“This isn’t enough.”
I can still remember playing this phrase over in my mind, again and again. Our church was hosting its monthly pot luck style meal, open to the community. The tables were set and families were beginning to arrive. From where I was standing, the table designated for casseroles and crock pots didn’t seem quite full enough when I looked around at the room full of people. The meal hadn’t even begun, but my mind had already raced ahead to a scene where the whole evening was falling apart - not enough food and everyone looking at me with disappointment on their faces.
A few minutes later, I was frantically whispering in my husband’s ear, “Honey, there’s no way we have enough here. We have to do something - right now, I think.” What could we do? There was only one thing I could think of; order up the quickest, cheapest solution available. “Jason, quick…order ten pizzas. It’ll only take twenty minutes for them to get here. Then we’ll be fine.” And so he did. Twenty minutes later, the delivery man walked in with a stack of pizza boxes.
But guess what? No one ate those pizzas. Over the course of those twenty minutes, it all just worked out on its own. What I had perceived as a problem wasn’t a problem at all. A few more dishes had arrived, a prayer had been said, and everyone had gone through the line, filling their plates and finding their seats. The room was buzzing with laughter and conversation, and I was writing a check for a stack of pizzas that we didn’t even need.
As a Mason educator, have you ever been there? You’re looking around at your feasting table and in a moment of panic, you feel utterly convinced that it just isn’t enough. Or, perhaps you’re not even looking at your own table, you’re online looking at everyone else’s.
This fall, I was privileged to take part in an online CM class where we took extended time to soak in small sections of Mason’s writing and really talk them through, relating them back to her twenty principles. One passage in particular from An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education had a profound impact on me, even though I had read it many times before:
“Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas. Ideas are of spiritual origin, and God has made us so that we get them chiefly as we convey them to one another, whether by word of mouth, written page, Scripture word, musical symphony; but we must sustain a child's inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food. Probably he will reject nine-tenths of the ideas we offer, as he makes use of only a small proportion of his bodily food, rejecting the rest. He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that; our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety and his to take what he needs. Urgency on our part annoys him. He resists forcible feeding and loathes predigested food. What suits him best is pabulum presented in the indirect literary form which Our Lord adopts in those wonderful parables whose quality is that they cannot be forgotten though, while every detail of the story is remembered, its application may pass and leave no trace. We, too, must take this risk” [emphasis mine] (109).
There is so much contained in this short section. First, Mason is reminding us of our connection to God - that He is the source of all ideas and also that He created us to take in those ideas in a certain way. She goes on to speak of the unique personhood of our children, as well as our role as teachers. And finally, she acknowledges the risk of teaching through story, using Christ Himself as an example, saying that we must do as He did.
I had never before thought of embracing a living education as risky. I began to consider that perhaps not acknowledging the risk was the reason I found myself unprepared to deal with the moments of doubt and uncertainty along the way. Though the church pot luck story I just shared is rather comical and had a happy ending, the truth is that I’m often plagued by a tendency to convince myself of so many other “not enough’s” in my life. Many of these are directly related to home educating my children.
“What I’m teaching isn’t enough.”
“I don’t own enough books.”
“My kids aren’t learning enough.”
“What we’re doing isn’t enough.”
“I don’t have enough time.”
“I’m not enough.”
The triggers for these doubts can vary. It might be a child struggling through a particular lesson, or a conversation with another parent. It might be scrolling through Instagram, or even catching up on a favorite CM podcast. But the panicky feeling is the same every time, and my knee-jerk reaction is usually the same as well. I end up making hasty decisions in a mad rush to remedy the situation. In the end, I usually find I’m holding a stack of pizza boxes (or books, or curriculum) that I never needed in the first place.
I remember once sitting in on a group discussion about co-ops at a CM retreat. The room was packed with moms, seeking advice and encouragement about moving forward with their own CM communities back home. Many of them were there because their particular groups were struggling. The person facilitating that discussion, a dear friend and CM mentor, said something I will never forget. Before beginning to share her wisdom, she said to us, “You need to know that when I share advice or ideas, I always do it with the assumption that each of you, first and foremost, are praying.”
If I truly believe, as Mason states in the quote above, that God Himself is the divine source of all that I seek to teach my children, that He created them (and me) uniquely as persons, that His Holy Spirit is our Divine Teacher in all things, shouldn’t my first response in my moments of doubt be to go directly to Him? To truly embrace a Mason education for my children, with all of its beauty and all of its risk, I need to remember one of the key principles she built her philosophy on, that “the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.”
There is a deep mystery to the role of the Holy Spirit as teacher that cannot be packaged or marketed. I’m learning that to embrace it requires faith and a willingness to commit to a long walk in the same direction. Are there times to step back and reassess, to make an adjustment or a change? Absolutely. But I do best to make those decisions only after I’ve taken the time to bring my concerns to the Lord Himself. As we in the Mason Community continue to support each other, share ideas, grow together, and risk together, let’s also remember that our ultimate hope is not in a curriculum, or a book list, or even in Mason’s philosophy, but rather in Almighty God, who is always enough.
© 2017 by Amy Fiedler