is just as valid and authentic as an adult's is. I don't want them to view their dad and me as mediators in their relationship, but more as signposts. So, gradually, I've been giving Kaytie and Nate independence in their "quiet time" every day.As I read it I realised that I needed to move away from being a mediator in my daughter's relationship and to help her establish a habit of daily personal devotions that will hopefully stay with her throughout her life.
And yet, as I read, I was seized with huge doubts. You see, despite the fact that I realised there were problems with the way we were doing things, this time with the Lord each day was the most important part of our homeschool day.It was, in fact, my raison d'etre for homeschooling in the first place. At least five days a week, forty weeks a year, my daughter was spending time reading and meditating over God's word. And I wanted to ensure that she did it right!!
I prayed about it. And I kept reading. And is is God's way, it wasn't much later that I hit upon a solution. It was in another blog post, this time over at Mama Squirrel's, only I've just searched right through her June/July archive and I can't find it, so I must have been doing a bit of surfing. At any rate, in the post she spoke of doing a Christian Studies programme with her girls using books like Edith Schaeffer's What is a Family. A subject distinct from Bible. And I realised this was perfect for Jemimah and me.
It took me a while to decide how this subject would look in our peaceful home, but at the start of AO5 back in January I introduced a new subject - Practical Christianity - into our homeschool days, and I took Bible right out. Memorisation stayed as a stand alone. I don't actually mind if this is a weekday subject, in fact we like the breaks and the Word is still being learned. Practical Christianity became a weekly Girls' Afternoon Tea. We drink tea. From a pot. We eat scones or pikelets or a bikkie or two. We sit and chat about stuff. Like etiquette and makeup and what we've been thinking about in our devotions. Then I read and we discuss what we've read and the implications it has for our lives as Christian women. Currently we're reading Beautiful Girlhood by Mabel Hale. We're reading the original book, not Karen Andreola's Victorianised version so there aren't any pictures, but this book raises so many pertinent questions and issues that are as relevant for your young ladies now as they were when it was written back in 1922.
Nowadays personal devotions happen in the morning before we begin school. We're using a little guide called the Story Bible Reader prepared by the RPCNA and published by the Board of Education in Pittsburgh. The Reader guides the child through the Bible using stories from Catherine Vos' The Child's Story Bible as a commentary on the day's reading. There are monthly memory verses, a short Scripture verse used as a prayer, a reading from the Psalms and then the reading that pertains to The Child's Story Bible. Afterwards there are some conversation starters that Jemimah chooses from to write in her Bible notebook. I don't read what she writes there - it is her own personal reflection notebook, but she always writes something.
I am absolutely delighted with the way Jemimah has embraced her own quiet time. I love that because it is dated she chooses to do it daily to keep up. I love the way she is has established this invaluable practice at such a young age, and I am delighted in the growth I have seen in her Scriptural knowledge, familiarity with the Bible, and in her love of God. When I ask her what she is studying she gives knowledgeable and erudite answers. She asks interesting questions - most of which I can't answer. And most of all I love that at last she has a relationship with God that is free from interference from me.
Removing Bible from the curriculum opens the way for one more thing which we are yet to introduce and so I'll touch on it only briefly. Amongst the myriad reasons for studying the Bible is the fact that in its King James Version it is truly one of the finest works of English literature ever written. Whilst we were reading the Bible in school primarily for understanding, I was not prepared to read from the archaic language of this version despite its beauty and the advantages it would bring to my daughter in understanding other works written in the same style. Shortly, though, we are going to begin reading the KJV as literature - much as we read Shakespeare and Pilgrim's Progress in the original. Both Jemimah and I are excited about this - Jemimah because she likes Elizabethan English read aloud - and me because this is the version I grew up with as a young child. The verses I learned from memory are from the King James and it feels familiar and comfy. Now before you say it I have not become part of the "KJV is the only version" brigade. I believe, in fact, that the best version of the Bible is one that you can understand and for me that is the NIV. I do believe that the KJV is beautiful. I love its language, and I love to read it. The fact that it is the Word of God is just an added advantage.
These changes in our curriculum are new and ongoing. We are still learning and still making changes. So far, however, they feel good. I feel happy with our days, and there is no little nagging voice at the back of my mind telling me that things are not right. Time will tell, but right now Jemimah is happy, and so am I.