r i g h t n o w ? p h o n i c s.
It had been a long phonics lesson. Every word seemed to be just the segue for some diverting Matthias-tic explanation or definition and I had to some degree permitted it. We were reviewing short “e” sounds and had meandered beyond the word “bread”, that Matthias excitedly noted was “just like we read the other day when Jesus fed the too-many people!”; and we had savored the word “steadfast” where he naturally broke out into the scripture song of Lamentations 3:22,23 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning, great is Thy faithfulness, O Lord!” And while the word “dead” wasn’t on the list, something jolted in that head of his–I think it might have been my permissiveness with the former diversions—prompting an all out random diversion: “Are we all going to die?” “Yes, we’ll all die someday” was my extremely short answer, for my determination was not to get side-tracked yet again (though admittedly, one of the reasons I am here, right now, home schooling with him, is for seizing with intention the opportunities that many of these diversions provide). With a grin, a wrinkled nose, a furrowed brow, and a shrug of the shoulders, he recognized and admitted his inadequacy, “I don’t know how.” I encouraged him that God will make us ready on the way and reminded him that right now, his job is to do phonics.
You just told him to do phonics? Yes. I did. Unapologetically. For even phonics can be a lesson in dying, can’t it? Perhaps I didn’t seize the opportunity to explain the theological nuts and bolts of Christian death and resurrection, but I was still teaching it: I was teaching a little one to die: to embrace the seemingly hard way, to die to the urge to do and say and think about whatever I want. And I was teaching him to be resurrected, to live, to force his action, his lisping syllables, and tend-to-stray thoughts to stay cheerfully focused on the command God carved out clearly and especially for His youngest image-bearers: Honor your father and your mother, the first commandment with a promise, that you may live… (Ephesians 6). And if mom is calling you to do phonics, then right now, phonics is the way of life. (:
Teaching little ones to die requires a lot of teacher prep in dying and resurrecting which I’m learning, largely by field experience. I need to hear God’s directing Word and heed it, look hard and long in the guiding eyes of my own Father, at His Word and His Word Made Flesh; when I don’t hear and heed, life smarts with His discipline for my sin, often through my children, my emulating students. Sin brings an emptiness—
I prioritize other gods (usually self) before Him and don’t work and live in a sense of coram Deo—and I taste the emptiness of my vain worthless pursuits and see my children following suit right behind. I have not rightly served, or worshipped, God as God, but rather serve these false priorities or serve God in my own way while belittling the humble ways and means He has directed me to worship Him in His Word—and I taste the emptiness and share its bitter fruit with my children. I use His name in vain because I bear His name and image,“child of God”, but I slander it by living a life grossly misshapened and distorted by sin—and my children and I, with the watching world, who are looking on for an answer to their own void, feel empty. I don’t work diligently at my given calling when He says to (six days)—I feel fruitless, empty while I scold rather than teach my children for lazily neglecting their work. And I don’t remember and rest when He says to–because, I say, justifyingly, “I will remember all the time”–so I don’t take any time, and in particular I neglect this one time lovingly, divinely set apart at creation and redemption, to look back and rest and celebrate deliverance from bondage and invite everyone in my spheres to do the same—I rather choose bondage and its emptiness and use this time in bondage, serving, worshipping other gods carrying God’s children, a stolen sacrifice to pagan altars. I have cursed and mocked God-given authority and taught my children to disregard God’s authority by allowing them to disobey, ignore, and disrespect their parents—I think I am being benevolent and I justify it and may even call it grace–but I am the one being disobedient to my Father, I am the one guilty of the disrespect; the dishonor that comes upon His name in the eyes of my children is rightly mine. I kill with thoughts, with looks, with words, cloaking my murder in a thousand guises—and I feel the depths of hate in sharp words and insults, our bloodless but hate-filled pools of emptiness. I have not regarded with due honor the sanctity of sexuality and holy matrimony, a holy vow to abide in love as one; watching child eyes are filled with tears as they see empty love. I teach my children to be a thief of blessings God lends me, a thief of His glory which I claim as my own—and despite the hoarding of money, time, & glory—I am empty. I am a slanderer of the Truth, and slanderer of others usually by blame-shifting rather than owning my faults–and I feel so empty. I covet. I want and want and want some more, something I wasn’t given, something that isn’t there; I am a gaping unsatisfied hole of discontent of grumble and complaint and why can’t these kids just be grateful?–I feel empty.
And that excruciating empty means something. It wants something. It’s craving something. The Bible has an interesting way of presenting itself: A stumbling block for the wicked, life for the righteous. Foolishness to the wise-in-their-own-eyes, wisdom for those in Christ. Parables to confuse; parables to enlighten the wise in heart. For those who reject Christ, that emptiness drives them in pursuit ad nauseum of the infinitely unsatisfying. For the righteous in Christ, that very emptiness itself is part of God’s blessing—His discipline calling us home to be satisfied, calling us to leave behind the false idols and pig sty dung, calling us to the good mud, the mud on knees on holy ground in homage to Christ, the good mud that even the knees of the self-righteous-clad-in-his-good-enough-morality-elder-son doesn’t know and in his blindness, he can’t give thanks for. A welcoming Father embraces prodigal with open arms of grace in spite of the sty fumes that linger. But he bathes us. Clothes us. Feeds us. We are His children, sons and daughters of the living God. We are starting to smell like it too. We don’t return to sty life (we think: “I can’t believe I used to eat that stuff!”), we’re resurrected to live on thankful knees. We still get dirty (very), but here we know the blessing of cleansing well water (or indoor plumbing as it were) and the bread and wine in His house. And unlike the older brother with slave mentality to the house rules and loving parameters, we are thankful. The Bible doesn’t carry the prodigal parable ad infinitum to tell us how the sin struggle ensues with these two sons. But it comprehensively does. Those who stand in their own righteousness boast in their own grave clothes. And those who receive the righteous covering of Christ to replace their grave clothes ought to wear them. Unrepentant wallowing-in-the-past immorality and slave-mentality ingratitude meet the same fruitless empty end because neither live in the present embracing love and obedience of Son to Father.
I have this quote above my desk, in my window:
It is not the case that God does the initial work of salvation and then stands back and we have to do the rest all by ourselves. But the logic of God’s grace goes deeper than the question imagines. God loves us as he finds us—which is more or less messy & muddy—but the grace which meets us where we are is not content to leave us as we are. The whole New Testament insists that it’s not so much affirmation as transformation, a transformation shaped and energized by Jesus’ death and resurrection and by the work and power of the Spirit. That, after all, is what the New Testament insists on as the meaning of baptism. Learning the Language of Life, Wright
God’s Word is a double-edged sword; a sacrifice tool. Piercing. Dividing. Discerning thoughts and intentions. Exposing. It prepares, cuts, empties, kills. But it doesn’t leave me there… empty. It empties and kills to bring fullness and life. It resurrects, transforms, renews mind, raises, and draws me out of the formless void waters, takes me to Hebrews 4 & 5, to Jesus–able to sympathize with us in our weakness, in every respect tempted, yet without sin—takes me with confidence to draw near to Him for mercy…the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.
The little people in my life are home schooling me. We had hunch that would happen. They are always asking the good questions that drive me to God to ask good questions, too: How do I die? I am so uncertain. But God takes my hands and leads me through the right now. Right now, Rach, you learn to die by teaching phonics.
I’m almost sixteen years beyond writing a decent bibliography, but these authors have fueled and shaped thoughts, though I’m sure they’d pray for more of that on my part, and I’d like to tip my hat to them (which is far easier than finding my book on MLA documentation which is most certainly out of date.) And it’s the nice thing to do because they brought some great things to my attention–albeit some of them 13 years ago–that have been simmering since then as daily reminders in my right now.
Convicting implications, positive and negative, of the Ten Commandments:
Johannes G. Vos The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary
Hebrews and sacrifice language:
Peter Leithart, A House for My Name
Slave versus Son mentality in the Prodigal Parable:
Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God