We discussed Great Expectations the other night in our online class. Great stuff! The kids had a million comments; in fact, they waited online for an hour after class to read their favorite parts out loud, just to laugh at Dickens’ crazy characters. I even got a call or two from pleased moms, saying their kids really enjoyed it.
Still, this morning I am plagued with doubts.
I was teaching without Missy for the first time in a while, and I left the class feeling pretty insecure. Basically, I think our classes turn out better when the two of us teach together and I am afraid last night’s class wasn’t any good.
This does not happen to me all that often, since I am a pretty confident guy, but I have talked to hundreds of homeschool moms for whom it is a daily struggle. It seems that we homeschoolers labor under a constant burden of guilt and anxiety. Nagging questions plague the backs of our minds all day: “Am I doing enough? Is it good enough?”
Worse than that, the answers won’t let us alone: “You have certainly not done enough, not by a long shot. And what you have done is shoddy, half-baked, ill-prepared, and worthless. Again, you fail!”
It probably comes in part from the fact that by choosing to homeschool, we attempt something for which our society pays billions of dollars to legions of trained professionals, and we try to do it right by ourselves, for nothing.
But I think it also comes from the fact that in addition to helping the kids in this noble work, we are trying to create an identity for ourselves. We want to do more than give them a good education for their sakes; we want to become successful homeschoolers—for our ownsakes.
We strive toward two goals, not one. And here’s the rub: while one of the goals lies within reach of any loving parent, the other will always be misguided and completely impossible. To make matters worse, the impossibility of the second goal obscures the reachability of the first, with the result that we feel only failure.
By doing more and doing it better, can I create an identity for myself as a successful homeschooler that will satisfy my spiritual and emotional needs and give me peace, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment and self-worth?
Nope. I can’t.
Those things don’t come from what I do, no matter how successful I am. In fact, things like peace and confidence and self-worth come more often through my failures than my successes, because they are the gifts of God to sinners. If I look to my online class to give me my identity, I’m looking in the wrong place. Succeeding there doesn’t make me better. Failing there doesn’t make me worse.
But I look there anyway, all the time. If I am honest with myself about last night, I’ll admit that I did not doubt whether the kids had a good learning experience. Instead, I doubted whether my own performance made me look good enough. It’s true with all of us. More often than not, our discouragement comes from fear that we haven’t “become somebody” yet, and aren’t likely to “become somebody” in the future. Much less often are we afraid that our kids will suffer real educational neglect at our hands.
I thank God I haven’t become somebody yet, and am not likely to become somebody in the future. He knows I would be an insufferable so-and-so if I ever got the self-image I’m looking for from my earthly successes. Thank God, too, that because I bear His name, I have all the identity I need. I just hope next time we fire up the mics, I can remember that, and get myself out of the way.