Time seems to have a way of passing very quickly without pausing for any man or woman. I remember as though it were yesterday, starting first grade, buying two new pairs of shoes, black and white saddle oxfords and a pair of shiny black patent leather Mary Janes for Sundays. I remember the trauma of riding the school bus and then the even worse trauma of being in junior high.
A few years ago, thinking it might be a good tool for searching for my birth mother, I set up an account at Classmates.com and have marveled at the pictures of people I used to know, the girl in my French class, the boy who took me to the Junior-Senior prom, Clay’s old army buddies, all now grandparents and some barely recognizable.
And then, I did something that doesn’t really seem to reflect the season of life that I am in….I joined Facebook. The reaction from my children has been varied. A couple of them had suggested that I might want to do so, even offering to set up the account for me. Others have acted like I was practically dressing in white go go boots and going off to a slumber party. Truthfully, their reactions and comments were really hilarious and insightful at the same time. Though being on Facebook didn’t automatically transport me back to junior high, it certainly has made me think a lot about how fast time has gone by and whether or not I am truly a grown up!
Last week I spent some time talking about the things we can do in the earlier years of parenting and homeschooling that will prepare us for the season of life when our children are grown or nearly grown. I stressed the importance of being spiritually prepared for the changes that are certain to come and resting in the assurance that God’s perfect plan for us IS this change. I also encouraged moms to become women of contentment, trusting that God’s plans for us are for good and not for evil.
Today I would like to explore some particular steps that homeschooling moms can take to be prepared for the time when our children are grown and the demands on our lives change. If you have not yet done so, I would encourage you to read those thoughts before you continue.
As Christian women, we often look at the Proverbs 31 woman, as one of our favorite role models. This icon of biblical womanhood described in detail to King Lemuel by his very wise mother, stands as the perfect example to us of the woman who could do it all. She not only brought home the bacon and fried it up in the pan, but she probably raised the pig in a field she bought, made footballs to sell from the pigskin, and could instruct everyone in her household how to do these things, too!
So I find it interesting that in verse 25 we are told that she is a woman of strength and dignity, a wife and mother of godly character who is prepared for the future. Though we often think that this means she has a pantry full of good things to eat and warm clothing for her little ones when winter comes, I think it also means that the Proverbs 31 woman was ready to face the changing seasons in her life as they came her direction. One reason I believe this is that no one woman could do all that this woman did all at once and in the same season. I think that King Lemuel’s mom wanted him to choose a wife who would graciously and wisely move from one season of life to another, bringing him joy and blessings in all the stages that they were to go through together. In fact, if we do not look at this passage of Scripture in the light of those changing seasons, we are doomed to failure and discouragement.
I think there are many practical ways that women need to be prepared as we face the future and the “fall and winter” seasons of our lives.
First of all, each of us need to determine our own spiritual gifts and do all we can to nurture and grow those gifts during the years we are homeschooling. I know that this happens naturally within the homeschooling setting, often without our even realizing that that is what we are doing. For example, those who naturally have the gift of teaching have the propensity for research and are often gifted at communication, becoming excited at every opportunity to use those gifts, whether they are in the home or in a church setting. Those who have the gift of administration or organization, besides being able to organize and mobilize an entire family, are often asked to lead co-ops or even Christian education programs in their churches. Other moms who have the gift of mercy usually express and exercise it by leading their children in acts of kindness and mercy toward those outside their homes. As each of us continue to grow in grace, we will do these things organically, usually without even thinking twice about it. And because we are also discipling our children, they will also, by example in word and in deed, learn to do these things as well, developing their own spiritual gifts that they have been given.
Sometimes we can have a difficult time identifying our spiritual gifts but I can offer two ways that have been helpful to me. The first is by seeing how I might overuse or misuse my gifts. Let me give you an example. It will probably not come as any surprise to you that I believe God has given me the gift of encouragement. More than anything else I might do, there is nothing that excites me more than when I see an opportunity to come alongside someone else and encourage them. It doesn’t matter if it is the hugely pregnant clerk at the grocery store whose face lit up when I told her how she looked more beautiful each time I was in the store, to my neighbor down the street who beamed when I stopped to tell him that the flowers he planted along the fence in his yard made my day special every time I drove past them. Everyone needs to be encouraged and doing so thrills me like nothing else can do.
But, I have had to learn that sometimes, in my exuberance for encouraging someone else, I can either be perceived as pressuring them or I can let discernment go out the window, often finding myself reflecting on the stupid statement I just made!
Another way I have found that helps us identify those gifts is that others will frequently comment positively when we are exercising them. An example of this is when we see some mom who repeatedly seeks to serve others, moving in and out of a fellowship dinner, filling coffee cups, cleaning up after the kids, or remembering which dad likes which kind of pie, making sure there is enough for everyone to have his favorite. If others comment to you about some ability that you have that reflects one of the spiritual gifts we read about in 1 Corinthians, perhaps this is the Holy Spirit prompting you to build up and exercise that gift for God’s glory.
Besides spiritual gifts, each of us has particular natural abilities as well as things that we have learned to do over the years. Homeschooling has given us many opportunities to learn new skills and to pursue areas of study that we might not have explored on our own. It has also allowed us many experiences and relationships that otherwise we might not have had. As we learn alongside our children, which is what we all do, there are things that intrigue us and cause us to dream about doing ourselves and I believe that is what the Lord intends for us, as we pass through each stage of life.
As we grow older and as our children grow up and leave home, we will have more opportunities to use our spiritual gifts and to pursue our natural or acquired abilities, especially to be used for the good of the body and to witness to others. Doing what we can to develop them through the various seasons will help us be prepared when the time comes that they will be used in a broader context. Each stage of life with children gives us different opportunities for growing those gifts, too. One example of this might be the fact that when our children are little, we must take into consideration what they are able to do at each stage of development and we learn to not expect more from them than they are physically, mentally, or emotionally able to do, all the while challenging them to be the best they can be at that time of growth. The same skills we acquire for approaching our children in this manner are necessary in how we relate to our elderly parents as they age and are unable to participate in life in the same way they once did.
As homeschoolers, we also learn how to teach individual children in ways that are unique to each of them and we learn to communicate to them according to their understanding and needs. This skill is invaluable for those who seek to counsel or offer encouragement to others who are going through difficult times in their lives and is one we can never underestimate we have honed as we have taught a variety of children through many age levels, personality quirks, and temperaments.
Homeschooling moms have also learned some amazing practical hands-on skills that can be used in interesting ways. Most of us have learned to cook meals to feed many people on budgets that usually needed to be stretched many ways. In fact, I will bet that most homeschooling moms could each write their own cookbooks and have sage advice for any aspiring young homemaker. There are many volunteer organizations who could use these skills and your abilities could be turned into a home catering business or even a job as a chef if you have loved this aspect of life during your mom-with-kids-at-home years.
The point I am trying to make is that we should each be aware of the gifts, both natural and spiritual, that the Lord has given to us through homeschooling that we enjoy using and that could be used in a variety of ways once we have more time available. Some of us will choose to find employment outside of our homes. Others will volunteer through our churches or other organizations. Some of us will participate in helping other homeschooling moms with teaching, perhaps even enjoying the blessing of teaching grandchildren. Others of us will find just the right niche that will bring us that joy and sense of usefulness within the body of Christ during the last half of our lives, our post homeschooling mom years. We just need to keep our eyes open and be prepared for what the Lord brings our direction.
We also need to see this coming change in our seasons of life as the time when we can enjoy being a couple with our spouses. Some of us never really had that experience, having a line-up of little ones early in marriage. Once the children are gone, sitting across a quiet dinner table and looking at that handsome man with silver hair might be startling and even uncomfortable if we haven’t spent those years of homeschooling investing in our husbands, building the oneness that has to take place in a marriage. Sadly, I hear stories all the time of couples who decided that they didn’t have anything at all in common with each other once the homeschooling days were over. They were going their separate ways and pursuing separate interests, some of it beginning during their days at home with their children. Rather than their own interests making each of them more interesting partners, their individual activities caused division and sometimes led to separation and divorce.
I would encourage all husbands and wives to not only grow spiritually as individuals but to do so as couples, to spend as much time together as possible, to encourage each other to become the best each of them can be but to also become the best that they can as a couple.
I have shared before that in the early years as homeschoolers, my husband, Clay, set aside a weekly date night for just the two of us, though we often took along a nursing baby. Before we began homeschooling, this time didn’t seem quite as necessary as it did once so much of our daily energy was given to time with the children, collectively and individually, and when there was so much to do just to keep our heads above the laundry pile and kitchen chores.
We still try to have a regular date night but we also spend time talking alone every day. We typically like to start our days with coffee and breakfast together and sometimes our conversation continues by telephone while Clay drives to work. We have common interests but also separate ones that complement each other and have helped us to appreciate our differences as well as our similarities. Continuing to share common goals beyond the goal of homeschooling also has encouraged us to work together toward those goals and to transition from a large family to one that is growing smaller all the time.
While the harvest season is when we enjoy the fruit of our labors, it is also the time to consider the coming winter months, the time when we will face changes in our lives that bring us considerable grief and perhaps major upheaval in lifestyle. Our parents will most likely die before we do, which causes each of us to consider our own mortality, especially as we lose the last family members in the generation just before ours. Perhaps you are the oldest of younger siblings and find yourself in the position of being the ones others in your extended family turn to for comfort or leadership.
This is also the season when you become the older man and older woman in your church, the peer group from which church leaders ought to be chosen. You notice that your friends are wiser than they used to be, too, confirming that Job was correct, wisdom is found among the aged and long life brings understanding. You also don’t fret about the same things that used to bother you, you are more settled and content with who you are. You are more confident. You also realize that heaven is closer every day and you can rejoice that you know the Lord Jesus as He becomes more precious to you, even though you experience the natural consequences of living in a slowly deteriorating earthly body.
It is also a season when, perhaps for the first time in your life you may live alone. Statistics show that about 800,000 women become widows every year and that on average, a woman will live for 14 years after the death of her husband. You once again become dependent on others, sometimes in the same way that you were when you were a child and you can even find that there is a reversal of roles, where your children now become like your parents.
I believe that if we are to accept these changes in our lives, we need to trust in the sovereignty of God who has given to us each and every day as a gift to us to use for His glory alone. It is normal and expected to grieve the passing of the seasons. It is healthy to anticipate the next season of life, too. But our usefulness to the Lord will be measured in how well we embrace the changes God gives to us, relishing each joy that comes in each season, trusting the He will continue to work in us to will and to do all things for his good pleasure, having every confidence that we can hold on to this promise from Psalm 92:
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the LORD,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The LORD is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”