Hobbies, Help, & Homeschooling Discernment

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Lisa Hendey and Danielle Bean on the Faith & Family Podcast. I always look forward to these conversations because I walk away feeling empowered and encouraged. I learn so much from these wise, faithful women. I hope you will, too.

On this particular episode we talked about hobbies and the importance of downtime for moms and for their children. Then we moved on to asking for help and why so many of us moms have such a hard time accepting assistance from others. We also briefly touched upon how what might be helpful to one person – let’s say occasional help with the littles like I’ve recently solicited – might not be the best fit for you.

We ran out of time before I could stress the importance of looking at your own needs and limitations and determining what would help you be the most joyful mom. That’s why I’ve had to ask for help. I was missing out on some of the joy of being a mom. The chaos and exhaustion was leaving me completely depleted. I’d have a good day perhaps (or even a perfect week at the beach), but then I’d be back to feeling overwhelmed.

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Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work

A Catholic friend, who knows I marble some of Charlotte Mason’s philosophies into my homeschooling curriculum and home atmosphere, recently asked me my thoughts on Charlotte Mason as a “Catholic Impossibility” after she came across a negative post on a discussion board about the dangers of using CM. (For the record: This friend was not being combative at all as she also uses Charlotte Mason in her own homeschooling way of life.)

My initial response to her was to defend the ideals of Charlotte Mason, but our email correspondence prompted me to focus on the bigger picture, especially since in the past several months I’ve seen numerous online discussions about how “un-Catholic” everything from women wearing pants is to allowing your children to play with Waldorf dolls.

In the BI (“before Internet”) days, people who wished to be faithful had a scaled down toolbox at their disposal. They might have a spiritual director. A spouse. Their parish priest. A few trusted friends. Church-approved books. The Catechism. The Bible. Quiet prayer. Their own will and conscience.

Enter the Internet.

Sometimes this vast information highway takes me to destinations I wish I’d never known about – places where fear-mongering supersedes building a culture of love, places where people protest absolutely everything often with comments laced in vitriol. It’s a place where people have no filter. Stones are cast freely, and people are left wounded. A vortex where we waste so much time quibbling over things that are not going to change the world, edify, protect the sanctity of life, or do anything really worthwhile at all.

Holier-than-thous turn their nose up at anyone who does things differently than they do. People take the liberty to call themselves “Anonymous” while hurling hate toward someone else (none of us is anonymous to God). It’s a place where we easily become lawyers and judges when we’re called to be witnesses to Christ’s love. It’s a place that makes us feel better and gives us a false sense of humility because we can always find something wrong with someone else.

I may be a sinner, but that guy over there is far worse.

She may be holy because of this, but my goodness, she wears pants and owns a prenatal yoga DVD [never mind that contains absolutely no Eastern spirituality underpinnings and focuses solely on physical fitness]. Oh, and she let her 13-year-old read Harry Potter. [Insert dramatic shudder here.]

Thank you, God, for allowing me to see the light.

Why is it that we think our light will beam a whole lot brighter if we snuff out others’?

I’ve written about this before, but so many heated debates seem to hinge on semantics. Maybe if I said I start my morning with stretching instead of using a DVD that just happened to slap on the label yoga because that’s the cool thing to do (just like reading and/or seeing and talking about Eat Pray Love is), no one would question my sincerity of faith. Maybe I should call that flat piece of foam referred to as a “yoga mat” by the fitness store I purchased it at an exercise mat just to be safe. Maybe if we called the Charlotte Mason method “nature and literature study,” no one would label it as a “Catholic impossibility.” Maybe if we were very, very clear that we only relied on fairies to engage our children’s imaginations and bought beeswax crayons because they are quality art supplies rather than showing any loyalty to the Waldorf principles, we would not be judged.

Our fallen human nature means we can botch up or contaminate anything: sex, food, clothing choices. Anything’s game. But I also believe we can baptize certain practices from the secular world and other cultures and shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss anything that isn’t blatantly Christian/Catholic. Christ and his redeeming cross means we can find goodness in a lot of more secular things. I have no desire to live in a Catholic bubble. I pray I can find the Truth (or defend it, if and when necessary) at whatever intellectual or physical destination I find myself.

My ability to recognize the Truth, in fact, has not come just from reading the Bible or praying the Rosary. There have been many secular sources that have helped shape me into a better thinker, person, and Christian. For example, I took a philosophy course in college. I read great works by philosophers who were Christian as well as some who were atheists. The content was not as important as how the argument was formulated. That class didn’t teach me what to think; it helped teach me how to think.

Furthermore, the intention behind our actions and decisions is very important, and the Internet is lousy at revealing intention, so we should be careful to judge too harshly (or at all). It’s hard to discern intention in real life, too. But – get ready for a big cliche – God knows our hearts, and that’s what we have to focus on instead of searching for an official Church-ruling on every single decision we have to make in daily life.

It might be easier if we could ditch our own personal moral compass and just rely on someone who could just tell us what’s right, but let’s remember Christ spoke in parables. His didactics were not always straightforward. He was very clear on some things, but we’re left to muddle through the rest and muddle we do.

The fact of the matter is the Church is not perfectly clear on many of these controversial topics either. I’m not sure some of these topics are even controversial (although there is a Vatican document warning against New Age practices). In Her Wisdom, the Church gives us guidelines and then releases us to rely on our own sensibilities to judge whether a certain action is in line with Church teaching.

I’m not going to live in a sheltered world and be afraid that the Internet Inquisition is going to condemn me for mentioning I wear skirts and pants, endorse Charlotte Mason, hold a plank in hopes that I’ll firm up my core, or play fairies with my girls. (Besides, if you search the Internet long enough, you’ll find some Christian somewhere who thinks virtually everything is culpable.) I stumble and lack virtue all of the time, but it’s not because I read “living books” to my children and ask them to narrate the stories back to me. It’s not because we take to the outdoors for an afternoon of nature study and bask in God’s miraculous creation. It’s not because I don’t don a skirt every day.

However, if anyone personally finds that stretching her limbs while taking deep breaths starts to make her want to chant and rely on good karma to get her through the day instead of turning to Christ, or if someone starts to believe fairies are real spirits to pay homage to after building a fairy hut in her backyard with her children, then, by all means, she should stop what she’s doing, put on a skirt, and go read Summa Theologica.

I’m sorry to be so snarky. I know the devil is sneaky. However, most devout, practicing Christians are well-equipped to discern what lifestyle choices are a good fit for their family and will not threaten to come between them and their faith. We have to trust the discernment process and our decisions, keep praying, and then tune out the naysayers, if necessary. We do not have to defend all or any of our decisions. We do not have to answer to anyone but God.

When I’m faced with discerning something, I try to make a prudential decision by taking my concerns to God, a trusted spiritual director, mom mentors I respect and admire (especially my own mom or my 89-year-old, wise Nana), and my spouse. There are certain moral absolutes, but there’s a lot of gray area, too. When I’m stuck in a gray area, I’ve learned to remember the advice of my grade school teachers and to “keep my eyes on my own work.” I try to tune out all the opinions and condemnations of others so all the noise isn’t drowning out the one voice that really matters. I pray and focus on my personal conscience and following the most important law of all – the law of love. While I’m not suggesting we should never correct our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can easily find ourselves becoming too much like the Pharisees if we’re overly concerned with rules and regulations and what everyone else is doing instead of looking inward at our own lives.

I usually know when I’ve made a good decision. When my life is aligned with God’s will for me – even when things get tough – I feel an overwhelming sense of peace. And that peace outweighs all the doubts that might trickle into my heart lest I start spending too much time online reading the Gospel of Anonymous.
*As always, I welcome charitable discourse, but please don’t expect me to defend my beliefs. I have a family to nurture and a soul that needs quiet prayer time more than debate.
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