As a child, I loved visiting my cousins in the Virginia countryside, especially in the winter months. Our visits included long rambles in the fields and woods surrounding their farmhouse. We waded through tall grasses up to our waists, clearing new paths like Lewis and Clark or the Ingalls family of Little House on the Prairie.
Those adventures were usually followed by the long, tedious process of picking the burs out of our jeans and sweaters and socks. They were everywhere! We were amazed at the sheer number of tiny pricklers that had attached themselves to us without our awareness. It was a relief to leave the last one beside the steps and go inside where it was warm.
Our woodsy adventures are on my mind as the school year comes to an end and a new one looms, and it's making me think about what it means to be renewed. Does it mean striving for improvement through a combination of sweat, self-help books, calendars, checklists, and inspirational music? Does it mean reinventing oneself as a different kind of person—more organized, more fit, more patient? We must be new, new, NEW! I don’t know about you, but the very thought makes me weary.
Yet, then again, the word is “renew” not just “new.” There’s a sense of returning, not simply going forward. What if being renewed—made fresh again—is more like picking off the burs as you go home to get warm? Some burs are obvious ones, like the idea that I would/could/should learn three new languages, in addition to working full time and feel guilty if I lapse. Let’s pick that bur off my sleeve. There are downright ridiculous ones, like the idea that I need to keep my tabletop clean in case of unexpected company. That bur gets buried in my jeans. There are sneaky ones, too, like the idea that I have to please everyone, or I am a failure. That one gets down in the toe of my left sock and pokes me for months.
As a homeschooling parent, I imagine you might have some burs as well — unnecessary or unhealthy expectations that cling to you or your family. I asked around, and here are some of the responses I received from other moms and dads:
- My kids should be reading by age four.
- If I put in “X” and “Y,” I can guarantee “Z” from my children.
“Too many homeschool parents think about their children like an equation. Then, when reality sets in, they are devastated by the loss of certainty and expectations.”
- We must appear perfect all the time.
“My kids have to perfectly behave and cannot have immature moments or hurt other kids’ feelings.”
- There is only one right way to schedule and run the day.
“I remember having the sense that my girls (even as they got older and become more ‘drivers’ of their educations) should operate on MY schedule and do things in the ways that made the most sense to me. I had to learn that there are more ways to accomplish a goal than mine!
- I have to finish all the assignments in the guide, no matter what.
“I remember that it took me quite a while to behave confidently in the ‘I am the teacher’ role; I had the perennial guilt of the over-achiever for all the assignments in the guide!”
- I can do all and provide all, and my children will do all and receive all.
“Post-graduation and further reflection tell me it was all GRACE. Mercy, even. (I think I knew this all along). I was just lucky to be a part of it. Furthermore, I am completely humbled as I see the fruit in this season with my boys.”
As I reflect on what it means to be renewed and to pick off these troublesome burs, I don’t want to demean high expectations. We are called to work diligently and to strive for excellence. At the same time, we all need the occasional reminder that there is a difference between what is ideal and what is necessary, what is primary and what is an accessory, what is root and what is fruit. We all need to be reminded that there is grace. Most importantly, we all need help returning home to our true identity: agapetos, beloved, made the image of the Creator.
Special thanks to Lisa Bailey for inspiring this article.
See also Hebrews 12, 2 Timothy 2, Isaiah 40, Psalm 51
Jen Greenholt was an early participant in the Classical Conversations Challenge programs, which sparked her passion for the plays of Shakespeare. She went on to receive a B.A. in English from Bridgewater College of Virginia and an M.A. from Wake Forest University, specializing in early modern British literature. Jen has been working for Classical Conversations as a writer and editor since 2005 and became Vice President of Classical Conversations MultiMedia in 2017. She is the author of the Words Aptly Spoken literature study guides and a co-author of the Classical Acts and Facts Science and History Cards. When she is not glued to a computer, Jen can be found dancing, leading wine tastings at a local vineyard, or playing Ultimate Frisbee.