Breaking the Proverbial Box

Have you ever noticed how in Sunday morning church services people tend to sit in the same place? One by one we file in and make a beeline to our pew or our row. Every once in a while we might get adventurous and try a row or two in front of or behind our customary one, but for the most part as Christians, and really just as people in general, we are most comfortable with what we know; we are creatures of habit and routine. In the last several years God has been challenging my comfort zones and routines. I believe He calls us to step outside the “box” of our experience and change our thinking about life in general.

I recently read a book titled The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith, and I am now in the process of completing The Good and Beautiful Life by the same author. These books help readers take a hard look at what we believe about God and about how we are to live our lives, teaching us that we are people of narratives, or stories. We think and talk in stories. For example, if growing up someone had a father who was angry and mean, that person may picture God as an angry God waiting for them to mess up so He can punish them. They may harbor an attitude of just waiting for lightning to strike if they do something wrong.

In The Good and Beautiful God, Smith challenges his readers to go to God’s Word and check the scriptures to see if the “story” they are listening to really depicts who God is or if it is simply something that past experience—or even a lesson from a parent, a teacher, or a preacher—has brought them to believe.

When we examine and challenge our untrue stories about God and about ourselves, it changes the way we view God; it also opens up a whole new way to live. I once saw an object lesson that drove home this point. First, we were shown an old cardboard box with a candle inside, closed up tight, which represented the times we try to keep God in a nice little neat package with which we are comfortable. As a result, all we see is this bound-up box, which represents a bound-up life. Next, holes were torn in the sides and top of the box, representing our lives’ imperfections and the struggles we have walked through with God. Finally, the candle in the box was lit, and because the box was torn, the beautiful light shone from within and illuminated the room.

A main point of that lesson is that we as Christians are not bound by the expectations of others or even our expectations of ourselves. It is in the struggles, in the hard times, in the day-by-day and in the transparency of who we really are–not in some made-up version of perfection–that God’s light shines through us and transforms us into joyful people, even in work, and into loving people, even in busyness. That light does not stop after it changes our lives; it reaches to anyone with whom we come in contact. It is a life lived in the moment, where we actually experience where we are right now and what God has in store for us, as opposed to constantly focusing our attention on the next upcoming event. It is walking outside and realizing that the clouds look like a painting and stopping for a moment in gratitude for something so beautiful. It is living in such a way as to be present in the moment and expressing gratitude to the Lord for His provision and blessings in our lives.

This whole putting-God-in-a-box mentality affects many areas of our lives, not just our spiritual walks. I would venture to say that many of us try to package our home school in a nice, neat little box too. We tend to take our past experiences, whatever they are–public school, private education, a book we have read, or something someone told us as fact—and we try to fit our schedules and our schools into that box.

When we first started homeschooling, I set up our school just like a public school. We started at a certain time, and we did every subject at a set time, keeping a rigid schedule. We were bound to our home during public school hours, and I believe I just about “worksheeted” my kiddos to death. Trust me when I say we had pure frustration throughout our household, which caused me to begin to question whether I was even capable of doing this home schooling thing because it just was not working.

Little by little through the years, God began to open my eyes to the world out there. The lid of the box was opened, and I realized that just about every step we take in a day is a learning experience. Driving down the road, if my boys saw a combine harvester, we began to talk about what a combine is, which led to discussions about farming and different crops. They will probably remember that discussion much longer than if they had read a little story about it and answered multiple-choice questions for a good grade.

This realization of mine gave way to the excitement about the freedom and flexibility we have as home schoolers. I mean, really, pretty much the sky is not even the limit! I began gearing our schooling more toward the individual needs of each of my children. I began to pray that God would fill me with creative ways to teach my kids—ways that did not even look like “school” to them. There are so many creative and fun ways to teach that do not fit the traditional mold.

A sweet friend of mine decided to pull her son out of public school around the first grade. He was constantly getting into trouble. He had difficulty paying attention and had begun to ask her questions like, “Am I a bad boy?” So she withdrew him from the school and began to homeschool him. She quickly realized that he had difficulty reading and eventually found out that he was dyslexic. It was an incredible struggle for her to get him to read anything. She worked and worked to get him to do his schoolwork, with very little success.

Then . . . she began to think outside the box and try new things. One idea she had was to plan elaborate, long treasure hunts. Her son loved a great adventure, and as far as he knew, these treasure hunts had nothing to do with school; they were play. She did not simply write a few clues on some pieces of paper. She spent a great deal of time creating intricate treasure hunts that helped her son develop his reading skills to a much greater extent than if she had tried to sit down with him and “do reading.” He is a high school student now and achieving great success academically. He no longer sees himself as a “bad boy.”

Looking at life this way is definitely a learning process that continues for the rest of our lives, a decision to venture outside the norm, to open our eyes to new possibilities and opportunities to instill in our children a love of learning and a love of life instead of surrendering ourselves to a routine or a requirement that frustrates even the best of us. With each day there is a new chance to start over, a new day to enjoy and embrace whatever God has in store for us at that particular time, on that particular day. My hope is that at the end of my life there will be no box at all but instead I will have learned to embrace life in the freedom that God intends and the faith in the One who created me and has my future anyway.