It’s easy to turn high school into a matter of checking off boxes on the “things-I-must-do-before-graduation” checklist. But academic achievements can’t make up for lack of character. As a homeschooler in a Christian family, my high school years were more centered on developing character than about the academics. My parents were intent on raising their children to love the Lord and honor him in everything. As a result, my high school years became a crucible as my parents discipled me toward that end.

My parents understood that Christian youth are held to a higher standard of conduct than their peers. A quick glance at the Pauline epistles makes this clear:

“. . . set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”1 Timothy 4:12(ESV)

“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works . . .”Titus 2:7

Titus 2:7These commands are directed at all believers, but especially to the young faithful. These principles cannot be learned from a textbook or graded on a percentage scale. Maturity and devotedness to Christ and his people were the byproducts of my Christian homeschooling experience, as close accountability and discipleship were fostered in my family.

I had to learn this in a backwards way during my sophomore year of high school. That year was entirely wasted by all academic standards—the only subject I progressed in was English, because I was such an avid reader.

Many mornings I would glance at my daily allotment of schoolwork on mom’s scheduler, grab my books, plop down on my bunk bed, and not study. My academic ideals slumped in the face of laziness and the allure of novels.

I’m the oldest of a large family (even by homeschooler standards), and during my sophomore year God added twins to the bunch. My life had two parts: the dream world of my books and my room, and the perpetual cycle of responsibility and busy-ness that comes with being part of a big family. I would retreat to my world of books, and then dive into the midst of family life when crisis came. With infant twins, Mom was weary and sleep-deprived, and I was her right hand helper. Mom and I would switch off responsibilities—I would “study” while she taught the younger children, and then I would play mom and fix supper and supervise my siblings so she could nap or run errands.

Between my laziness and the demands of my family on my time, the necessary evils of my high school course load—arithmetic, science, grammar, et cetera—slipped quietly through the cracks in my schedule. Yet I couldn’t escape accountability.  The descending doom of restrictions on my freedom would inevitably become reality until I had caught up on my assignments. Outside activities—youth group, time with friends, phone—would all be removed by my wise parents until the math was done.

My heart wasn’t in my algebra, so I often chose to be a homebody rather than finish the schoolwork. I was absorbed in myself and my private world of dreams and books read for fun. Books and my leisure became my cherished idols.

Two things resulted from this season of refining and non-academic intensity. The first was that my parents increased the amount of accountability they invested in me. Discipline for my laziness allowed for more intentional time spent discussing where I was at and why I did what I did. As my heart was under scrutiny, the Lord and my parents challenged me, helping me see myself and God’s grace afresh. My grades were important to them, but they cared more about my character.

My parents’ hard questions and the Holy Spirit’s convicting grace stretched me. Was I honoring the Lord with my time? Why did I do what I did, and whose worship did I crave? Who did my life belong to and why did it matter what I did with it? Uncomfortable as it was, those tearful conversations are now some of my most treasured memories of my high school years.