by Katie Julius
One of my most vivid memories as a child during Christmas time was the advent wreath – a beautiful lush evergreen wreath adorned with three purple, one pink, and one white candle. We had a large one at the front of the church sanctuary that was lit each Sunday of Advent by a family from the congregation as they read Scripture and a short liturgy about that week’s candle. We also had our own at home that us siblings took turns lighting before dinner.
This is a tradition I have carried into my family today (though I have to admit there are some years the candles don’t all get lit when they’re supposed to). Traditions are important; but it’s not the tradition itself that is important. Rather, it’s what the tradition celebrates or represents.
Advent is a time of anticipation for the arrival of the Messiah. There are countless different devotion guides and readings that help us focus on this in the midst of the busy season. Each year, the Lord teaches me something a bit different through these readings our family does.
While we’ve been homeschooling for seven years now, this year has been particularly challenging. I’m sure learning to manage pre-teen hormones (both parent and child) is part of it, along with a more challenging curriculum, busier schedules, important activities, and more. To be quite transparent, things have felt pretty hopeless for me these past few months as nothing seems to be effective in working through these struggles.
As I sat in the pew of our beautiful, seasonally decorated sanctuary listening to the sermon on “hope” the first week of Advent, I realized that this season of Advent was going to be about more than just the celebration of Christ’s birth for me. God had some things to share with me about homeschooling and parenting as we begin this transition into a new season of life with a pre-teen/teenager. In conversations with other homeschool moms, it became apparent that I’m not the only one going through some of these struggles (though it certainly feels that way, doesn’t it?). I wanted to take the opportunity to share what I’ve been learning this advent season, as an encouragement to you – whether you have preschoolers, college students, or anywhere in between.
I mentioned earlier that with all of the challenges our family has faced this fall, in particular, being a successful homeschool mom (and frankly, just a mom in general) has felt so far out of reach. It has felt hopeless. The Jewish people may have been feeling pretty hopeless, too, as they had been waiting centuries for the arrival of the promised Messiah.
David must have been experiencing hopelessness, too, as he penned Psalm 66, because in verse 6, he writes, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” I would encourage you to read the entire chapter as a reminder of God’s steadfastness and what a mighty fortress and rock He is. Our hope is from God alone. We can’t do it on our own. It is only in His strength that we can be successful at anything – parenting and homeschooling included.
Peace is one of those things that has a lot of different meanings. The peace that we learn about during the Advent season isn’t the calm, serene, quiet peace that many people might think of. As homeschool parents, we all yearn for those peacefully quiet moments. However, this is the peace that, again, comes only from God. It is a “peace which surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7, NIV)
It may not be very peaceful in my home, and I constantly worry about how my daughter will “turn out.” This is particularly true as I start looking to the next few years – junior high next year and then high school – where it really starts to “matter.” With a struggling learner, it’s so easy to worry if they’ll be able to learn what they need to in order to be a productive, functioning member of society.
In this Advent season, God has reminded me that while her education is my responsibility, the outcome is not. God is in control. He knows when we sit and when we rise (Psalm 139). He knows the very number of hairs on our head (Luke 12). Our kids are entrusted to us here on earth, but ultimately, they are His. And though it might be hard to fathom, He cares for them even more than we do. As parents, we need to not worry and stress quite so much and trust that God has a perfect plan for their lives, in spite of us. Then, we need to have peace that comes from knowing the Creator of the universe cares, not only about us, but our children and their future.
While we haven’t reached the third (or fourth) week of Advent yet, this is one the Lord has really been challenging me on. Being joyful does not mean that you’re happy. Being joy-filled has to do with joy that only God can give (are you noticing a theme here?). It’s not a feeling based on our circumstances.
When I was in junior high, my youth leader was a woman in her early 20s. She was going to community college, dating the guy she would eventually marry, and working in ministry at our church. Then, she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Treatment gave her another five years before she joined her Savior in heaven. What makes her story remarkable is the joy that she exuded, despite her circumstances. It was rather fitting that we were studying (and memorizing) the book of Philppians at the time – a book written about joy while Paul was in prison.
Our circumstances may be pretty crummy right now. It might not be cancer or imprisonment. Maybe it’s a broken relationship that’s causing a lot of strain. Maybe it’s financial stress due to a job loss. Maybe it’s an unexpected change of major life plans. Maybe it’s that homeschooling and parenting are just plain hard right now. Choose joy.
In the final chapter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4, ESV). Not once, but twice, Paul tells them to rejoice. Not at their circumstances or the struggles they are facing, but in the Lord.
Recently, my daughter and I were having a conversation. I don’t remember how it started or what we were talking about, but we got on the topic of love. I remember telling her that even if I was frustrated or it didn’t seem like I liked her decisions or attitude, I still loved her. She looked at me kind of perplexed. I explained that love is more than a feeling, because there are days where it may not feel like you love someone, even though you really do. I shared with her that even when we are in an all-too-frequent argument or she has very loudly expressed that she thinks I’m mean or horrible through a slammed door, I still love her and care about her.
Even in our sinful, fallen world, we, as parents, get but a small glimpse of the love God has for us, as His children. We may struggle, and fail, and flounder, and fall flat on our face – many times a day. We may lose our patience or temper. We may say something out of anger or hurt. We may feel like awful screw-ups who just can’t get it right, no matter how many different ways or times that we try. But none of that changes God’s love for us. “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NKJV)
May the hope we have in Jesus bring us peace and joy as we experience the unconditional love of God this Advent season, and all year long.