As we prepare to begin another school year, we also begin to field numerous questions about our choice to homeschool our kids. Although homeschooling has become much more common in the past decade, many people are still confounded by our choice. We find ourselves in many conversations about the motivations behind our choice and the nitty gritty details of daily life in our homeschool. The conversations very often end up with the inquisitor saying some version of the following:
"Wow...You guys are amazing. You must have a great deal of patience. I am NOT a patient person and could never do it."
The first thing that pops into my mind every single time is: I'M not a patient person either! I'm definitely a "I want patience and I want it NOW" kind of person. It is a very hard truth that I have learned over the last few years. From my earliest childhood I wanted to teach children and until quite recently (when my children grew in number and passed toddlerhood) fancied myself a very patient person.
The reality is that patience truly is a virtue. That means that it is difficult. Not something that we are born with but something that must be cultivated and born of hard work and repeated failures. It is not a fast food virtue. Everyone is patient when the road is smooth and our companions are pleasant. But a person of character is patient even when the road is rough. To say "I am not a patient person" implies that our characters are set in stone; unchangeable. But the fact remains that we do have the ability to control our actions and responses to those we meet everyday. Consider the following:
The working woman who believes she is "not patient" enough to teach her children is patient enough to refrain from screaming at, attacking, or otherwise acting inappropriately toward a chronically irritating boss, co-worker or client. She chooses to control her actions in order to maintain a decent and peaceful working environment (and to avoid being fired or arrested). If she's a Christian, she does it to be a credible witness and primarily, to love others for Jesus' sake. Is it true that nature has robbed her of the same measure of control with her children?
I have recently begun to examine my own use of such phrases. I have been guilty of saying "I'm not a patient person". I said it to my husband within the last week at least twice. What I really mean when I say such a thing is that I have not been in the habit of cultivating the virtue of patience. It is the reason that I will patiently instruct one of my volleyball players when they make a mistake but will issue a biting rebuke to one of my own children for a similar mistake at a different time.
It is a choice I make. It is a rung on the ladder of sanctity. I confess that I have been stuck on that particular rung for quite some time and am only now beginning to take full responsibility for my words and actions. I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me...And patience is no exception.
The first step on my journey to cultivate the virtue of patience is to change my language. "I'm not a patient person" has become: "I struggle with the virtue of patience but I am willing to work at it. I am able to control my behavior through exercise of the will and by the grace of God through prayer and the Sacraments."
The next step is to take positive action. I have committed myself to a more frequent reception of the Sacramental graces of Confession. At the advice of my confessor, I have set aside prayer time to imagine myself as a saint; how would I act? What words would I choose? I have used this image against which to weigh my actions. I can "pretend" to be patient even when I am a blazing inferno inside. It is my prayer that my heart and hands will eventually agree.
The final step is to acknowledge my failure with humility and be ready to begin again every day...every hour...every minute.
Perfection is not a prerequisite of motherhood or homeschooling. If you are just undertaking either journey, you will find that they have the uncomfortable (but highly profitable) affect of highlighting your weaknesses. It is your path to holiness...your refining fire. I am reminded perpetually that I am not strong enough for this demanding vocation. But I have the commission, the desire to make it work, and I have a God of mercy who is infinitely patient with me!