Sometimes by the time Christmas approaches, I feel like I’ve squeezed out every possible ounce of meaning from the season.
We’ve done plenty of family traditions, like putting up the tree and making Christmas cookies. We’ve listened to Christmas carols and reveled in the peace of Silent Night and the reverence of O Holy Night. We’ve served together to raise money for the impoverished of the world. We’ve talked about the importance of giving, and gone out to purchase gifts for family members. We’ve lit our Advent candles each Sunday of Advent, put up our Jesse tree ornaments, and done a unit study on God’s plan for Christmas from the beginning of time.
We’re homeschoolers after all, ya know. And doing kind of comes with the territory.
Interestingly, it is not usually in all of the hustle and bustle and homeschool-y efforts to “make the most of the season” that I am able to find meaning anew in this most precious, most beautiful of holidays. No, the revelations of Christmas come upon me, most often, in the quiet times - devotions, journaling, snuggling my children. They come in the peace, the silence, the...being. It is a reminder that my homeschool-oriented "doing" - my non-stop, driving efforts to "do" the best for my children and family, can be the very thing that impedes my ability to see what really matters.
And in one of those moments this year, I found Christmas significance afresh. And it had everything to do with homeschooling.
I struggle, like many a homeschool parent, to push down the incessant and insidious voice that hisses, "You're not doing enough." The responsibility to make sure my children are well educated. The goal that they understand, embrace, and live out their faith. The obligation to ensure that they have the living skills to adequately take care of themselves and their families. The plan that they have opportunities to maximize their talents and abilities as well as the self-discipline to hone them into excellence. The expectation that they demonstrate character in their daily lives and interaction with others. The job to provide them with excellent nutrition and help them live a healthy lifestyle. The importance of seeing to their emotional needs and preparing them for relating well with others.
The list goes on and on, as does the voice. My head spins, my heart stutters, and my soul becomes burdened with self-imposed responsibilities that choke the joy out of these numbered moments. Sometimes it takes something like Christmas to replace the voice with the truth.
This year it came from an unexpected part of the Christmas story - Mary, the mother of Jesus. I'm not sure how the realization escaped me before, but for the first time I saw something about Christmas that has connected me to the meaning of the season in a new and profound way:
Of course the Bible doesn't call it that specifically, but that is, at least to some degree, what she did. Scripture tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52), and it is likely that he was able to read (Luke 4:16-30, John 8:6, John 7:15). Jewish law (Deuteronomy 6, 11, 32) makes clear that parents were charged with the responsibility of teaching their children God's commandments and ways. The role of the family in education is indicated in Proverbs as well (3, 22). Although Jesus may have received some of his education from the Jewish synagogue, the lack of formality of most of his education is indicated by the Jews' response to Jesus' teaching in John 7:15 - "The Jews there were amazed and asked, 'How did this man get such learning without having been taught?'". There is no doubt that Mary and Joseph had significant influence over his educational, relational, emotional, and spiritual development. What is homeschooling, if not preparing children physically, emotionally, educationally, vocationally and spiritually for their roles in the future?
Just think about that for a moment...Mary was a homeschool mama to the Son of God.
And I think the pressure on me is bad.
Did she stress out about it? Did she worry that Joseph wasn't spending enough time teaching him the carpentry (or stone-cutting, as many scholars believe it might have been) trade? Did she feel completely inadequate to be responsible for inculcating spiritual values into the Messiah? Did she ever say the first-century equivalent of, "I can't do this anymore - they're going to public school!"? Did she wonder how she could possibly accomplish it - preparing the One who would prepare her way to heaven?
I wonder. And I am encouraged.
Mary, in all of her human frailty, homeschooled the Son of God. She wasn't perfect, but, with God's help, she adequately prepared the Savior of the world. And I'll bet she did it without stressing about test scores, getting Jesus signed up for the right Jewish extra-curricular activities, or planning carefully thought out unit studies on systematic theology.
Makes me feel a little better about my job of just bringing up two fully human Capuanos.
It is both humbling and freeing to know that the woman responsible for bringing us Christmas was in the trenches, just like me. That in spite of her failure and insecurities and inadequacies, she accomplished the greatest homeschooling feat of mankind - preparing the Messiah to be the Savior of the world.
So this season, when the accusing voice condemns, I will rest in the peace of Mary. In the knowledge that, with little education, fewer resources, no modern conveniences, no iPads, no homeschool conventions, no co-ops, no printable curriculum, no libraries, not even running water or indoor electricity - Mary successfully homeschooled the Son of God. She did it, and she did it well, with nothing but God's grace.
In this season - in this heart - of hurried, harried "must-do"s...
this is peace.
Maybe, just maybe, the gift of Christmas we can find as homeschoolers is to cease our focus on doing and simply accept grace.
If it was sufficient for preparing the divine, surely it will be enough for preparing mine.