Being Faithful in the Little Things
- Marji McIlvaine TOS Magazine Contributor
- 2013 9 Sep
“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10).
“There are too many toys to pick up! I can’t! I’m too tired!”
“I can’t redo these math problems! They were just small mistakes anyway. I know how to do them.”
“I can’t practice the piano that long!”
“Um, I just forgot to empty the dishwasher, Mom.”
Maybe my house is the only one to ring with similar declarations? I doubt it. If you haven’t heard something like that yet, your children are probably too young to talk! It’s not that such complaints mean that the children are worse than other people’s children—far from it. It means that the children are in the process of learning to be faithful. But oh, my goodness, it is a process, and processes take time!
In twenty-two years of homeschooling, God has taught me many lessons, refined me, and enlarged my vision. Once I dreamed of authoring great books, winning championships with my thoroughbreds or, after becoming a mom, watching my perfectly homeschooled child be installed as Supreme Court Justice. After several years of homeschooling, my dream transitioned to seeing my son sweep the kitchen floor thoroughly the first time!
How can such a change be an enlarging of my vision? God showed me the sweeping truth (pun intended) that faithfulness in the little things is the highest calling He places on our children, and on us. Without that faithfulness, the larger dreams are empty of meaning.
The thing is, homeschooling is precisely all about the “little things.” From the time your child is born, each day is filled with decisions. Do I burp the baby now and wake him up or wait and see? Do I feed him on a schedule or on demand? Do I spend all day making my toddler pick up the Cheerios she threw down in anger or just do it myself? Is my 5-year-old ready to read, or shall we relax a year? Shall I make my third-grader rewrite this neatly? What are the appropriate consequences for a sixth-grader who consistently “forgets” to finish her chores?
Our challenge is to teach our children faithfulness in these “little things” day in and day out, correcting them gently, so that they finish their journeys with hearts and minds of willing obedience to God’s principles. Obedience can be achieved for a season through force, but force cannot win hearts of willing faithfulness in every “little thing.” Willing obedience will come about only as a response from a heart and mind devoted to God.
So how do we get there? First and foremost, of course, we model it. They are watching us. We parents must be faithful in every little thing we do. Next, we correct them in love as we see them err, the same way God corrects us. Another powerful way we help them is by explaining the root causes of great achievements or great failures everywhere we see them—in Scripture, in books, in movies, and in real life. We help them see it for themselves, which helps win their minds and hearts to God’s truths as they gain deeper insight; in short, we disciple our children.
Gloriously, in God’s Word we see the importance of these little things perfectly illustrated, if we but have eyes to see. Take the life of David. Most of us know the highlights of David’s life: his fight with Goliath, his anointing by Samuel as future king, his harp-playing that calmed the evil spirit in King Saul, and his powerful psalms, which minister to us today. Just take a moment to think about David as a young boy, learning in his home, going about his daily life with chores and lessons. Long before he went to the Valley of Elah, taking bread to his brothers in the midst of a standoff with the Philistine army or to play music before King Saul, David was a boy in his home. We know he took care of some of the family’s sheep in the wilderness. He obviously became an accomplished musician and poet. Unless God supernaturally bestowed these gifts on David, he likely learned those skills somewhere!
I wonder if his parents instructed him to practice his harp playing? Who taught him to read and to write? Was he instructed to write the poems he was creating on paper, and did anybody help him sharpen those skills? Was he always joyful practicing his harp lessons, or was there personal discipline involved to improve his playing? When he took the sheep out, did his parents remind him to practice his harp an hour a day? Before he met Goliath, he had met a lion and a bear when he was a young shepherd. Had Jesse, his father, taught him how to be a shepherd? How often did he practice slinging rocks before meeting that bear or that lion
Even when he was in the service of King Saul, playing his harp to soothe Saul, David went home to tend to his father’s sheep. He remained a dutiful son, fulfilling his work at home in spite of serving in the king’s court (See 1 Samuel 17:14).
This is a precise illustration of what we are doing as we homeschool our children. David was likely prepared for his future as warrior, psalmist, and king through doing those little things at home—practicing his harp, writing poetry, sharpening his slingshot skills, and faithfully tending to his duties. God took those little things in which David was faithful and used each of them to build His kingdom and speak His truth to our hearts.
David’s life story also illustrates the downfall of the second half of the verse from Luke. Show your children that David’s sin with Bathsheba began in the little things. In 2 Samuel 11 we read these words: “Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel....” Hmmm. At the time when kings went to battle, David was in his house walking around on the roof instead of going with those he had sent to the battlefield. David was being unfaithful in some of his duties as king. Through that failure, he saw Bathsheba and sinned, which eventually led to murder. Complacency and faithlessness can enter into a life at any time. We really must teach our children well.
Another beautiful picture in the Word is the story of Isaac and Rebekah from the twenty-fourth chapter of Genesis. Abraham sent his servant to find a bride for Isaac, his son. The servant stopped in a town and prayed that God would show him the young woman by having her ask him if he wanted some water and then offering to water his camels as well. Beautiful young Rebekah came to the well, doing her household chores, taking water from the well back to her household. She met Abraham’s servant, offered him water, and then offered to water his camels.
How many other times had she offered to water a traveler’s camels? Perhaps she made a practice of kindness, of going the extra mile? Maybe, in doing her daily work at the little things in her parents’ home, she often watered a stranger’s camels or entourage? She was being faithful in the little things, taking what she had learned at home and applying it as she went about her duties. God met her there, and her destiny unfolded before her.
In reality, all parents teach the little things—how we teach them makes a difference. We can inculcate faithfulness and integrity, or we can do just the opposite. Some parents hand over a large portion of those little things to others within traditional school systems. When we homeschool, however, we take the joy and the responsibility of equipping our kids to be faithful in every circumstance, and we are present to help them apply those lessons every moment of the day.
Have you ever been on a field trip to a museum or enjoying a park day with your children when a school group comes along? I have. At the museum, I have seen those groups of kids being unkind to one another, being disobedient, sneaking pokes at one another, passing notes, talking, texting, holding hands or even more, without enough teachers or volunteer chaperones to correct the behavior. At the playground, I have seen the teachers stand in groups talking while the kids bully one another on the jungle gym, just out of earshot.
Know what? I have seen some of the same behaviors happen in groups of homeschooled children on field trips and during park days. The children in either group are not better or worse than the other. The difference is in the little things. When those behaviors occurred in the homeschool group, a parent (or another parent) was generally standing by, able and willing to step in at that moment and correct the behavior. The parent was there to disciple her child immediately. That little thing didn’t get lost in the crowd, wasn’t able to slip by unnoticed and thereby harm the one who committed the misbehavior, as well as the recipient.
In our home, one of the little things was daily chores. We chose for a season to assign chores for “mastery” rather than to rotate weekly. It was my son’s job to sweep the kitchen floor once every day. I am sorry to say that he had this job for almost six years (!), since we insisted that he master the ability to sweep and not leave visible material on the floor. Every day he had to go back into the kitchen and sweep it again at least once, often more frequently—for six years! Yes, it became contentious. Yes, we doubted ourselves.
The Lord gifted us with some insight when my son went to church camp. When he came home, his cabin had won an award for cleanliness—and of particular merit was the floor. He said, “Mom, I guess it’s a good thing you taught me to sweep the floor the right way, because that’s why we won!” That was twelve years ago, and it still makes my day to think about it!
Conversely, I also see ways I have failed my children and my responsibilities in the little things. I cannot breach my children’s privacy to illustrate them. One error I made was in too much forced obedience, and too little “talking” about the insights from Scripture and other places. I have also let some behaviors slide by instead of addressing them early, when they were truly little things. It’s so much harder to correct something when it has grown into a habit!
Of course none of us, nor our children, will be perfect in every little thing; if we were we wouldn’t need redemption through a Savior. When we discover our failures, we can take them to the throne of mercy and grace and find help in our time of need. Plenty of little things exist that slip by as a result of our own ignorance or blindness. The course of wisdom says it is much better to be faithful to the things we see and know are right than to have to deal with them later or have our children deal with them as adults.
We parents are responsible before God to raise our children in His admonition and nurture, not frustrating them, but raising them in the way they should go. In these little things we are even to instill delight in the obedience, so that they may proclaim, “O how I love Thy law!” If we nurture and direct them in the little things, helping them see the reasons that faithfulness and integrity are good, we will be infusing them with a wholehearted response to us, and to God, of willing obedience. This is a process, and that process happens every day, every moment, in the little things.
Take heart, homeschooling parents! When you face the hundreds of decisions in parenting and homeschooling, when your children have to sweep the kitchen floor for the third time in a day, when they have to redo math problems due to carelessness and you have to endure a meltdown, know that you are training your children to be faithful in the little things. By such diligent and loving training, you are raising men and women in the Lord who will be faithful in much. Who could ask for more?
After homeschooling for twenty-three years, Marji still learns something new every year! She serves on her support group board; speaks at her state convention; administers the Woodcock-Johnson test; has authored a booklet of sneaky grammar (Homeschool Ad Libs, Rainbow Resource); teaches Spanish, Marine Biology, and Speech at area tutorials; and still tries to find time to do the dishes.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: September 27, 2013