"Get real" is a phrase you hear pretty often in popular culture. And yet, I’m afraid it’s something we have yet to become truly good at. Let’s face it, in many conversational situations, the last thing we are is "real." We cover up our negative emotions with a quick "Oh, I’m fine!" I do it all the time. This was going to be a perfect day. I put out my clothes the night before. I set the alarm clock to get up half an hour earlier than normal. Unfortunately, as soon as I got out of bed, things immediately begin to go downhill. I burnt the toast; the baby has a runny nose I’m hoping no one will notice; I couldn’t find my Bible; my daughter forgot to brush her long, tangly hair; we’re running late; my shoes, which are the only ones that match this outfit, are too tight; plus I just noticed a grape jelly stain on my new white skirt. Egads! And that doesn’t even touch where my heart is; I’ve been hurt this week by a dear friend and my husband is giving me no compassion or help . . . "How are you?" asks Sister Jones as she greets me at the door in the foyer. "Fine!" I lie, with a hopefully-convincing smile on my face, hurrying by lest she notice Mr. Booger Nose on my hip and frown at my heading toward the nursery.
Obviously, in many cases (perhaps even most) "fine" is a perfectly acceptable answer. Sister Jones may be a sweet, elderly woman whom I only see on Sunday mornings, and she needn’t be burdened by the reality of my horrible
morning week. Or perhaps she’s a gossip, who would eagerly latch onto my every confession and spread it throughout the fellowship hall before I even get there. Maybe she’s even a close friend, but it’s 9:55 and the service starts at 10 and I have four more children to drop off and I don’t know which classroom they go to and besides, her husband just got laid off and grape jelly wouldn’t mean much to her right now. For whatever reason, it may just not be the time to share my rough morning–or my rough *life* for that matter.
Too often, however, "fine" is our pat answer for everyone. We struggle through tough times in our lives, forced smiles intact, saying "fine" to every query regarding our well-being, even when we know it’s absolutely not the truth and the person really does want to know. It’s easier. "Fine" keeps us from having a breakdown in the church foyer. Occasionally, it keeps us from hurting someone’s feelings, or it keeps us on time for our class. I think there are more insidious damages done by a constant running answer of "fine" than these, though. "Fine" keeps us from the truth. And the truth may very well set us free.
When you feel really blechy–when you’ve had one of those days like the one I had yesterday–the ones which do NOT seem to have come from the hand of Jesus–when you know you need to vent, do you look for a friend who has it all together? You know, those people who seem to have as their greatest grief the time their pocketbook didn’t match their pumps? The ones who show up at church with every hair in place, their kids in tow in coordinating outfits, no grape jelly to be seen, and ON TIME, even? Probably not. Ultimately, I know I need someone safe. And so, if everyone around me gives me "fine" all the time, where do I go for help? Where can I unload my burdens to someone with skin on, if everyone around me is above having problems? Nowhere. And I think that’s the foundation of many problems in our culture. It’s unfortunate that so many women find themselves in strongholds of perfectionism and feelings of inadequacy, and often, we’re our own worst enemies.
We don’t tell each other the truth.
So women get married, and no one has told them it’s hard. They have their first fight (remember how *painful* that was???) and they think they’re the only ones with problems. I notice that I cry differently at weddings now than I used to. When I was younger, I cried because the bride was so beautiful; because the music was lovely and the promises so powerful. Now I cry for all those reasons, with more added: because they have no idea what they’re getting into. Because they will find more pain mixed with the joy than they are expecting. Because it pleases God to put two people together in order to perfect them, and perfection is arduous. Because this union is the only relationship they’ll ever have which is not only the most intimate, involving the deepest, most sensitive areas of their hearts, but it’s also the only relationship that either of them can choose to walk away from at any time and the world will behave as if it never happened–but they’ll know the truth and carry the scars of it forever. Because when it’s beautiful, it’s so beautiful! So much is bound up in the mysterious union between a man and woman, and they’ve surely spent way more time planning the wedding than they have the marriage. Fervently, I pray that someone somewhere has (or will) tell them the truth: marriage is hard! Everyone’s marriage is hard.
Virtually the same scenario occurs with homeschooling. You’ve seen them wandering around the homeschool conventions; the dreamily wide-eyed moms with 3 and 4 year olds in tow, usually pregnant, carrying a big tote bag with a bitten apple on the side (we should have paid more attention to that little worm, methinks!) and clutching a speaker’s schedule to their chest, trying to figure out where to go.
They’ve heard wonderful things about homeschooling. It’s fun! It’s easy! You’ll sit on the couch in your pajamas all day reading books! Your kids, whom adore you above everyone else, will all shun their peers and look primarily to one other for entertainment! They’ll only want to listen to worship music! They’ll be Princeton Scholars! You won’t pay a dime for college! They’ll never leave you!
There are public service broadcasters, where you can click here and commercial broadcasters are funded through advertisement spots.
They will rise up and call you blessed every morning, emerging from their perfectly cleaned rooms (they have all day to clean them, after all!) to say "Oh, dear mother of mine, thank you; thank you for laying your life down for homeschooling me!!!"
It works pretty well for a few years. Then they turn five. Then comes a need for chore charts if the dishes are ever to be taken out of the dishwasher. Then come hormones–yours and theirs! Then come a few more children, with diapers that need to be changed even if you are supposed to be helping the older kids with a report about the Revolution. Youth group will be somewhere in there where they can hear all about the "naughty" things everyone who goes to "real school" gets to do, and if you have cable the realization will come way before that. Then comes PreCalculus and –Lord help us!–Chemistry. Incredulous and disbelieving, you run across a sneaky truth that no one prepared you for . . . homeschooling can be hard.
How about church? We come to know the Lord. We are so excited to leave our pasts behind; to come together with other Christians who love God and want to see His kingdom advance. For awhile, everything we pray for seems to be answered with a "yes!" and it’s wonderful! There’s such a difference in this crowd compared to the people we used to hang out with. People are nice. They care about each other. They bear one anothers burdens (when anyone admits they have burdens, that is.) And then a few years go by. God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers quite as quickly, nor always in what looks to be our best interests, though we know it’s not always obvious to us what that means. He is trying to get us to grow up, I suppose. Shockingly, the people we looked up to–sometimes the very ones who mentored us–fall, or they betray us, or even leave the narrow road and walk away from God. We are confused! We thought it was supposed to be perfect. And then it slowly begins to dawn on us . . . even Christians are merely forgiven people–not perfect. And the Christian life is sometimes–you guessed it–hard.
What if you knew the truth from the beginning? What if you were prepared for marriage to be, as one dear friend of mine declares, a death march? What if you knew homeschooling would take every shred of energy, emotional supply and intellectual ability you have–and some days leave you limp with the effort? What if you were prepared for church to be a group of people doing their best to follow God’s plan for their lives, and only Jesus to truly fill your needs and never fail? What if people told the truth?
I, for one, am convinced that truth is better preparation for life than marshmallow-coated fantasy, even though we all need a s’more now and then. Undeniably, truth is better than fiction–and way more complicated. I’m planning a few posts on the realities of homeschooling in particular in the next few weeks, and I hope they’ll be helpful to someone out there who perhaps is feeling the tug of earth on their homeschooling dreams. Now, if I can just get my kids through enough American History to find the time to write them!