Thursday, August 7, 2008

Peace & Prosperity

Aren't the two big P's--peace and prosperity--a universal yearning? We long for, dream for, and pursue them. Our drive for them motivates many of our decisions, either consciously or subconsciously.

Lately I've been studying the text of a "lowly" sheepherder, Amos, who was given a message to deliver to a group of his countrymen--members of a nation's upper class who were enjoying peace and prosperity, but also incurring the wrath of God. 

Their sin? The two P's had caused (or allowed?) them to become selfish, materialistic, self-centered, and indifferent toward God. They ignored the needs of those less fortunate, congratulated THEMSELVES on achieving prosperity, and, while keeping their religious rituals and making the obligatory sacrifices and offerings to the Lord, actually worshiped the stars and planets in the heavens. They were so awed by the constancy and orderliness of the heavens that they worshiped nature rather than nature's Creator.  

And the message?  "Seek the Lord, that you may live.  Or He will break forth like a fire...and it will consume with none to quench it."

(How's that for a warm fuzzy delivery?  It's kinda, well, long on warm and short on fuzzy!  I appreciate God's directness, though...)

Americans typically enjoy a higher level of the two P's than citizens of many other countries, but right now we have a lot of issues challenging our peace and prosperity: terrorism and war, environmental concerns, health and disease issues, skyrocketing fuel prices, a new leader to elect, etc.--so many issues about which we have various perspectives and strong opinions. Is it possible that we can keep our peace in the midst of all these big, unanswered questions? And if so, how? Is it possible that an ancient message to an ancient society can be useful to us today?

Our family has undergone some training in the tactic I discovered in Amos' message, and it wasn't as painful as it sounds. Our training began several years ago, as we approached the task of choosing a form of education for our children.  

At the time, my husband's job required travel to cities several hours away, where he would stay during the week.  If we were not tied down with activities at home, our children and I could travel and stay with him.  His physical presence in our family provided stability (and fun!--he's the silly parent!), and thus peace, and thus we were motivated to consider homeschooling. In our state, home educating is legal and, except that the public schools would prefer to have more students so as to reap more financial benefits, it's basically free of hassles from Big Brother. 

Home educating also has some nice perks, and we enjoyed our experience for most of a semester before the Lord stepped in and began to actively participate in our decision. I'll never forget how He inserted Himself. It was mid-week one December morning, and we were all at a motel wherever my husband was working. I woke up from a terrible, disgusting dream the likes of which I've only ever had that one time, and it disturbed me so intensely that the only thing on my mind as I awoke was to pray and ask the Lord to help me understand what it meant. And as soon as I prayed, the meaning became clear: While it was true that we were having fun in school, and our son was making good academic progress, he needed input--education--from someone outside of me.

Notice that we were never "for" or "against" homeschooling--it just fit our preferences, kept our peace. Many home educators are intense advocates of the cause (some with good reason), but we were not so determined. We expected that there were pros and cons to each form of education (public, private, or home), and that we'd just have to find effective ways to deal with whichever set we got. This was our reasoning, and it was loose enough that it left us open to Divine direction. 

So, following God's intervention, we enrolled our son in public school for the rest of the school year. Since the other kids had been in class together the first semester, he was the "new" kid, but he had a wonderful teacher who supported him well. He adjusted fine, learned a few things about socializing, flexibility, and waiting his turn that he would never have been able to learn at home, and enjoyed his time in public school.

I enjoyed the time less. I felt forced to stay at home and deal with issues as a single parent when my husband was gone, and there seemed to be so many things about walking with the Lord and practical daily living that I was responsible to teach my children, but didn't feel empowered to teach. I also felt the pressure of another issue: It was important to provide a stable structure; therefore, we had to choose a form of education and stick with it, didn't we? But I felt confused about what the Lord wanted, and why. I wondered and whined a lot during this time, but sometimes I did actually pray about these things. And at some point the Lord brought a video about homeschooling across my path. It provided ideas and advice for many aspects of home educating, but the most valuable advice I gleaned was from the section on preventing burn-out: "Don't commit to homeschool for your child's entire school career; rather, commit to one year at a time." Aha!

For us, that translated into "Seek the Lord--pray--about it each year!" Wow!--I felt "set free" from my confusion! We implemented the advice immediately, and have been so obviously blessed! The Lord directed us to homeschool for each of the next three years, and then led us to enroll the children in public school for a year. Through each year, the greatest blessing of all was the security, KNOWING that whether the days went smoothly or were full of challenges (remember, all forms of educating have their pros AND cons, and although we were blessed, homeschooling is not without its challenges), we were in the place God said was best for us. 

Several issues in the last year of homeschooling made it very challenging, and when I found out a break was coming I couldn't help but dwell on it and fantasize a few expectations--time to catch up on several years of deep cleaning and organizing, exercising, scrapbooking, quilting, reading, and writing, plus time for nice, quiet hot soaks every afternoon--ahhh...  I was looking forward to so much...peace!  What I found, though, was continued confirmation of a concept C.S. Lewis shared in The Silver Chair: "You'll notice that although [the Lord] tells us what to do, He doesn't tell us how things will work out." Quiet time and hot soaks?! Ha!

Besides the support our children needed as they faced several challenges in adjusting to their new setting and routine, I spent the first half of the school year on crutches.  I got rid of those torture sticks just in time to spend the other half of the year running back and forth to hospitals, meetings, and whatnot for a family member who became very ill.  In late winter I DID get to deep clean and rearrange my house--well, most of it--since the result of illness was that the family member can no longer live alone.  We welcomed her into our family, rearranging everything to make room. 

So my "sabbatical" from teaching definitely did not go according to MY plans! And yet, we could see God's hand all over it.  The surprising adventure was not without treasure.  However, what I really liked most about it was the security I felt through all the ups and downs--the assurance I could have that no matter what happened, the Lord would be WITH us, helping us, with very capable, wise help indeed. And my faith in this idea was confirmed in our lives, as provision for our childrens' education and the ordering of my days were obviously, absolutely, amazingly planned and implemented!  My peace was not in bubble baths; rather, it was in the midst of big unknowns, and things I never thought I would or could--or wanted to--do. 

WE really have very little idea what-all our children need to learn and be prepared for (because the Lord has not made us privy to His plans for their future).  But He does.  As it is with our children, so it is with all things.  "It is to the glory of God to hide a matter, and the glory of man to seek it out."

The other day I received a forwarded email with the subject line:  "I don't know what the future holds..." It was a letter in which the author was disturbed by a comment from a presidential candidate, about how America is no longer a Christian nation, but rather a melting pot of religions. The writer encouraged American Christians to take action--to vote against the candidate, so as to prove to him that we ARE still a Christian nation. The issue was interesting to me because as a home educator responsible for instilling patriotism in my children, I have struggled with what I perceive as the ungodly state of our nation (which for a long time I blamed on our form of government).  Yearning for peace with this issue, I struggled and researched until I found resolution (may share more on that in another blog). In so doing, I have to disagree with the author's stance on some things.  However, I am in complete agreement that we do not know what the future holds!

As Americans grapple with the big issues threatening our peace and prosperity, let us begin by disillusioning ourselves: We DON'T know what the future holds; and we HAVE experienced a long period of peace and prosperity that seems to have allowed us to become self-centered, materialistic, and indifferent; and we ARE a melting pot of religions, including many who don't sincerely worship the Creator.  We must not just assume it is God's plan that America will continue to enjoy peace, or even stability. The final book of God's Word promises there are great structural changes, and suffering, war, and big changes in world government to come.  As much as it goes against the grain of free, independent American hearts, let us not lean on our own reasoning to determine how to resolve these issues. Rather, let us be encouraged that it is still profitable to implement the direction God gave the people in Amos' time, who were very much like us:  "Seek the Lord, that you may live."

Before we decide...before we choose...before we criticize...before we even speak...and definitely before we VOTE!...let us seek the Lord.  We don't know what the future holds, but He does.  He has a plan--a perfect plan--and while He does not always reveal how things will work out and they don't always make sense to us, we can trust His faithfulness, as promised in Romans 8:28,"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. "

May the peace that surpasses all understanding encompass you today.  (Phil 4:6,7)

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