There were 118 people attending the Sunday morning worship service of the little country church where I pastor. At the close of my Sunday sermon, the seniors, deacons, and youth pastor came forward for a special dedication prayer. The graduates stood together, as they usually do, while the rest of us formed a circle around them and prayed for God's blessing on their future. It is normally a very stirring spiritual time. As Drew and two of his finest comrades stood with him, my emotions were stronger than I had felt in previous years. I guess that is what happens when it's your own son in the middle of that circle.
After the routine morning handshakes, light chit-chat, and lunch, my entire family scurried off to the high school for the formal graduation affair. The auditorium was packed. Cameras were flashing, the band was warming up, the school board was seated on the platform and then the cue was given. The graduates walked down the isles with their big white smiles and flowing gowns. The tassels on their caps seemed to dance with joy as the students maneuvered through a creatively choreographed parade.
A Quiet Reflection
Throughout the program the audience laughed, cried, videotaped, photographed, and cheered for those seniors. I was right there with them. So was my homeschooled son who was sitting at the end of my row. I kept thinking about Drew the entire time. Does he resent me and his mother for homeschooling him? Does he wish he were up on that platform with many of his friends? Will he remember this program the rest of his life with feelings of regret? Has homeschooling ruined my son's life?
I don't know how, but I made it home that day in one piece. At times my head felt as if it was spinning and my stomach felt knotted. "Surely I can get through this day without having a public breakdown," I thought to myself. The breakdown came later when I was by myself. In the crisis of self-doubt and self-pity, I quietly wept for my son who had come through 13 years of schooling--most of which offered no pomp and circumstance, no public recognition, and very little support from friends and loved ones--all of which may leave a young man temporarily feeling empty and left out.
My brain shifted gears as I remembered young king David who "encouraged himself in the Lord." The encouragement abounded to me through God's Word in I John 3:19, 20 which says, "And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." In moments of self-pity and self-condemnation it will always be a comfort to find the All-Knowing God is greater than the emotional dictates of my heart. Thankfully, He's known my heart for a very long time.
My wife and I had prayed diligently for a long time before we took the step of faith to homeschool. When the answer came, it was in direct and complete answer to our prayers. We delighted ourselves in the Lord. My wife and I were not trying to prove that we were better parents, nor were we so pious that we felt we could do a better job, academically, than the public school system. We simply loved being around our children and wanted to maximize our opportunities with them. We believed it was our duty to teach them the "holy way" and raise them in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord." We wanted them to know and love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and might and knew that governmental education would not fulfill those desires. In simple faith we believed that the Lord would honor our endeavor.
A Mental "Reset" Button
Monday morning dawned afresh with a cool wind, glistening sunshine, and a ray of hope. All seven of us enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then everyone migrated to various places in the house. Drew sat in the wingback chair and I sat on the couch. With baited breath I asked him how he felt about the prior day's activity. He confessed his desires to be able to participate in the graduation exercises. There was a sense of losing out on a normal part of life's drama and the public recognition that goes with it. I empathized with him.
I had attended a private Christian school from sixth grade through twelfth. When all of my friends and relatives were enjoying band camps, orchestra, sports programs, Show Choir, Driver's Ed., French Club, Yearbook Club, dramas, and an endless array of exciting field trips, I had chapel every week and got to play the piano for opening assembly. To me, my life seemed pale and boring. Through the eyes of my home-educated children, however, I was a world traveler. Nevertheless, I understood what Drew felt as he sat in the auditorium that Sunday afternoon and watched many of his friends walk across a stage, have their name announced to the world, hear the applause of the multitudes, and then witness 130 graduates toss their caps into the air and shout for joy. For a while I wanted him to be there too.
One week later, I still feel homeschooling is worth more than a few hours of public ceremony or a few fun clubs or amazing field trips. Like Moses, I would rather suffer this affliction (if that's what you want to call my temporary feeling) with my own family than enjoy the passing pleasures of Egypt. I believe that God gives grace, protection, and mercy to government educated parents and their children as well as the homeschooled; nevertheless, if I had to do it all over again, I would still stand by my original decision.
Nothing can compare to waking up with my children, reading to them, praying with them, talking with them, helping them, testing them, working with them, laughing with them, crying with them, and enjoying them along with my wife--everyday--all day! The same faith my wife and I had when we began this work, keeps me believing that it will be worth all the tears, struggles, and temporary regrets we have felt.
Has homeschooling ruined my son's life? No. Not anymore than it would ruin the young student who doesn't make the ball team or the cheerleading squad or the teenager who doesn't have a date for the prom. Every life has its disappointments. You use the "down time" to evaluate your decisions and motives and then you determine to learn from them and handle them with dignity.
Last Sunday night after church a man came up to me and said, "I'm so proud of you and your son, Drew. A lot of kids who are raised in church seem to live two separate lives. They live one way when they are around church folk and another way around their friends. Not Drew. He's as much of a Christian when he thinks no one is looking as he is when he is in God's house or yours. You've raised a good young man." A few days later I passed the compliment on to my son. Soon afterward I realized that all the praise and glory of a high school graduation service could never compare to the thunderous applause of God or hearing His "Well done." I have faith to believe that someday--very soon-- Drew will understand also.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans8:18).
*This article first published June 9, 2006.
Timothy Palla is Pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Minford, Ohio. He and his lovely wife, Jennifer, homeschool their five children; Drew, Dane, Aidan, Ethan, and Meghan. You may contact him at [email protected].