Redeeming a Wasted Year: Growing Pains and Grace
- Thursday, August 13, 2009
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:
“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.
That was the year I learned to love my family best, to value my mother’s friendship, and to heed my father’s counsel. That was the year I became a second mother to my twin brothers. I learned to surrender my time to accountability and to listen to correction. I learned the depths of my own depravity, and the vastly greater depths of the Lord’s grace.
The second good thing that came of this year was that all the reading did pay off. Though my focus on reading for fun was wrong, God eventually allowed the time spent with good books to be redeemed. Fresh thoughts—old ideas now new to me—filled my waking hours during that year. I kept my hands busy, but my mind was far off from the mountain of laundry or the simmering potatoes. The Great Conversation is now more familiar to me because I immersed myself in so many classics of great literature that year. Ideas still delight me—and new ones fit with the bigger context in my mind better than they would if I had only done the assigned textbook reading.
It is true that many of the things I read and learned on my own that year can be found in a rich, well-designed curriculum. However, interest-driven learning often makes a deeper impression on the memory and shaping of a student’s education than a set curriculum. I technically squandered that school year, and later had to learn diligence as I doubled up on some subjects to make up for the lost time. But what I learned in the “wasted” hours has proved to be more valuable and memorable than the other things I studied.
Providentially, my failures in discipline and studiousness made way for character and worldview lessons. My transcript isn’t perfect and I technically lost that entire school year. But grace in the midst of real life found me and set my perspective on priorities off-kilter from the mainstream and helped me set the priorities of God for my life—maturity, love, good works, faith—above those society has ordained for the high school years. God looks beyond the transcript. He wants my heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
Hännah Schlaudt is a student at Grove City College where she is the junior editor of The Quad Magazine. She may also be found climbing trees or standing on her head. Grace, light, and words intrigue her, and she wants to be like Amy Carmichael if she ever grows up.
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