Thursday, 14 June 2012

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Source for this image here.

Recently I have been re-reading Anne Ortlund's "The Gentle Ways Of The Beautiful Woman".  It is in fact a trilogy of 3 volumes in one by this Christian author - "Disciplines Of The Beautiful Woman", "Disciplines Of The Heart", and "Disciplines Of The Home".  Each book focuses on a separate aspect of our work and duties, and our growth, as Christian women.  The books concentrate on how we live out our roles as Christian women day-by-day, but also spiritually, and, in "Disciplines Of The Home", on our roles specifically as wives and mothers.  They are Scripturally based and there are are Bible studies and suggestions for further work at the end of each chapter, and the books really seem to inspire, motivate and encourage me.  I have lent this book to Little Bear, and she has enjoyed reading it too, because Anne Ortlund's writing style is very accessible.  She has a friendly, unpatronising tone, and writes as if you were listening to her speak - not in a dictatorial or overly academic way.  The books are honest, wholesome and penetrating, and I would heartily recommend them to any woman eager for encouragement in her role as a wife and mother.

I am almost through the whole 3 volumes now, and am reading the final parts of "Disciplines Of The Home".  This book really made me think when I read it for the first time, and it is making me think again now that I am re-reading it.  Anne Ortlund uses lots of examples in this book - more so than in the other 2 companion volumes - of families that she has known personally, or are members of her extended family, and these examples help to show how a Christian family at different stages of life, can succeed and work well together.  Something that she emphasises repeatedly throughout the book, is the importance of the parents' responsibilites to make themselves right with God in order to raise their children effectively - she describes this as:-

"Becoming what you should be ... and becoming close enough to the children for it to rub off".  (Page 284). 

When I read this for the first time (the quote above is not the first time this phrase is referred to in the book) I was reminded of how ironic it was that just a few days earlier, I had been thinking about how blessed I was, that I had not needed to work whilse our children were growing up.  Keeping them close to me (and to Papa Bear, who being able to work for our family business, has meant that he too has been able to be around at home a lot more than some fathers can be) I am sure, is the main reason why our children now, as young adults, have chosen to remain living with us - and are growing into responsible, honest, decent, hard working people who are keen to serve God by fulfilling the roles He has given them - as students now, and as husband and wife to their future spouses, in a few more years.    They have grown up to be the young people that Papa Bear and I prayed and hoped that they would be - thanks to the time that we have been able to invest in them - and the good example that we have suceeded in setting them, through our own ardent efforts to grow as Christians ourselves, that we might better encourage our children to be the same.  It has been an exciting journey, these almost-two decades of parenting - challenging, certainly, but so very rewarding too.

But it hasn't been as simple as just not sending them to school each day and teaching them myself instead.  My duties as a mother didn't stop with me merely having our cubs close by my side all the time when they were wee!   Those duties involved making sure that everything I did, all the day long - every day - was a source of education, instruction and inspiration to our children to ensure that I set a good example - an example which would lead them to grow into the sort of people that God wants His children to be.  As Anne Ortlund puts it -

"A Christian home is a powerful show-and-tell.  Through the years Christian homes have won more Christian converts than all preachers and teachers put together.  Writes Charles Colson,
Ordained by God as the basic unit of human organization, the family is not only neccesary for propagating the race, but is the first school of human instruction.  Parents take small, self-centred monsters ... and teach them to share, to wait their turn, to respect each others' property.  These lessons translate into respect for others, self-restraint, obedience to the law - in short, into the virtues of individual character that are vital to society's survival".  (Pages 270 - 271).

Now of course, this is a tall order for any parents, but especially so, if you aren't going to be the ones doing it!  If you are a family where both the parents work, that means that your children are going to have to be cared for - and therefore, essentially, raised - by someone other than yourselves.  Often, outside your home, in a daycare facility or other setting where multiple children are cared for at once.  Even if you are able to afford care in your home instead, the person doing the caring, unless it is a very close relative, is highly unlikely to have exactly the same values and goals that you and your husband have.  If both of you work full time, that is more than 40 hours of each week - 8 hours or more a day, 5 days a week - when your precious wee children are being raised by someone other than yourself.  And while they are being raised by that someone else, the home that they will eventually be returned to at the end of that long, long, day, will not have been nurtured or tended to lovingly either.   I cannot see how a situation like this can possibly effectively achieve the goals that Anne Ortlund so accurately highlights in this same chapter on parenting - goals that ensure a child feels loved, accepted, admired, valued - and that they are able to grow as God's servants, as well as our children - in order to furnish the world with the next generation of Christian people.    At home is where you should be, dear sisters, when you are married - and it is most certainly where your children should be.  Truely - do you really want your precious, beautiful baby to be raised by an almost-stranger, who is being paid to care, rather than doing so out of love and devotion?

Now I know that there are many women for whom work outside the home, they believe, is a vital necessity, and for whom reading what I have written will proably hurt their hearts deeply.  But I hope and pray that for anyone who is in this difficult situation, there is a solution.  A chance to work from home, maybe, or to recieve financial support from their wider family, or from their Church - or even, if they are truely desperate, from the state in the form of welfare benefits.  I am not naieve enough to think that everyone can simply set up a business in their living room or kitchen and support themselves adequately by working from home - Papa Bear would attest to that.  Working for yourself is not easy - it takes a lot of commitment, a lot of financial backing, and often a lot of hard hours of labour for not much return, especially in the early years.  A cottage industry such as sewing or baking will take many hours of work to bring in enough income to live on - but it isn't impossible.  If we seek to use our God-given gifts (and we all have them, even if we don't realise it) wisely and as He intends for us, then our work will be fruitful -

"As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God". (1 Peter 4: 10).

.  Of course it may not be easy - but then neither is leaving your wee baby with a stranger every day - and the reward for being at home with them is immeasurable.  My prayer is that any woman wishing to leave a job outside the home to be with her children will be given the means to do so - no matter how impossible it may seem - and that she will be so blessed by the experience, that she will be inspired to encourage others to do the same.  Please pray with me, if you are also blessed as I am, that our sisters and fellow wives and mothers who are not so fortunate as us, may be given the means and ability to make the necessary changes so that they also can experience the abundance of being a stay-at-home wife and mother too.

The damage that is done to our children when they are not raised by their parents - when they are not given consistent, loving, caring, Godly guidance, day after day after day - is everywhere around us nowadays.  If childrens' needs aren't being met at home, they will seek to have them met elsewhere, and the more they do this, the further they will go from you, their parents, and the faster they will run into the arms of their peer group, and all the wordly attractions that can poison their innocent minds.  Anne Ortlund devotes a whole chapter of "Disciplines Of The Home" to the dangers of television - but these days we could add to this, the dangers - even worse - of the internet, and all the evil that lurks behind our computer screens.

We only get one chance to be the sort of parents God wants us to be.  If we mess up, we don't get to try again and do it better the next time around.  We must do it right, from the very beginning, for the sake of our childrens' futures.  Of course, as parents of a new baby, you are learning all the time, and as parents now, of young adults, Papa Bear and I are still learning!  But we do know that no matter what, our hearts and minds are focused on a far greater guide than the ones we find in books like Anne Ortlund's - helpful though her writing is.  Our true  inspiration - and our motivation - come from our Father God, and in our desire to serve Him, we endeavour to raise our children they way He wants us to - and with our prayerful hope that if we do so succesfully, our hard work will benefit many generations of our family to come.

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22: 6).