An Education in Relationship
- Heather Berryman
- 2012 6 Jul
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. 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.
After spending most of six years as an overtime student and frantic job hunter, my relationship with my two children had suffered damage, as had my relationship with Christ. The truth is that I was choking on guilt and just plain missed my kids something awful. Although I recognized these deficiencies at the time, as well as their hurtful results, I seemed to have no recourse to fight them. I was a single mother nearing not only college graduation but, as it would happen, a national economic crisis as well. I prayed. God answered me with an even greater hunger for closeness with my children, for relationship.
Among the uncertain thoughts about my studies and ensuing career were increasing concerns about my son’s not too distant ninth-grade year, what to do about the afternoons when he would be released from his high school under the school district’s open campus plan, devised to defend 13-year-olds as “responsible adults” who were free to choose their own harmless, unsupervised activities with friends. Soon, I read that the district had postponed a vote on whether or not to distribute means of birth control to the middle-schoolers. God was teaching me about the power of relationship. As a result of the public school’s relationship with a progressively more immoral world, public school could be a dangerous place.
I knew things must change—to what I did not know. My children and I prepared our hearts and minds, believing for something different, something better, and God trained me to see His desires.
Christian schools were all around us, and I renewed the prayers that I’d said forever for a Christian education for my children. I secretly hoped that their education would stand in for the time that I couldn’t give them. Then, God showed me that when He said to train up a child in the way he should go, He wasn’t instructing me to find the best math teacher in the world but rather to maintain a strong relationship with my child.
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After all, what is relationship but closeness over time? Even the parable of the sower is a lesson about relationship. A seed must be close to—that is, have close relationships with—adequate water, temperature, shelter, and nutrients. Over time, those good relationships contribute to the desired end result: healthy growth. A relationship that is strong—positively or negatively—guards against establishment of a weaker relationship with an opposite thing. I was sowing strong seeds of time and energy into self-improvement and dreams of security but sowed little time into my children. Even though I drove them to and from school, fed them, tucked them in, and prayed with and over them, I wasn’t really there with them or for them. They were growing up without me.
This new relationship revelation vindicated my prayers for Christian school, and I began praying more specifically for Christian school tuition. However, it also showed me that I was putting poison into my children’s lives because seeds close to poisoned water will share the poison. Relationships connect to other relationships. Actions and choices of many public school students illustrated this principle every day, and so did mine. Not only had I become distanced from my kids, but sin had crept in, right in front of their eyes. I consoled myself by saying, “At least they see my immediate repentance after my road rage.”
As I heard God alerting me to the failings of public school (and my own behavior), I found myself noticing homeschoolers more and more . . . and saw my children grow another year older. I observed that homeschooling encouraged strong closeness to family and to the Godly values that were beginning to wane in our home and that the positives of homeschooling were things God wants for everyone. Homeschooled kids related with acceptance, love, Godly individuality and giftings, etc., and I saw how these things guarded against opposite traits and behaviors, such as ridicule, disrespect, isolationism, immoral peer pressure, and ungodly teaching. Public school children can certainly grow relationships with these good traits as well, but I observed that most homeschooled children spent the majority of their time developing them. Unfortunately, I became envious not only of parents who were able to send their children to Christian school but also of those who could encourage Godly virtues by homeschooling.
Throughout my junior year of college, jealous thoughts prompted impossible, ridiculous notions to homeschool my children after graduation. These thoughts tore at my heart, and I stepped up prayers for Christian school tuition.
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Miraculously, at the beginning of my senior year, my children received immense private grants from a Christian school and help from my parents. My many years of prayer for Christian education and desires for closer relationship had finally been answered! We were set!
Each day, we commuted forty-five minutes to school, radio off, talking, former fears relieved. It was wonderful. Of course, we knew that this could not continue the next year unless $13,000 dropped from heaven . . . again. By the end of that school year, we had discovered that Christian school was not perfect and that I hadn’t even known much about it. Still, we prayed and waited daily and throughout summer for the check to arrive for the following year’s tuition, fully believing in God’s provision and His ability to kick my destiny simultaneously into gear. I reminded myself and my kids that if God wanted a Christian education for them and a close relationship for us, and I knew He did, then He would provide the money.
I graduated that August, my schoolwork ending on 08/08/08 (the number of new beginnings)—a sign! But despite this, I heard nothing from God and feared that because of my busyness or spiritual blindness I had somehow missed the moneymaking opportunity, the scholarship notification, the check, the message to pick up the check (as we had changed addresses six times in the previous three years) . . . or I had simply missed God.
The ensuing bewilderment became especially acute when the national economy tanked, and no jobs were available, just in time for my entry into the real world, as I left my work-study job behind. I knew that my children would have to be schooled somewhere, Godly or not, and I realized that my only responsible choice now was to homeschool for a few months and call it a “trial” semester. The kids were overjoyed, but I feared that they would beg for public school after one week with me. I should have taken a clue, though, from the fact that my son cheered when I placed home-cooked tuna casserole in front of him but groaned when I asked, “Subway or McDonald’s tonight?”
In September, we shocked and alarmed family and friends when we dived into our semester of seventh and eighth grades at home, nothing but leftover school supplies in hand. That first day, I looked up from my perfectly formatted, timed, and outlined lesson plan, not really knowing what to do, and my eyes landed on the ragtag books of my bookshelves. I had moved a dozen times with an ugly, burdensome, twenty-five-plus-year-old collection of library freebies—classic novels, used plays, poetry anthologies, biographies, disintegrating dictionaries and thesauruses, old and recent college textbooks, and many nonfiction books, mostly about the subjects of film, art, and home improvement. This became my instructional inspiration as well as our school library! No longer were these books merely the quirky baggage of a bibliophile with no time to read. That ragged collection of books was now evidence that God had sown into relationship with His own future—the children who were to come!
My children thrived. Very soon, I realized that this was heaven to me too. Despite numerous spasmodic changes, and lots of togetherness, months went by with few arguments—and my kids never asked to go back to school! We continued to pray for provision. It came, and we continued that spring and then through the entire next year, praying, learning, growing ever closer, and being blessed with many more materials, teaching tools, math and language programs, as well as important new goals along the way.
This past spring, my son played baseball for his former Christian school, and we were all in the school office one day, standing quietly apart, after a hairy day and a few more arguments than usual. Right then, the school secretary asked my kids point blank, “So, do you like homeschooling?”
I couldn’t escape. Thoughts of the failures and awkwardness of the last two and a half years flashed through my mind. Blood rushed in my ears. I knew that I was busted, that in one second everyone would know that it was all a sham, that our homeschooling experiment was only a demonstration of my selfishness. I was “ruining my children’s lives,” as one family member had told me.
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What could I possibly say to reassure them at this moment? It didn’t matter; I only had time to turn my face away as my kids piped up in unison “We love it!” and then proceeded to elaborate!
I don’t remember what they said. I wish I did, but I was busy choking back tears.
This homeschooling adventure was no failure, no consolation, no trial period. This was no mistake, and it was no decision of mine. God had preserved my children and me for the best Biblical education possible—that which comes through true, close relationship with Him and with each other as the best possible teachers and career counselors.
How exciting it is to recognize, in the fabric of my children’s lives, the thread of God’s careful weaving! As I plan year number four—tenth and eleventh grades—I know that Christ’s strong relationship with us and ours with Him will continue to protect and guide us victoriously through those seasons of struggling to trust Him, through singleness, ridicule, awkwardness, doubt, lack, and geometry proofs. And to Him be all the glory, because I sure couldn’t have done it alone.
Heather Berryman is a blessed single mom, thankful to God for the privilege of homeschooling her two favorite people, son Ian (16) and daughter Shaene (15), at the foot of beautiful Pikes Peak, in Cascade, Colorado. Heather is a relentless artist, perpetual learner, expectant writer, compulsive encourager, habitual inventor, militant movie fanatic, and failed dust bunny herder. She can be maligned or praised at hberryman[email protected]gmail.com.