Tim Challies

I trust God with my soul. I do. I have no other hope in life and death but the confidence that I am in Christ for all eternity. I trust God with my soul, but for some reason have a much tougher time trusting him with the souls of my kids. I wonder if you can identify with the struggle.

I am convinced that God saved me by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I did nothing to merit this salvation. There is nothing in me that turned God’s eye in my direction. There is no vestige of goodness that compelled him to look my way. I was not seeking him when he began seeking me. It was all of his grace without even the smallest bit of my merit. I added nothing to my salvation but the sin that made it necessary.

I believe all this about myself, but somehow find it more difficult to believe when it comes to my children. Now it’s not quite as simple as you might think: I have seen enough of my kids to know that they suffer from the same total depravity as their father. I know they have no merit to bring before the Lord. No, my problem is deeper than that, and a little more difficult to root out.

When it comes to my kids, I seem to want to believe that God’s action is dependent upon my action. I believe that for God to save my kids, I first need to do the right things. If I want God to save them, I need to cross the spiritual t’s and dot the spiritual i’s. And if I don’t, well, their salvation may just be questionable. When it comes to their eternal destiny, it’s like he isn’t looking to their good deeds, but to mine, as if they will be justified by my merit or condemned by my lack of merit.

I don’t actually articulate this, but I see it trying to manifest itself in my life.

I see it when family devotions subtly switch from a time of worshipping God to a means of twisting God’s arm: If I do family devotions every day, will you save them then? Or perhaps more clearly: If I don’t do it for a couple of days, are they still savable?

I see it when my decisions come from a place of fear rather than a place of confidence and when I determine that what is best for the kids must be what looks safest for them: If I choose this school or that league, could that somehow remove them from your grace? Will it all be my fault?

I see it when I ask them how they are doing with their personal devotions and realize I am not asking out genuine concern to see how they are pursuing the Lord and what they are learning from him. Instead, I am asking them because personal devotions are one more way that dad ought to be nudging God toward my kids.

I see it when I pray for them and I am almost tempted to tell God why he owes it to me to save them: God, I’ve done what I can and I’ve done pretty well; won’t you save them now? What more do I have to do to know that they are saved? What do I need to do to set them up for salvation?

In those ways and many more I seem to think that I can earn my kids’ salvation. And if I can’t earn it through my good deeds, surely I can at least negate it by my negligence. Can’t I?

Centuries ago a man named Isaac had two children, one of whom loved and followed the Lord and one of whom rejected and abandoned the Lord. There must have been someone who looked at Esau, and then looked at Isaac and Rebecca and said, “I wonder what they did wrong? What did they do that messed up that boy?” But God said, “Isaac I have loved and Esau I have hated.” It was all in God’s hands and it was all part of his good plan. It wasn’t what the parents did or didn’t do. It was God’s good will. The good and kind and loving God ruled over it all.

And the same is true for my children. They can’t earn their salvation and I can’t earn it for them. I believe the Lord has saved or will save them and they will be saved not by their father but like their father—by trusting in Christ and Christ alone as he opens their eyes to see him and as he opens their hearts to receive him. Their souls are in the good hands of the good God. And I, of all people, can testify that there is no better place for them to be.

There was a day when one of my fashion accessories talked back. It told me to take a hike. I had said something about it on Facebook or Twitter or snapped a picture of it for Instagram and it was none too pleased. It said it to me nicely enough, but the point was clear: cut it out.

I’ve been learning social media as I go. We all have. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest have added something new, something original, to the human experience. We are adapting as we go, learning how to use these things well and learning how not to use them badly. We learn by success and by failure. But we do learn over time. At least I hope we do.

When my children were young and very young, I enjoyed telling people about them through these social media channels. I enjoyed sharing their quirks and foibles, their little triumphs and their little follies. Sometimes I wrote about them and sometimes I snapped pictures of them. It was harmless, I thought. And mostly it was.

But I see it now: Some of these photos weren’t for you or for them—they were for me. My kids were accessories to me, a way of making me look good in your eyes or making me feel good about myself. I would only share the details of their lives and times that helped me in some way. I was using my kids as a kind of fashion accessory, what the dictionary defines as “a thing that can be added to something else in order to make it more useful, versatile, or attractive.” That was it! I was using my kids to somehow make myself more attractive. It was all about me.

But then that day came when I said something about one of them—nothing terrible, nothing humiliating, but something that would have been better to keep quiet. Later that day we went to church and someone brought it up. “Hey, your dad said on Twitter that …” or “I saw that Instragram of you in the …” Embarrassment ensued. Awardness. And later, a plea to dad to cut it out, to not use social media in this way again.

And it was then that I realized I had been treating my children as just an extension of myself. When they were babies it was easy enough to tell people about them, knowing they would never know or care what I said or who knew. But then they got a little bit older, and then a lot older. They made a transition into maturity and independence. They didn’t want to be my accessory anymore, to have me publicize what they had said or what they had done. And it was no longer fair of me to treat them that way. It’s not that I can’t say anything about them or share a picture of them, but that at some point it is only fair to ask their permission, to let them in on it, to make them equals, not accessories.

Parents, have an exit plan. Make the transition before they need to beg you to. We love to see pictures of your baby when he is born. We love to see pictures of your daughter when she takes her first steps. We love to hear about the ridiculous things they say when learning to form words and thoughts and ideas. But at some time they will be their own people and those cute things will become private things. Those cute pictures will be family pictures. At some point your kids may no longer find it fun.

 

Last weekend I was a guest on Up for Debate on Moody Radio where we discussed whether or not Christian parents should send their children to public schools. I am not opposed to homeschooling or Christian schooling—not even a little bit—but do maintain that public schooling may also be a legitimate option for Christian families, and this is the perspective they asked me to represent. It is quite a controversial position in parts of the Christian world today.

As I prepared for the show I went back through my archives to find what I had written on the subject in the past. I found that I first wrote about it around eight years ago when my son was in first grade. Well, he is now just days away from his eighth grade graduation and this seems like an opportune time to revisit the subject and to ask, What have we learned in ten years of public schooling (which includes two years of kindergarten)? I spoke to Aileen and together we jotted down a bit of what we’ve learned from having three children in public schools. Here are ten lessons from ten years of public schooling.

1. Develop and Deepen Convictions

I often find that parents who put their children in public school are represented as being without convictions while parents who homeschool or who enroll their children in Christian schools are the ones with strong convictions. Admittedly, that is sometimes the case and if you are a person without convictions it is unlikely that you are homeschooling. But before Aileen and I put our children in school we developed and deepened our convictions about public schooling and these convictions allowed us to enroll our children with confidence and to keep them there with confidence. At the same time we have regularly revisited the subject to ensure that we have not grown complacent but are still following conviction. My encouragement to any parent considering any of the educational options is to develop and to deepen Bible-based convictions, and then to respond charitably to those whose convictions differ from your own.

2. It Is Possible

There is a lot of fear involved in parenting. There is an extra measure of fear in public schooling, and especially so when so many Christians warn of all you stand to lose if you allow your children to attend them. The gentlemen who represented homeschooling on the radio last weekend said he had statistics to prove that something like 83% of all Christian children who go to public school end up forsaking a Christian worldview. That is a scary statistic, though I am far from convinced it is accurate, at least when it comes to families who are Christian in more than name. By the grace of God, the last eight years have not ruined or harmed our children, at least as far as we can tell. I will grant that they are still quite young and have lots of growing up to do, but when we evaluate, we do not believe we made a bad decision all those years ago. We made that decision in light of biblical convictions, and we believe our experience has validated those convictions.

3. The Family Goes to Public School

The third lesson is this: You do not send your children to public school—you send your family. What I mean is that public schooling requires the participation of the parents which, in our experience, is something the school values just as much as we do. We have attempted to remain involved with the school and with its teachers. This means that my wife volunteers and spends at least one morning a week in the school and that both of us volunteer to go on class trips. Not only that, but we attempt to get to know our kids’ teachers and to interact with them through the year. They appreciate our involvement and we appreciate their support. This was one of our big takeaways from the excellent book Going Public.

4. Don’t Send Your Kids As Evangelists

One of the common reasons people send their children to public school is to allow them to be salt and light among their fellow students. However, this is a heavy burden to place on young children, and especially young children who are not yet believers. Children are not born believers and, therefore, cannot be expected to be evangelists until they are converted. We never placed that responsibility on their shoulders. (With all of that said, we have found that as our children show an interest in the gospel and become believers, they naturally become evangelists as well. As our kids have grown, they have had many excellent conversations with their fellow students and our kids have pillaged the house for Bibles to give away at school.)

5. Be Open To Alternatives

Aileen and I heed the old mantra, “A kid at a time, a school at a time, a year at a time.” We are not public schoolers by blind ideology and feel very willing to explore alternatives if and when it seems a wise course of action. My son’s graduation to high school has given us good reason to explore all the alternatives once more and we find ourselves seriously considering Christian high school. We public school best when we are willing to not public school.

6. It Takes a Church

It takes a congregation to raise a child. This is true whether your children are educated at home, in a Christian environment, or in public school. As my kids have gone through public school, they have also been deeply involved in a solid church where their peers and adults engage them and pursue them. When my children wrestle with spiritual issues, I find it a joy to be able to tell them to speak to their friends who are also my friends. Our church supports our educational choices by their involvement in our kids’ lives.

7. The Teachers Are Your Friends

We have encountered many teachers over the past ten years, and our experiences have almost all been very positive. It is easy to caricature teachers as being unapologetic leftists or vile perverts who are out to corrupt and destroy our children. But we have found that teachers love our kids and take joy in their success. When we have expressed concern over any part of the curriculum, the teachers have been very eager to show it to us and to ensure we are comfortable with it. In our experience the caricatures have been unfair. We do far better to regard the teachers as our friends and allies.

8. Prepare for Difficulty

I would be lying if I said public schooling has been wine and roses in every moment. There have been a number of difficult situations over the years—teachers who lacked skill or compassion, students who were cruel, ideology that contradicted our own, class trips that we chose to keep our children from attending. But we knew these situations would arise and while our preparation did not prevent them, it did allow us to respond appropriately and to walk our children through them. We have not had one situation yet that was outside God’s ability to use and redeem for good. So be prepared for difficulty, don’t be afraid of it, and don’t allow minor ones to drive you to despair.

9. We Are All Homeschoolers

Inviting the public school system to educate our children has not meant that we abdicate or outsource all responsibility or ultimately responsibility for the kids’ education. We remain involved in what they do, what they learn, the kids they befriend, and all the rest. Wherever or however children are receiving their education, they need their parents to be involved. Their parents have by far the loudest voice into their lives and, by looking to the Bible together, we can explore, explain and interpret anything that comes their way. We are all homeschoolers!

10. Enjoy It

We have few regrets with our decision—no more than we would have had if we had chosen an alternative, I’m sure. We have enjoyed the public schools and believe our kids have been blessed in and through them. If you are going to public school your kids, allow yourself to enjoy it—enjoy the schools, enjoy the teachers, enjoy the kids you’ll get to meet, and even enjoy the challenges. God can use them all.

(Please do note that our experience is our experience. We are who we are and where we are—in a particular context that is different from your own. We did not choose to put our children in public school outside of our own context. Had we lived elsewhere or had some of the particulars of our life been different, we may well have chosen a different course. What I mean to say is while we believe public school has been a good and viable option for us, we are firmly convinced that every family ought to make their own choice based on their unique circumstances.)

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