It’s that time of year again. It’s the time of year when summer slips away and school stands front and center. It’s the time of year when schedules go to ninety from nothing, from staying up late and sleeping in to hearing the alarm go off to get everyone out the door for school at an hour in the summer when I was just shifting sides on my pillow. It’s the time of year that is so jam-packed-full for moms that by noon we’ve answered more texts, run more errands, organized more piles, filled out more forms, attended more meetings, and made more decisions than we have in the previous three months combined. It’s the time of year when my brain hurts and my body tells me that if I hear my alarm go off one more time at such an unholy and unhealthy hour, I will hurt somebody, prayerfully not my children. The funny thing is, I keep seeing commercials and videos of parents leaping around in glee, ecstatic at the fact that their children are going back to school, presumably because it gives them so much more time to themselves to linger by the kitchen sink to drink a cup of coffee.
What planet do these parents live on? And how can I get there? Back to school in this house means an increase of craziness, not a diminishing. And while I am looking forward to the structure and rhythm that school brings, I am already looking forward to the quieter, slow pace of…next summer.
But in the meantime, school starts today, and I want to figure out a way not to just survive the school year but to thrive in the school year. Heck, thrive is a big word. Let’s face it. I would be satisfied with just getting through the school year without any major meltdowns. I’m just going for progress. Yes, that’s the word. I just want to see progress this school year – in myself, my children, and in my home.
So what does progress look like? I began asking myself that question at the end of the school year in May because last year, I didn’t see much thriving or progress in myself. It was a surviving kind of year. The kind of year where we adopted a seventeen month old from China and were learning how to be a family. The kind of year where I added a child to our home school model, so two days a week, my three oldest children attended school on a traditional school campus, two days a week, I homeschooled all three of them here at home, and Fridays were “free.” Free to go on incredible, exploratory field trips and experience first hand about culture, museums, and the wonders of God’s creation, free to take extra lessons and become an expert in another language or a world-famous ice skater or equestrian, or free, like us, to lay on the couch and recover from the previous four days. At the end of the school year, after adding a third child to our home days and a toddler from China who could barely crawl, didn’t know a lick of English, and enjoyed making meal times super fun and enjoyable by gagging and hoarding food in her mouth, I was worn out. Worn. Out. Many of you know how much I love to read, and if this tells you anything, this summer, I think I read one book. My brain couldn’t take anything more than that. I simply rested. And my girls rested too. We didn’t do one math problem, or review any flash cards or phonograms. We all rested. Because we all needed it.
And I had lots of time to think about progress. And this is what I came up with. Progress never occurs without the Word of God in my life applied by the Spirit of God to my life. No Word, no progress. No reading the Word, memorizing the Word, meditating on the Word, understanding the Word, and surrendering to the Word, no progress.
So if I wanted there to be any hope of progress over the next school year, I needed the Word of God in my life. It was that simple.
So this is what I did. Beginning in June, I started to really think through the sin patterns in my life from the past school year. In other words, I tried to really think over the times I lost it – lost patience, lost kindness, lost self-control, lost love – and started grasping for control through controlling anger or fear. As I really thought through specific incidents, I began to recognize certain patterns in myself and in my children.
For instance, during times of the day or times in the school year of transition when life became really overwhelming, like the beginning of the school year or end of the school year, or like the end of the school day when my kids walk through the door to a calm, quiet, clean house and begin to talk, show me papers, ask me to sign things, tell me they’ve signed me up to bring things, and leave of trail of half-eaten apple cores, sticky nutella containers, backpacks, lunch boxes, water bottles, and dirty knee high uniform socks all over the house, I start to stress out. I know I am supposed to enjoy these moments of children overflowing into every part of my calm, quiet, space, and I can hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, “You are going to miss this one day,” but so often, I don’t respond to the chaos, I react. And I always end up regretting my reactions later.
So to work on my responses to seasons of transition I know are coming up in my life, big or small, I memorized and meditated on Psalm 90:1-2, 10-17:
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God…
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!”
When I start to feel anxious about all there is to do at the beginning of school or end of school, when I start to feel like things are spinning out of control and I need to grasp to gain control, I think on the words of Psalm 90, I pray them back to the Lord, and I remember that God is my dwelling place; He is the stability of my times; He has been around before the mountains were born and the world was created, and He will be around long after I am gone. My roots go down deep into Him, and nothing can move me or pluck me out of His Hand, not even four kids descending on a calm, quiet house. And if I am asking Him to help me number my days, to give me a heart of wisdom, to establish the work of my hands, He will do it. What doesn’t get done, doesn’t get done. As one teacher at my daughters’ school said, I am to prepare, but I am not to lean on my preparations; I am to lean on the Lord.
As I continued to reflect, I also realized I can react out of fear, control, and anger with my children when I feel as though I haven’t accomplished in a day what I set out to accomplish or thought I had to accomplish for it to be a successful day. I start measuring myself, my home, and my children by someone else’s standards that define “perfection” to me, and when perfection isn’t attained, I can start to feel like a failure. And when I start to feel like a failure, I can begin to, unknowingly, take it out on my children.
So to help me with that struggle, I memorized and meditated on Ephesians 5:14-21:
“Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
When I start to feel like a failure, particularly at the end of the day when dinner, baths, piano practice, leftover projects and school work, plus my stack of to-do’s that hasn’t even been touched during the day all lies before me, I cans start to sink. And I can start to want to numb. Numb through eating or drinking. Numb through thinking about the Netflix video I want to watch later. Numb through texting or talking to a friend instead of engaging in the reality of the present around me. But Ephesians 5 says don’t sink. Sing. Make melody in your heart to the Lord. Give thanks in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It says don’t numb. Feel. Be Present. Surrender. And be filled. Be filled with the Spirit. So instead of numbing or sinking, I am trying to learn to sing, to put worship music on, music that points my heart and spirit to the Lord, and lean into Him. I am trying to give thanks. Purposefully and specifically for things that have happened during the day instead of all that hasn’t. And it’s amazing how as I turn my voice, my heart usually follows in the same direction.
There are other verses I have memorized and am memorizing – Luke 15:19-24 for learning how to welcome my children home. Proverbs 8:34-36 for learning how to listen to and walk in wisdom. Colossians 3:8-17 for learning how to put on a heart of compassion, kindness, and humility. Romans 13:10-14 for learning how to fight my flesh and fight for love.
None of these verses is a magic formula or wand that I wave or say and then “Poof!”, all of my negativity or controlling fear or anger is gone. But each of these verses is a door that I can choose to open and a path that I can choose to walk down. It is a step-by-step-by-step-by-step relearning of new habits to replace old ones. It is a moment-by-moment choice to stop, and remember, and reconsider life instead of death. Thriving instead of surviving. Progressing instead of regressing.
I won’t always do it perfectly this school year. I won’t always open the door and walk down the path. Sometimes I will plunge headlong off the cliff. But my earnest, sincere, humble prayer is that I will make progress. And by the grace of God, because of the kindness of God, and empowered through the Spirit of God, I know that I will.
So here’s my challenge to you. It’s not too late to start desiring progress this year. Take the next week or two and begin to think about your own sin patterns and the specific situations and seasons of life that trigger reactions instead of responses from you. Then grab your Bible and a stack of index cards, and write at the top of the card exactly what you’re fighting for and what sinful reactions you are fighting against, and then write the verse or verses you want to memorize below.
I punched a hole in the corner of my cards, put them on a ring, and focus on just one verse a day. I write it out in my journal, try to say it from memory a couple of times, and the next day add one more verse to it. It’s amazing how much my mind retains, even at the ancient age of 39!
Maybe you just want to focus on one verse this whole school year. Awesome. One verse of Scripture specifically applied to one reaction of the heart will make a huge and profound difference. Or maybe you want to memorize and meditate on ten.
But whatever you decide to do, do something. Don’t just settle for surviving. Aim for thriving. And as we lean on the grace of God through the Word of God, progress will occur.
“For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My Word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11