As I work my way through Charlotte Mason’s fifth book, Formation of Character, I have run across a couple of quotes addressing our children’s religious training. I think this is something we Christian, homeschooling parents stress about a lot. There seems to be a lot of concern to find the right system, whether it be a curriculum or a way we run our families, that will ensure that our kids hold to our faith. Of course, this is understandable since nothing is more important than their salvation. On the other hand, it is not something we can control though we can do a lot to give them every advantage in that direction.
Here are a couple of things Charlotte suggests. First, that we give them the right picture of God:
“It has often been remarked and discussed that the Holy Scriptures do not in any way set forth our first fathers and other men favoured by God as models of virtue. They also are men, various in character, with many deficiencies and failings, but there is one special quality in which men after God’s own heart may not be wanting — it is the unshaken belief that God hears and cares for them and theirs.” (p. 223)
It is not a lack of sin which characterizes God’s people, not even a lack of really serious, grievous sins (like adultery and murder). It is an understanding of who God is, not in a technical, theological way, but rather a conviction of God’s constant, loving presence.
Now I am not from a particularly touchy-feely kind of church (quite the opposite). And I know that our feelings are fallen too and can lead us astray quite easily. I would not feel confident about the salvation of someone who claims to feel God with them and yet seems to have an unbiblical understanding of who He is and of their own sin. But I still think this should be our goal for our children, not that they be perfectly obedient, not that they be sinless, not that they be able to recite catechisms or to spout off all the right theological truths, but that they know God as He really is.
So how do we help them towards that goal? Charlotte offers one suggestion:
” . . . for it is probably true that the teaching of the New Testament, not duly grounded upon the Old, fails to result in such thought of God — wide, all-embracing, all-permeating — as David, for example, gives constant expression to in the Psalms.” (p. 225)
Of course as someone who studied biblical Hebrew and sings the Psalms in worship, I am not unbiased, but I love this quote. It reminds us that there is so much we can learn about who God is from His dealings with His people in the Old Testament. And it also highlights the importance of the Psalms as an expression of His people’s faith and an example to us of how to deal with our own troubles.
There are a lot of books out there on how to train one’s children. I tend to feel about them much like I felt about all the books on how to get one’s baby to sleep through the night. That is, I like bits and pieces of what they say but none seems to entirely capture the approach I want to take. While I am not ready to put an entire child-training philosophy in words, I feel that somewhere in these stray comments of Charlotte’s is the seed of what I want for my kids. Obedience to God is good and it is to be desired, both for ourselves and our children, but it is not in itself our goal. And many of the Christian child-rearing books focus on reaching your child’s heart which is also a good thing, but again the main focus seems to be a little off for me. Yes, we need to see our sin and need of God, but I would rather have a main focus that is on looking at God Himself, rather than on turning inward to our own hearts. How that works out practically, I have no idea.