I am, I can, I ought, I will.
The motto of Charlotte Mason’s PNEU schools helped students and teachers focus on their own capabilities and responsibilities. This is not a self-help motto though. Behind these words lies an understanding of God at work in me and through me to make this possible.
Because of God, I am.
With God’s help, I can.
For God’s glory, I ought.
By God’s grace, I will.
As homeschool parents, we often feel the weight of responsibility and inadequacy. How can we possibly nurture, and teach, and civilize these tiny humans so that they reach all the potential God gave them? Where do we find the courage to keep trying, day after day? With God’s help, I can.
Homeschooling is a ministry to our families. For some of us, it will be a lifelong ministry. For others, it will be a season of ministry. We can’t know in advance which it will be, either. God has His own plans for us and for our families. But as long as God calls us to this ministry, He equips us for it. It takes courage for us to recognize our weakness and still believe that God can work in and through us to accomplish His purposes. In Second Timothy, Paul encouraged Timothy to rekindle his faith, to renew his enthusiasm that came from God: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7 KJV) Evidently Timothy had become discouraged and disheartened, brought to tears by his work. That’s relatable to homeschool moms.
Paul says that God did not give us a spirit of fear. We all feel fear at times. That spirit of fear tells us that we aren’t capable, that we are failing. It points out every imperfection, real or imaginary. The spirit of fear magnifies every setback. It makes us feel like our low points will last forever. But that spirit is not from God. God has not given us a spirit of fear. God has given us a Spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
If you have God’s Spirit, you have the power you need to do the work that God has given you to do. It is not your own power; it is the power of the Holy Spirit in you. You do not know all that you need to know. You can’t do this in your own strength. But once you agree to begin and to do the best that you can, you have Divine help. In her first volume, Home Education, Charlotte says, “. . . we do not always make enough of the fact that Divine grace is exerted on the lines of enlightened human effort; that the parent, for instance, who takes the trouble to understand what he is about in educating his child, deserves, and assuredly gets, support from above; . . .” (V1, p. 104) Keep learning, so that when the need arises you are equipped to at least recognize the problem you’re facing and have some idea where to go for help. Keep praying and listening to God, so that you can follow where He is leading you. But trust that God has given you and will continue to give you the power you need to do the work that he’s given you to do.
God’s spirit teaches us to love: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. In our own strength, we cannot love God or our neighbor, but Paul reminded Timothy that we have a Spirit of love, helping us to love when we cannot. We need that help to love God when we can’t understand his purposes or feel his presence. We need that help when we try to love these people in our home who thwart our plans and show us the aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to see. In her fourth volume, Ourselves, Charlotte says that “Love, and the service of love, are the only things that count.” (V4, Pt 2, p. 154) All our accomplishments don’t really matter unless they are done in love and for love. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (I Corinthians 13:3) Our relationships with our children and our spouse, our relationships with the people and the world around us, our relationship with God, and their relationship with God matter more than what we can do. When the schedule is shot and our expectations are crumbling, we have to stop and ask God to help us love the people in front of us.
Until I became a mom, I did not question that I had a “sound mind.” Now that I have five kids and have had four teenagers, I know that I do not have a sound mind. “Sound mind” in Paul’s encouragement to Timothy is rendered differently by different translators because there’s not a good English equivalent. The Amplified Bible says “sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].” Paul says that God has given us a Spirit that enables us to have this calm, well-balanced mind and self-control. So when we are out of balance, out of calm, out of control, that too is not from God. Rather than pressing on in the midst of our chaos, that’s a signal to stop and pray and look for what God wants us to do and be in that moment. This can be terribly humbling. Our own judgment gets clouded by emotions and circumstances. Our own discipline gets distracted by the crises of the moment or waylaid by our health or lack of rest. God’s Spirit gives us unclouded judgment and focused discipline when we acknowledge our own need and wait for Him.
All believers in Christ have this Spirit “of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”, but we must accept this help; we must ask for it and look for it and recognize our need for it. In Ourselves, Charlotte Mason reminds us, “Help comes to those who endeavor and who ask.” (V4, Pt 2, p. 135) It’s not enough to endeavor without asking, and it’s not enough to ask without making any effort. When we fall down, we ask for help and get back up and try again. Jesus told the disciples, when they had tried and failed, “’This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’” (Mark 9:29 ESV) When our situation seems hopeless, when a problem seems intractable, prayer is our first and best resort. In fact, it’s best if we resort to prayer before we reach an impasse. “Pray without ceasing.” Pray first, pray last, pray in celebration and in grief, in success and in failure.
In Ourselves, Charlotte Mason describes the different types of courage each person needs to draw upon. The courage of our capacity is “the courage which assures us that we can do the particular work which comes in our way, and will not lend an ear to the craven fear which reminds us of failures in the past and unfitness in the present.” (Ourselves Book I p. 117) The courage of our capacity tells us that we have God’s Spirit within us, helping us all the time. The courage of our capacity reminds us to go to God, believing that he will give us His Spirit of power and love and a sound mind.
Paul tells the Corinthians, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
Your external qualifications are not important. Your sense of your skill as a teacher is not important. Your background, your monetary resources, your academic achievements don’t affect this. God calls whom He calls, and He equips us for the work He gives us, so that when we boast, we can only boast in the Lord.
Face each day with Joshua’s admonition: (Joshua 1:9) “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”