The Old Testament prophet, Elisha, faced a series of challenges and trials with a group of men known as "the sons of the prophets." These were his students and occasionally they created some hair-raising situations for him. In turn, he effectively dealt with each one through simple faith and abundant grace. I believe Elisha's wisdom will bring hope to homeschool parents today.
Grace to make some independent decisions (II Kings 2:15-18).
When the sons of the prophets wanted to send a search party for Elijah's body, Elisha told them to forget about it; it would be a waste of time. He knew that a whirlwind had taken Elijah up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Still, the sons of the prophets begged Elisha to let them send fifty men into the wilderness for three days to seek for themselves. Elisha was so ashamed of their persistent and foolish request that he finally said, "Send!" He gave them grace to learn some things on their own--even at the risk of wasting precious time. Eventually the men came back realizing their mistake. The student's seventy-two hour, fruitless quest may have taught them more about authority, trust, truth, prudence, and priorities than they had learned in their lifetime.
In addition to his household chores, my oldest son worked at a local horse farm after school and participated in weekly youth group meetings at church. It was important for him to get an early start on his school work each day. Nevertheless, he sought permission to do his studying at night-- reasoning that he could get more done. "I'm not a morning person," he'd say. I knew what would happen. For a while I used my parental authority to dissuade him, but my wife and I eventually granted his request. It lasted two days and, just as predicted, nothing got done.
At first I was concerned over the loss of time, but after a while I saw a benefit to his escapade. He became more diligent in the mornings and understood the benefit of completing his work early in the day. The truth, insight, and experience he gained was worth the two days lost in book work. He was granted the grace to discover for himself that mother and father knew what was best.
Grace to deal with ignorance (II Kings 4:38-41).
While Elisha was teaching his students in Gilgal, he asked one of the sons of the prophets to prepare some stew for the others. Since there was a famine in the land, the young man fixed what he could find. It just so happened that the main ingredients he chose were poisonous. In ignorance, he sliced up the wild gourds and put them into a pot of boiling water.
At lunchtime the sons of the prophets began to satisfied their hearty appetites. All at once, someone realized these veggies were not part of a healthy, well-balanced diet. A voice abruptly called for Elisha and said, "There is death in the pot!" Elisha's response was not condemning, criticizing, ridiculing, or berating. With a handful of flour and faith in the living God, he saved the day. He reacted-- not in fury--but in grace.
Students will make ignorant mistakes from time to time. Most of them will not be a matter of life and death; howbeit, we parents all too often perceive them to be. They will say wrong words, choose wrong actions, and think wrong thoughts. Never fear. Even human error can become a valuable learning tool when coupled with patience and God's amazing grace.
There were days I believed my children were capable of adult-size responsibility and intelligence but later discovered that I was somewhat disillusioned. They got into trouble-- not because they were being rebellious, spiteful, or foolish-- but because they were simply ignorant; they didn't know what they were doing or they didn't see the potential danger. Times like this, a moment of grace can strengthen your children's relationship to you in a powerful and permanent way. Their learning and discernment process can actually be sharpened by your calm response. Ranting and raving over someone's ignorance may actually provoke them to wrath. Grace, on the other hand, is a powerful means of illuminating one's understanding, edifying one's heart, and maturing one's cognizance-- all at once.
Grace to grow beyond your current confines (II Kings 6:1-2).
When the sons of the prophets thought their classroom quarters were too close for comfort, Elisha listened intently to their ideas. He let them develop their own plan and then supported them in it. The prophet of God could have said, "This place is good enough" or "We can't afford to build or move," or "I think you need to pray about it a little longer." Instead, he went along with it realizing that God may have a lesson in it for everyone (and He did!).
My son, Dane, seems to have his own ideas of what homeschooling should be like. His creativity has stretched both my wife and me from time to time. One day I walked into the bathroom and was startled by what I saw. Dane was sitting in a bathtub lined with pillows and blankets and his school work was neatly organized on the floor. My initial reaction was to scold him and send him out to the dining room table with his brothers. Instead, I gave him the grace to try it out. I don't remember how long the bathroom was used as a learning center, but Dane felt he was growing beyond the confines of our classroom and needed the space to test his philosophies. Grace provided him the opportunity, and grace made it a meaningful, short-lived experience.
Grace to save face (II Kings 6:24-7:2).
The king of Syria had besieged the city of Samaria and, as a result, a terrible famine was taking place within the borders. All trade had been cut off and the people were getting desperate for food. City life became inconceivably ugly. In a state of frustration and grief, the king lashed out at the one person who could help him: Elisha. King Jehoram wanted Elisha's head brought to him by day's end.
When the king and his messenger arrived at Elisha's house, they found him sitting in company with the elders. Their intent was to accuse him and blame him and then "cuff him and stuff him." Blame never solves anything, though, and Elisha knew that sometimes people need the grace to discharge the ugly things on their mind without being beaten up for it. I'm not condoning dishonor or disrespect, mind you, but grace is an effective means of diffusing trouble when others feel the need to vent their spleen at you (see Proverbs 15:1). Elisha's uninvited guests wanted his head; He offered them comforting words from the Lord instead: "Tomorrow the famine will be over." Elisha was a grace-filled, giant of a man in my book; he could take the heat and the raging storm without having an emotional melt down himself. That is grace.
The angry intentions of the king and his messenger were averted by his "soft answer." Elisha was not beheaded. Imagine the impact his response had upon the elders who were sitting there (amazed) in his house. They witnessed the incredible potency of meekness. Elisha's life was consistent with the wonderful grace he was teaching them. This had to make a favorable impression on everyone.
There have been times in my life as a pastor, father, husband, and friend, that someone has railed on me about something over which I had no control. At times, I've been blamed and accused of things that would enrage the most calloused heathen. That's life. It is natural for people to build their defenses or mirror the hatefulness of the person who is giving them a piece of their mind. On the other hand, it is Christ-like to let them vent and love them anyway. In a greater light, grace caused Jesus to say, "Father, forgive them." Grace always makes a grand impression.
Grace to practice and cherish
Foolishness, ignorance, constricting environments, and crises became the medium for Elisha to teach the importance of authority, prudence, discernment, love, faith, and meekness. All too often, our best laid homeschool plans get derailed and we unconsciously slip into panic mode. Rather than become frustrated, look to Elisha for inspiration that will transform your homeschool of trials into a homeschool of grace. His enriched responses will fill you with hope, restore your joy, and help sustain your commitment to homeschool instruction. Remember too, that Christ rewards your grace-based actions with more of the unfathomable riches of His own abundant grace. As you sow it, teach it, and live it, you will reap it.
Timothy Palla pastors Fairview Baptist Church in the Lucasville/Minford area of southern Ohio. He and his lovely wife Jennifer homeschool their five children: Drew, Dane, Aidan, Ethan, and Meghan. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .