As my local Charlotte Mason study group makes its way through her 20 Principles, we are up to “Education is . . a discipline . . . ” Habit-training is what we are talking about here. As I revisit this topic, I find myself thinking more about the spiritual than the physical.
Often times in habit-training we seem to be speaking of very mundane issues — cleaning one’s room and bathing and brushing one’s teeth and putting one’s shoes away. On the surface these things don’t seem to have much of a spiritual component. But I think that if we get tied up in practical, everyday things we miss the point.
God is always working in the heart of His people to sanctify them and to bring them closer to Himself. As I told my own children, we need to cooperate in our own sanctification. About a year ago, I sat each of them down and asked them what they wanted to work on in themselves. They are slightly older (currently 10 through 15) so they are able to say that they need to work on things like “pride” and “patience” (that one is a lot like her Mama). But even when we work of the seemingly more trivial issues, it can and perhaps should still be a spiritual exercise. For one thing, whenever we change our habits, we are working on the will as Charlotte Mason speaks of it. We are forcing ourselves not to do the easy, lazy thing but to do what we know we should. Then too there can (and should) be good reasons for the things we are working on. I would go so far as to say if you can’t give your child a good reason why they should work on a given habit, you should probably let it go and turn your attention elsewhere. Brushing one’s teeth, trying a new vegetable, cleaning one’s room — these are all about stewardship, about being wise and responsible with what God has given us. Putting away your shoes so they don’t clutter up the foyer? That’s consideration for your family members who might trip over them.
Above all, habit training is not something we impose on our kids; they should be part of it. We should explain to them what they will be working on and why. And as they do they learn that we all have things we need to work on. If you conquer one bad habit, there is always anther. And that’s really what life on this earth is like for God’s people. Too many of us (and I am guilty of this too) go through life waiting for God to start changing us. I do believe that the work of redemption and sanctification is all God’s, but He graciously allows us to cooperate with Him in it. How much better to do so consciously and intentionally. As Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13; ESV).