Last month, my husband’s sister Nancy passed away after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was a lifelong international missionary and a bold evangelist. I interviewed her about how to teach kids to share the gospel. Today, though, I want to use Nancy’s life to talk about how we can speak the love languages as homeschool moms.
Nancy didn’t speak a language other than English, despite visiting more than 70 countries. But Nancy was fluent in all five of the love languages described by Gary Chapman.
Her life was also the embodiment of 1 Corinthians 13 that I want to read to you now, beginning with verse 4.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Acts of service as a homeschool mom
The first love language we want to speak as homeschool moms is acts of service. In the simplest terms, it means doing things for our families that we know would bless them. Nancy offered to babysit our two young kids so we could spend our anniversary alone. This offer meant a lot to me, but it was a bit like having Amelia Bedelia watch them. Nancy was a single woman who had never had children. When we returned home, we saw that our oversized 18-month-old had been stuffed into the newborn onesie he wore home from the hospital. Nancy said she couldn’t find any other clothes.
Of course, as homeschool moms, most of our time is spent in acts of service. But speaking this love language means going above and beyond our day-to-day serving. To do this, we can ask ourselves what would bless each member of our family because it is going to vary with their personality, age, and circumstances. It could be making a special treat, doing their chore, or keeping them company during a task they dislike. We can ask our family members what would be meaningful, but using what we already know about them to serve will be an extra blessing.
Something we want to avoid in this love language is serving the way we want to serve or be served. For example, my husband likes making me breakfast. This is nice, but I’m perfectly content to make my own simple breakfast. What really blesses me is when he makes dinner and I have a night off of that responsibility. Recognizing that there are better ways to serve us can help us be mindful of better ways to serve our family members.
Gifts as a homeschool mom
The second love language we want to speak as homeschool moms is gifts. Nancy had gifts for our family every time we saw her. They often included regifts and almost always included airplane snack packages she’d saved. Nancy took gifts for children on all of her Africa trips that included dresses and dolls that crafty women had created. But she would also take my kids’ Halloween candy after insisting they didn’t need it.
Sometimes as Christian moms we can look down on our kids who have this love language, thinking that it’s greedy to want things. But for those who enjoy gifts, it’s rarely about the item itself. Instead, gifts that are carefully chosen for our family members represent time spent thinking about and shopping for them. An appropriate gift also symbolizes our understanding of what makes them special. To find an appropriate gift, we can consider what our family members value based on how they spend their time and money.
Some things we want to avoid in the love language of gifts include giving gift cards when family members are looking for time and attention from you through the gift. A second thing to avoid is an aspirational gift. We might want our child to read more, so we give them books. But if that child doesn’t enjoy reading, it’s not going to be a treasured gift. Finally, we want to avoid giving a gift simply because it’s something we would enjoy. For example, I once gave my husband a gift certificate for a massage and he never used it.
Physical touch as a homeschool mom
The love language of physical touch is giving hugs, back rubs, and even doing a child’s hair. Nancy was a touchy person. Her hugs were big and long and immediate upon meeting you. She was comfortable in your personal space, even if you weren’t. What was amazing is how her love eventually won over uncomfortable people.
It’s harder for family members to ask for physical touch when they want it because doing so makes them vulnerable. I learned that one of my sons craved physical touch during our one-on-one time. Out of all the ways he could spend time with me, he chose to have me massage his feet. Some other physical touch ideas includ sitting close to our kids, rubbing a shoulder, or ruffling a boy’s hair to see what kind of response we get. Then we can repeat the touches our kids respond to.
In the love language of physical touch, we don’t want to stop touching our kids after they leave the preschool years. Touch is a need for neurologically healthy people of any age. The nature of the touch may change. My teen and adult boys tend to do side hugs now, for example. But they still need the affection.
In our marriages, we don’t want to neglect the importance of physical intimacy in and out of the bedroom. When we have little ones, it’s easy to feel touched out. But physical touch is an essential love language in marriage and needs to be maintained. Carving out time away to recharge made me more motivated in that regard.
Quality time as a homeschool mom
Quality time means a focus on the relationship when you’re together. Nancy had more friends than anyone I know, yet she was always intentional about planning time with our family when she was in town. She was usually the one to suggest a fun activity, too. We loved hiking, swimming, and watching movies together. But while she always spent time with us, she was frequently late because she had met someone on a walk, in a store, or in a restroom who needed to hear the gospel. A pastor who knew her well said, “She had so many watches but apparently never used them.”
Ensuring that we have quality time with our families begins with finding an activity that meets two requirements: everyone enjoys it and you can talk during it. Tennis has been a wonderful quality-time activity for us as a family and as a couple.
We can enjoy quality time one-on-one with our kids, too. I liked having my kids choose the activity with me as I learned so much about them from this. But we can use trips, extra-curricular activities, and chores as quality time with individual kids, too. Just use the time to talk and do fun things as you go. If your child isn’t much of a talker, use the time to share what’s on your heart and your positive feelings about your child.
In our marriages, quality time is essential. Years ago if my husband and I attended a large family gathering or a friend’s party, he would call it quality time. While it was fun, we didn’t have time to talk and in my book, it didn’t count. The ways you share quality time will change with your family’s season. It may be a morning chat over coffee, watching a show together–especially one that you discuss, or a real date night. Whatever you do, plan to have regular time focused on your marriage.
Meaningful words as a homeschool mom
The final love language is meaningful words. This is expressing our gratitude for our family members as well as what we see that makes them special. Nancy constantly complimented people. She told me that I was so good with technology, that my house was beautiful, and that she was proud of the fact that I homeschooled. But Nancy also expected meaningful words in return. Once when our family was teasing her, she told us to stop, saying, “Okay. You’ve had your fun.”
Meaningful words must be spoken frequently. They have a temporary status in our family’s minds like a social media post. The best meaningful words are also specific. Saying, “you’re great” is meaningless. They should also be sincere. Recently I’ve had a couple of Nancy’s contacts I’ve just met insist that they love me so much. Those words are not meaningful except as a sign that something is off with them.
Sometimes we will compliment our kids’ or our spouse’s appearance and that’s fine. But we want to speak most of our meaningful words about our family members’ character and value. I can tell my daughter that her hair looks cute, but even more loving is to tell her that when she voluntarily plays with her young cousins to give their weary parents a break, she is a real blessing and I am proud of her.
Something to avoid in sharing meaningful words is waiting until our family is behaving well. The idea that compliments will reinforce bad behavior is completely unfounded. Instead, we want to draw attention to any positive thing we see so our loved ones will believe the best about themselves and will exhibit these behaviors more often.
Nancy’s skill in all five love languages recently prompted a struggling family member to write, “You’re the only one who never stopped believing in me.” When I read that, I wanted to love like Nancy. I wanted a 1 Corithians 13 kind of love for my family. If you want that too, the good news is we don’t have to be perfect. Nancy wasn’t. But she did have a personal relationship with a perfect God who lived through her to serve, give gifts and hugs, spend quality time, and speak meaningful words. Let us go and love likewise as homeschool moms.
I know that sibling squabbles are a serious source of stress. I know this personally and professionally. I have been giving a talk for Great Homeschool Conventions on how to negotiate sibling conflicts, but I think it’s important to talk about how to prevent these conflicts in the first place.
To begin, let’s look at Scripture. The first account of sibling rivalry in Scripture is with Cain and Abel. Genesis 4 reads:
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Cain didn’t answer the Lord, but if he had, I think he would have said he didn’t feel secure in God’s love for him. This insecurity is the source of not just sibling rivalry but a distant relationship with God. How should we address this insecurity as parents? I think this passage gives us three strategies.
Three Strategies for Preventing Sibling Rivalry
First, we have to acknowledge the problem.
God doesn’t ignore Cain’s pouty behavior and neither should we. Our kids’ emotions are symptoms of a deeper problem that will not improve if ignored.
Some parents because of personality or past experience want to avoid conflict and emotional issues. It’s easier and quicker to tell yourself that it will improve with time. When I was a kid, my friend showed me a red streak that started at a cut and was making its way up her arm. I told her not to worry about it. Good thing I decided against medical school! My friend had an infection that was spreading. The infection needed to be treated or her life was at risk.
In the same way, our kids’ conflicts have to be addressed or the long-term consequences can be grave. I’m as guilty as anyone of telling my kids to stop fighting so I can have peace. But in order to heal the conflict, we have to go deeper to discover what’s feeding it.
As I’ve helped my kids work through their conflicts, I’ve found that rejection and hurt at not feeling loved by a sibling is a common source of conflict. When a child feels that a parent doesn’t love them enough to address the problem, the conflict will intensify.
As parents we have to remember that the conflict is rarely about possessions or game time. It’s about feeling loved and accepted. If our child isn’t secure, there will be sibling rivalry. (See posts 1and 2 on conflict resolution skills.) You can use these principles to get your kids talking about the real problem.
Affirm our love and acceptance.
After acknowledging the problem, the second principle we can take from this account in Genesis is to affirm our love and acceptance of our kids. Cain had done wrong, whether it was bringing the wrong sacrifice or bringing it with the wrong attitude. We don’t know what the problem was, but his offering wasn’t good. Because he didn’t earn God’s favor with it, Cain falsely believed that God didn’t love and approve of him as a person. Notice how God focuses the attention on Cain’s behavior rather than on his person, saying, “If you do right, will you not be accepted?”
Ignoring bad behavior isn’t love. Disciplining is. But we have to reinforce the separation between behavior and the child. This faulty thinking of I am what I do seems to be hard-wired into our flesh. But we are valuable because we are created by God in His image. That is the truth of God’s Word. Nothing can change that.
In an episode of the show The Chosen, Mary returns to her sinful life and has to be brought back to Jesus by His disciples. As she weeps with regret, Jesus tells her that if one bad choice can undo the transformation He has made in her life, it wasn’t much of a transformation.
We must reassure our kids of the same. Correction may lead our child to assume they are bad, unlovable, unredeemable even. When much correction occurs, this view may be cemented in our minds and theirs. I’ve spoken before about my son who couldn’t communicate clearly before he was three. He was so frustrated by our inability to understand him, that he would scream.
That led me to give him the nickname “our little terrorist.” The book Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Curcinka helped me see the error in that. As I began labeling my son as spirited, my feelings about him changed. I had more compassion and appreciation for his temperament. I still didn’t want him to scream, but I wasn’t giving him a message of rejection.
I’ve heard many a negative nickname for challenging children. These unloving messages are being communicated to the child and adding to the insecurity, even if we aren’t labeling in their hearing. Make no mistake. Insecure children will act out. In fact, insecure adults act out, too.
Like God, we have to affirm to our kids that we love them always and forever, apart from what they do. Then we have to model that in our actions. How can we do that?
First, discuss what wrongdoing really means. Our cancel culture tells us that doing wrong means rejection with no redemption. But in God’s kingdom, wrongdoing means that we stopped trusting in Jesus and trusted in ourselves instead. We got off track. The way back is to confess it, asking forgiveness from God and anyone else we have hurt. We then ask God to enable us to live right and we trust that He will. This process will be repeated over and over. We are restored in our relationships and we believe that the Lord will continue to make us more like Jesus as we return to Him.
Next, we have to talk about our own history of getting off track. We also model the right response to our bad behavior by asking for forgiveness when it occurs. When I lost my temper with my kids and apologized, I noticed that they readily offered forgiveness. They didn’t expect me to endlessly berate myself for it. They wanted me to behave as though I had been forgiven and had a fresh start. This model is more powerful than any words we can say to reassure our kids.
Finally, we can truthfully affirm our love for our kids’ uniqueness. On our kids’ birthdays, each member of the family (and others celebrating with us) shares what we love about the birthday boy or girl. The appreciation is specific from a sibling saying she appreciates that her brother is always willing to do fun things with her to recognizing a readiness to laugh at oneself. Not only does this tradition affirm a child where he is but it reminds all family members of our shared values. It motivates all of us to live those values.
Apart from birthdays, we can affirm each of our children for their gifts and contribution. We might say, “You help me when you read to your sister and I can tell she loves it, too.” “You’ve become more mature and I can trust you with more responsibility.” “I know God is going to use your strong will in leadership one day.” Children remember these words more than they remember careless words we speak in a stressful moment. We can turn a child’s insecurity around quickly. I asked my father-in-law to write letters of affirmation for each of his children before he passed. I believe these letters contributed to the lack of rivalry the family experienced in settling his estate and continued closed relationships. You and your spouse could write letters of affirmation on a regular basis to each child.
Praying with and for a child is yet another way of affirming them. Pray out loud for help in supporting your child to be what God has created her to be. Let your child know that you pray for them in private, too, and ask for specific prayer requests. I continue this with my adult children who no longer live at home. It’s a powerful way to maintain their security.
This passage from Genesis 4 teaches us to acknowledge a problem and to affirm our love for our kids.
But it also teaches us that our kids make independent responses.
Despite God’s intervention, Cain kills his brother. That seems like a downer way of ending this episode, doesn’t it? But I mean for it to be uplifting. We can and should provide love and support to our kids to prevent sibling rivalry. But ultimately our kids have to respond to the love that is freely offered to them.
When we see that a child is resistant to that love and still insecure, the temptation is to keep reassuring them and to go overboard with our expressions of love and approval. God didn’t do that with Cain. We shouldn’t either. We model our own security by allowing our child to grasp the truth on his own. You’ve heard the expression “more caught than taught.” It applies to security.
Some children need long-term evidence that they are loved. They will test it because if they’re going to be rejected, they want the pain to be over with quickly. As parents we need support in continuing to love a child through these tests. Ask friends and extended family to pray for you. Talk it out. And consider getting counseling if your child is particularly challenging.
I have always marveled at God’s response to Cain after he murdered his brother, and it’s one we can share with our insecure kids. God punished Cain, but He also promised to protect him. I think Cain realized his mistake in not trusting God’s love as he says that being out of the Lord’s presence is part of the punishment that was more than he could bear. Praise be to God that we each have this assurance from James 4:8: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
To talk about how to cope with extreme stress, I have to tell you what happened when I was 14. I was riding in the back of our family friends’ car. My parents, my 12-year-old brother, and our friends’ son were in the car ahead of us. We had just begun our annual winter weekend. We’d checked into a hotel and enjoyed the treat of a dinner out. We were returning to the hotel for swimming and more fun when I saw a car up ahead coming fast and swerving wildly from lane to lane. The car was headed right for my family, when it swerved in the opposite direction. I was so relieved. But then it came careening back toward our family car and struck it, spinning and crushing it.
What happened next is a blur for me, but I remember my dad stumbling out of the car with blood streaming down his forehead. My brother came out limping with a bloody knee. My mom did not appear as she was embedded in the dash of the car.
After the ambulance arrived to take my family to the emergency room, I found I couldn’t stop shaking. When we arrived, I was dazed. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think straight. Then I was horrified by the sound of my mother screaming in pain.
Later that evening when everyone but my mother had been discharged, I couldn’t sleep. I saw the accident happen over and over and over again. When I returned to school the next week, I felt like I was dreaming, that nothing I had experienced or was experiencing was real.
Acute Stress Disorder
I now understand that I had symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder. The stress of the experience was extreme enough that I was having trouble functioning. My mother was in recovery from that accident involving a drunk and high driver for over a year, but thanks be to God, she did recover. So did I.
You may be wondering why I’m talking about the effects of extreme stress on a homeschool blog. I am writing about it because you or your family members may be unfortunate enough to experience the kind of trauma I did — unexpected loss of a loved one, a shocking diagnosis, or witnessing violence. There is another form of extreme stress, though, that we don’t often associate with Acute or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but it affects all of us. I’ll explain with another story.
It was September 11th, 2001. I was getting ready to take my preschooler to a morning Mother’s Day Out program at my church, when the radio reported that an airplane had hit one of the twin towers in New York City. This was upsetting to say the least, but it was believed to be a terrible accident. My husband and I never have the news on during the day, but we turned the TV on when we learned that a second plane had struck the World Trade Center.
I was confused about whether I should take my son to church as scheduled when it was obvious that we had suffered a terrorist attack. I did, though, and had the radio on as I drove. When the newscasters described the collapse of the towers as I drove, I was utterly horrified. I was crying and shaking and confused. When I arrived at church, no one knew what to do.
In the days that followed, we, like so many others, watched gruesome, terrifying, gut-wrenching newscasts all day, every day. I had that same feeling of derealization, that same numb feeling of not knowing what to do that I’d had at 14. It took me a while to realize that what we were doing wasn’t healthy. But when I understood what was happening, I spoke at my church and encouraged our members to stop watching the coverage of this tragedy. We were being traumatized over and over again by what we were watching. We were developing and maintaining a stress disorder by taking in media trauma.
The Trauma of 2020
Then came 2020. Pandemics were always something that affected far-off countries and a few unfortunate individuals here before it was stopped. I fully expected Covid-19 to be no different. So I was shocked when my Great Homeschool session in Ft. Worth was halted. We were told we had to be out of the building in short order.
I returned home and a short time later my husband and I went to the grocery store and found 90% of the shelves were empty. We were under lockdown and the streets of our busy city were eerily empty. The headlines of our papers used every terrifying word in the English vocabulary to tell us what the pandemic was doing day after day after day. Social media was rife with stories of people dying, people afraid of dying, and people afraid of being responsible for someone else dying.
Weddings were canceled. Funerals for our beloved friends and family members weren’t held. Kids’ sports and trips and family get togethers were canceled. Kids in schools including colleges were sent home. We were thoroughly traumatized. But we kept watching and reading the news.
The extreme stress of we’ve experienced in the last 19 months is unlikely to be our last. So I want to share with you the symptoms of stress disorders and what we can do to cope with them and prevent them in the future.
Symptoms of Stress Disorders
One major feature is mentally reexperiencing the trauma. This occurs in the form of nightmares or flashbacks. These memories feel intrusive and uncontrollable and can disrupt sleep and normal functioning. I mentioned my intrusive memories of my family’s accident. I have also had a number of pandemic nightmares.
A second major feature of stress disorders is a sense of being numb, disassociated from others, and trying to avoid anything that reminds one of the trauma. When our new puppy died in surgery, I ran through the house, collecting anything that reminded me of her and put it out of sight. Throughout 2020, I felt like I was dreaming and hoped I would wake up.
A third major feature of stress disorders is heightened arousal. A traumatized person is often jumpy, startling easily. Severe anxiety and irritability are common. After 9/11, I kept anticipating the next attack. For a while, I was afraid to go to some public places. Current stress seems to have taken a toll on flight crews as the irritability was noticeable on flights I took recently.
When someone is suffering from the effects of extreme stress, they will not respond to reason. Someone could have said to me that the odds of our local shopping mall being targeted by terrorists in the aftermath of 9/11 were infintesimal and they would have been correct. But it wouldn’t have changed my anxiety.
One of the most common statements I’ve heard since the spring of 2020 is “People have gone crazy.” In my opinion, this angry, anxious, irrational behavior we have seen in ourselves and others is the result of extreme stress–trauma, if you will. But we don’t have to continue to suffer its effects.
Coping Strategies for Extreme Stress
Stop reading and watching the news
You won’t be surprised to hear me say that the first step is to stop reading and watching the news. Also stop reading and watching social media posts that trigger this stress. That is easier said than done. We tend to be drawn to tales of terror as witnessed by the popularity of the horror genre and ratings of anxiety-inducing news stories. I have struggled to disconnect from the peddlers of panic myself. One reason we keep taking in the trauma is our belief that information is protective. If we know what’s going on the world, we think we can take action and evade the tragedy.
Because like me you may have symptoms of a stress disorder, I’m not going to try to reason with you about that. But I am going to ask you who is in control. I am going to paraphrase a powerful quote I read some years ago. If you are in control, you have reason to worry. If God is, you have nothing to worry about. In fact, the Christians I know who believe that God leaves us with all the choices that can shorten or lengthen our lives have the most anxiety. Those who believe God is sovereign and works even our bad choices together for our good have the most peace. In Luke 12, Jesus asks us, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[a]? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” It’s true that in trusting God we have no guarantee that we won’t experience trauma. But it is also true that God will never leave us or forsake us, and will give us His grace and supernatural peace.
Talk about it
On my internship I was part of group counseling for veterans who experienced trauma. When these veterans served in wars, we didn’t know that a critical part of preventing stress disorders was getting the traumatized person to talk about what they experienced. Especially the World War II vets I met were encouraged to be stoic and protect their loved ones from their trauma. That avoidance and denial contribute to chronic stress disorders, substance abuse disorders, depression, psychosis, and suicide.
In the same way, a contributor to stress disorders in 2020 and onward has been the social stigma of talking about the trauma so many of us have experienced. If we share the distress about anything other than the death of a loved one from Covid, we are being selfish and are quickly silenced. Better to cancel a wedding and save lives, we were told. Better not to have a funeral than risk others dying. Better to keep the kids away from friends and activities than risk a grandparent’s life. Don’t complain about these things. Think about people in worse situations than you’re in, we’re told.
I’ve spoken about the problem with this way of thinking before. Invalidating people’s grief makes it worse. There is always someone who has it worse. When I lost a baby at 11 weeks, I was told about a woman who lost one at 8 months. Her grief was far worse than mine, but that didn’t make mine disappear. And it didn’t make it less important for me to talk about it.
So after eliminating the source of repeated trauma, the next step for coping with extreme stress is talking about it. I found I wasn’t able to talk about what I was feeling with respect to current events on social media. Some of my friends and family weren’t comfortable talking about it either. Not everyone is a safe person to talk to about trauma. But there are people who can handle it. They’re either people who have experienced similar stress, people who are excellent empathic listeners, or professional counselors. No matter which type of person you speak with about your experiences, it is critical that you talk about it and keep talking about it when you need to.
Have you talked with your immediate family about their experiences? If not, ask them what was the hardest, most frightening, most demoralizing aspect of it. Affirm each family member for sharing without putting a happy spin on it.
Get professional help
If extreme stress interferes with your health and daily functioning for more than 30 days and it isn’t a part of the normal grieving process, make an appointment with a counselor. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the treatment of choice for chronic stress disorders. The counselor will help you change the way you think and behave with respect to the trauma. You’ll learn skills for calming yourself. You’ll get help developing constructive coping strategies like exercise and creative pursuits and ending destructive coping strategies like alcohol abuse.
God’s remedy for extreme stress
I’m going to conclude by telling you the new perspective I have of a popular Bible account in 1 Kings 18-19. Elijah has a showdown with the prophets of Baal and God wins decisively. Elijah then calls on God to make it rain and it does. Finally, Elijah runs supernaturally fast like the superhero Flash to get ahead of Ahab. Win, win, win. But when Jezebel calls for his murder, he runs away in a panic and asks God to end his life. I’ve always thought he was suffering from depression. I missed something. Elijah had likely seen some of the other prophets of God who had been killed. No doubt their murders had been gruesome. After the contest on Mount Carmel, the Bible says Elijah has the prophets of Baal slaughtered. Even though these men were evil, the carnage had to have been traumatic for Elijah. He was experiencing the effects of extreme stress despite the victories he had in the Lord and he wasn’t talking it out.
In addition to recognizing traumatic circumstances, avoiding media that traumatizes us father, and talking about our experiences, we have these admonitions from 1 Kings: 1) get extra rest, 2) eat well, and 3) spend time in prayer and God’s Word.
We can be encouaged that our Lord understands our weakness and lends us His strength at these times.
The Bible encourages diligence. Proverbs 12:24 reads, “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.”
Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes to poverty.
The Bible also gives us a good example of diligence in its description of the Proverbs 31 woman (Read here and here).
I want to honor God by being diligent, but I also know I will be happier getting things accomplished instead of having more screen time. Ecclesiastes 2:24 agrees. “So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God.”
Doing what you say you’re going to do
I had an aha moment with respect to diligence when I heard professional coach instructor Brooke Castillo’s podcast. She said that her husband is perpetually amazed by the fact that she does what she says she is going to do. Frankly, I am amazed by that. Always doing what you say you’re going to do? I’m an expert at finding reasons (also known as excuses) not to do that. Like I worked hard yesterday. It’s sunny. It’s rainy. I’m hormonal. I just don’t feel like it. Tomorrow I’ll feel like it. I deserve a break. Again.
The next thing that contributed to my change in thinking about diligence was from someone calling himself Mr. GetItDone on Mark Forster’s productivity forum. He said that when he comes to an item on to-do list, he just does it. Another weirdo, obviously. He doesn’t get a snack, check social media, or have to consider a hundred other things as potentially more important to do?
I am someone who enjoys being busy and accomplishing a lot. But years ago I noticed that I had a procrastination habit that got in my way. I decided that a fun way of improving my motivation and work habits would be trying a new produtivity approach every week. Initially, I thought I would discover the productivity holy grail for everyone. It turned out that I only discovered that for myself, and that the strategies I used successfully were only good for the season of life I was in. When life changed, my productivity approach changed.
I did discover a productivity formula that enabled me to finally publish my experiments in book form. When you get your copy of A Year of Living Productively, you will quickly learn the rationale behind more than 80 different productivity approaches without reading the books, you will get the basic instructions for using these approaches, and you’ll get my intial review of what worked and didn’t work for each. You’ll also get my review of each of them five years later with recommendations for other approaches to try if you had success with an individual tactic.
For example, even though David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology has hundreds of thousands of fans, I tried it twice and wasn’t able to make it work. I won’t be trying it a third time. That is not to say that I didn’t benefit from his approach. In fact, it helped me achieve what’s called Inbox Zero, where I process my emails to folders or a task manager, such that I have an empty inbox on a regular basis. It’s so much more peaceful for me not to have hundreds of emails that need my attention. My ability to maintain inbox zero is a direct result of David Allen’s teaching approach.
With A Year of Living Productively, you can save time and develop a customized productivity approach for this season of your life. You can stop calling yourself lazy and unmotivated and become an objective observer of your work habits and what helps you make the most of your time.
Despite writing and speaking about productivity, I realized that I have ignored a key ingredient to diligence.
It’s why I’m astonished by Brooke Castillo and Mr. GetItDone. To explain, I will use a fitness analogy.
Imagine that I have been praying daily for years to be fit. I also read sections of fitness books each morning. But despite my prayers and reading, I haven’t felt like going to the gym much. When I do go, I try some of the exercises I’ve read about. I either get bored with them or I quit them when they require too much effort. I find myself scrolling social media or watching shows instead. I’m no stronger and I don’t look any different, but I figure that’s probably because I’m older and I have a lot on my plate literally and figuratively.
If you know anything about fitness, you know that I will never get stronger with this approach. Waiting until I feel like going to the gym means I will rarely go. That’s how I used to view gym time. I would tell myself I’d go three days a week until there were only three days left in the week. Then I’d tell myself I couldn’t work out three days in a row!
Now I make myself exercise whether I feel like it or not. I’m always glad I did because I feel happier and more energetic. And to build muscle or endurance, I have to push myself out of my comfort zone. Muscle building doesn’t come from doing easy exercises. It requires an intense effort of doing more than you did before–more weight or more reps. Our muscles have to be fatigued in order to increase endurance.
I made the connection one day.
I’d been working at my computer for under an hour and I wanted to quit for the day. I realized that this was the equivalent of doing a few bicep curls and leaving the gym. I wasn’t truly fatigued. More likely I was bored. I had developed a habit of quitting well before I’d gotten a good workout in.
Before you worry that I’m saying we need to be working hard all day long, understand that rest periods are built in to hard workouts. After every set, you rest. But the difference is, you don’t go home! When you’ve completed a full workout, you have a good long rest.
I realized that I hadn’t built up my diligence like I would fitness endurance. I couldn’t expect myself to work diligently for six hours straight with my history just like I couldn’t do a one-hour fitness class if I spent most of my time on the couch.
A diligence workout
As a result of this inspiration, here is the diligence workout I’m giving myself. I’d love to have you join me. I believe it will work for our kids, too.
First, diligence doesn’t require motivation. We will all have the whiny voice in our heads telling us why we shouldn’t do the work now and how we will magically be motivated tomorrow. Ignore it. That voice is a liar. The truth is that diligence GIVES us motivation, not the other way around. Do what you planned to do, regardless of your emotions.
Second, create a realistic plan.The Couch to 5K plan isn’t accomplished in a day. When we try to do too much, we are reluctant to work the next day. If you haven’t been very diligent to this point, increase your work load gradually. The only way you can look at everything on your list and do it is if it’s not asking too much of your mind and body. As you plan your tasks for the day, pretend you are planning them for a beloved friend. Given that you want her to have enough time for recreation, interruptions, and sleep, what will you put on her list?
Third, push yourself to do the work with cheerleading. One of the things I love about Chalene Johnson workout videos is her cheerleading. “You’re not tired!” she says. We can tell ourselves this as well as “You’re doing great” and “Just a little more work before you can take a break.” As you do the tasks you’ve planned for the day, you’re going to want to quit. Something will take longer, be more annoying, or be more difficult than you thought. You’ll want to call it a day, but don’t. Instead, try one of these tips.
1. Pray. Ask the Lord for patience and mercy. Ask your family to pray for you, too.
2. If you’re stuck on something, ask someone to spot you. In weight training, that’s someone who provides a little help lifting the weight if you need it. Numerous times I’ves struggled for hours on something that a skilled person can do in minutes. Get help.
3. Take a timed rest away from the work. The key is to set a timer and return to the work when it goes off. A rest can be going outside, getting some water, or doing some exercises or stretches.
4. Switch tasks. Sometimes we need to focus on something else and the solution or energy for the original task comes to us. Go to the next task on your list.
5. Consider how you will feel later if you quit now. Will you really have more energy for this tonight or tomorrow? Will you regret that it isn’t done?
If you push through and are diligent, you are ready to relax. In another podcast episode, Brooke Castillo describes the difference between rest and laziness. Rest, she says is relaxing, guilt-free, after finishing our work. So you’re watching Netflix after a full homeschool day and putting the kids to bed. Laziness, alternatively, is relaxing and feeling guilty without doing our work. So you watch Netflix before school and you keep telling the kids you’ll start school later.
If you want to relax guilt-free by being diligent this school year, I recommend The Organized Homeschool Life Planner. Each day of the planner includes space for the most important aspects of your routine like time with God, your relationship focus, and what’s for dinner. But it also lists just six tasks to complete in a day. I have space for just six tasks because on average that’s how many I completed in my experiments for A Year of Living Productively. Shocking that it wasn’t 25, right?
On the right side of the daily page, you’ll create a loose plan for getting your tasks done.
With your new diligent mindset, you will enjoy the reward you’ve planned for the day, guilt-free.
I have been a fitness enthusiast my entire adult life. I ran track in high school but became enamored with weight training because of a required class in college. I saw a young woman in class who had incredible muscle definition that she had acquired through weight training. I was inspired!
I believe that fitness is foundational to physical and mental health. Because it is, I believe we have to make it a priority in our home schools. In this article, I will tell you how we have done it and how you can, too.
First, I have to confess my secret for staying committed to fitness all these years. It is that my husband is a huge proponent of fitness. He was a high school wrestler and martial artist and continued his martial arts training in jujitsu until he had earned a third-degree black belt. He has also been a weight-training enthusiast since his college days. He would tell you that his being nicknamed “the twig” as a kid is what motivated him to gain muscle. He followed the Arnold Schwarzenegger approach that involved eating a lot of protein and lifting a lot of weights.
The appearance benefit of exercise
Today my husband is usually taken for someone at least 10 years younger than he is. Most of my husband’s family is also committed to fitness and looks years younger than their biological age. Most of them have also enjoyed excellent physical and mental health as a result.
Other benefits of exercise
I have also enjoyed increased energy as a result of exercising. But looking good and having more energy are just two small benefits of exercise. I watched a video on YouTube years ago about the benefits of physical fitness and was stunned. The number of physical and mental illnesses that can be prevented or treated with exercise is astounding. It’s worth showing the video to your children to motivate them for a life of fitness.
How to make fitness a priority in your homeschool
So, if you are a busy homeschooling mom, and of course you are, how can you make fitness a priority or just a part of your homeschool? I have several ideas for you.
First is family walks, hikes, bike rides, and swims. Strollers, backpacks, bike seats, and flotation devices make it possible for babies to participate, too. We also had fun using our little ones as weights while exercising!
Participating in sports is another way to include exercise that’s fun for everyone. My family enjoys playing tennis, pickle ball, badminton, volleyball, and basketball together. There are so many great sports to participate in as a family. Anything that gets you off the couch can count. Even bowling is better than sitting.
We can also engage in dedicated fitness activities as a family. My husband has done martial arts training with the kids. He set up obstacle courses for them and timed them–something they loved. We included DVD workouts as part of our homeschool routine. My husband would join us if he was working at home. And we regularly go to the gym together still. Making fitness a family habit has encouraged my kids to value fitness as much as we do. Kids who have gone to college or are on their own still have a fitness routine.
Kid sports or fitness classes
Another idea for including fitness in your homeschool is requiring your kids to participate in a sport or fitness class. It truly is just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic, and it’s fun. My kids participated in a homeschool PE class for many years that they loved. Getting them to engage in fitness with friends is easier than asking them to work out on their own.
Yet another way of making fitness a part of your homeschool is to include active games. I have included some active games in Grammar Galaxy because kids who hate sitting still love it. We can turn just about any subject into a physical activity. Have kids do math facts as squats, for example. Or include a just-because active game into your homeschool week. There are wonderful resources for group games and fitness activities.
When my kids were getting restless during the school day I would have them give me push-ups, situps, or squats to complete. There’s also an app called Move that can remind all of you to do a one minute exercise at the interval of your choice.
Finally, you can incorporate fitness in your homeschool with challenges. My husband loved getting the whole family on board with fitness challenges. His favorite was a 100 push-ups-a-day challenge. My daughter and I have completed two fitness challenges together. Although he’s now a college grad, our son and my husband love doing mountain bike challenges together. As I write, they are in Colorado doing challenging hikes. Our kids love having a shared goal and time with us.
Fitness for Mom
You’ve probably determined that I am encouraging you to incorporate fitness into your life as well. If your children are getting enough fitness but you are not, consider working out on your own. For many years I did exercise videos at home or went to the gym before my children were up. I also worked out by myself in the afternoons or evenings when my husband watched the children.
When I was exercising at my church’s gym, people who knew me would say that was so nice of my husband to watch the kids so that I could work out. I told them to look for the boot print on my back. Remember, fitness is very important to my husband. But if if it’s not to yours, I encourage you to make use of child care at a fitness center or by hiring a mother’s helper so you can get your exercise in. I also had a fantastic opportunity when my kids were young by having them take gymnastics and swim lessons while I worked out at the Y. Where there’s a will there’s a Y. Sorry about that pun. But if fitness is a priority for you, you’ll find a way to incorporate it into your homeschool.
I hope you will do that because it’s key to happier, healthier homeschooling.
The first step is to create a summer bucket list. No, it’s not too late. Print this form from The Organized Homeschool Life Planner. What will you put on this bucket list? You will add your most important summer activities to engage in, people to see, and goals to accomplish.
To complete your bucket list, you’ll need to have a family discussion. Let’s start with activities. What things do you want to still do to make it a satisfying summer? Activities that have been high on my various family member’s lists over the years are: camping, fishing, swimming, playing tennis, catching fireflies, watching a movie outside, going to a baseball game, having big parties, kayaking, going to a theme park, lighting fireworks. I could go on, but I hope that’s enough to get you thinking.
Next, consider the people you want to spend time with this summer. Our list includes family, neighbors, and friends we don’t see often during the school year. We always invite the neighbors over for a barbecue. We attend or host my sister-in-law’s ministry gathering. Friends from out of state typically visit. This year in particular, you may have a long list of people you’d like to spend time with.
Finally, consider your goals for your bucket list. What are you really hoping to accomplish this summer? You might want to get all your curriculum planned and your school space organized. You may want to declutter a storage space or get a month’s worth of meals in the freezer. These are some summer goals I’ve had over the years. If you don’t have any summer goals, you might consider the challenges in The Organized Homeschool Life that will help you get organized one week at a time.
Once you have your bucket list of activities, people, and goals completed, consider ways to combine them. Ask important people to engage in the activities you love with you. We used to have a jet ski and loved taking it out every summer. We frequently invited people to join us, so we could spend time with them. If you have a goal of planning, decluttering, or freezer cooking, ask a friend or family member to join you! The accountability and fun will make your goal that much easier to accomplish.
Establish a Routine
The second step to making the most of summer is establishing or tweaking a routine. You can and should put some of your activities and social events on your calendar. But we can all benefit from more structure. We tend to let routines slide in the summer. I know I’m not the only one who does this. We may have different bedtimes. We may not be insisting on chores being completed. We may be a lot more spontaneous with our days. None of these things is a bad thing. However, if we want to be making the most of our time, we need a loose routine that allows us to accomplish that goal.
If you are going to stay up later than you do during the school year, create a late morning routine. Make sure that you are not doing all of the housework. Discuss a new chore routine for summer with your family. This is a good time to discuss screen time as well. What expectations do you have of your children before they can have screen time? How much structure you impose is up to you, and it can certainly be less in the summer, but don’t abandon it altogether.
Specifically, decide how your routine can support you in engaging in the activities, social events, and goal-oriented tasks you added to your bucket list. One strategy is to establish a summer weekly routine. For example, Fridays may be a day you decide to plan fun, out-of-the-house activities. If you don’t include people in those activities, you might plan Saturday as your socializing day. You could choose another day of the week as your work day. That is when you will work on your freezer cooking or lesson planning. Yet another day could be devoted to decluttering.
An alternate approach would be to allot a little bit of time to each of these areas every day. So you could have an hour for doing work tasks, an hour to work on curriculum planning, and an hour to work on decluttering, leaving the afternoon and evening for activities and socializing. The Organized Homeschool Life book can help you develop workable routines for the school year, too.
Ask God to Direct Your Summer
A final, critical way to make the most of your summer is to ask God to guide and direct the coming weeks. The summer I was in the unusual position of having no plans or goals, I asked my Bible study group to pray for clarity and wisdom. That night I awoke and knew I was to write my first book, So You’re Not Wonder Woman. Despite a number of previous attempts to write, I completed the book that summer and it felt relatively effortless.
God knows where we need to direct our time. We can have peace and contentment as we trust that any disruptions to our plans are from Him. I shared before about how a flooded basement led to our praying over our plumber who was to begin chemotherapy for cancer that week. God doesn’t show us the purpose of interruptions every time, but He does so enough to lead us to trust and obey.
Each day, ask God to give you his diligence and his joy as you go through your day. Trust that each interruption is from him and will be used for your good and his glory.
One last thing. If I could do my homeschool summers over, especially those in the beginning, I would relax a lot more. I remember one summer I was so stressed about getting all my kids’ lessons entered into a new digital lesson planner. I begged my husband to take the kids out of the house. I was shocked by how long it took. The kids were home in a flash and I still had what seemed like weeks of work to do. What was even worse was my experience of using the planner. My kids were confused and needed me to verify every single assignment on the system. Of course, we didn’t get things done as planned, which required me to update the lessons for each student.
I ended up using a super simple customized student planner. But I look back on that day and realize that I could have had my husband take the kids out while I read a novel in my lounge chair! I truly believe that the Lord wants to bless us with relaxed days like this, but we do so many unnecessary tasks.
Looking back, I do not derive any joy from thinking about my lesson plans, my organized homeschool space, or my full freezer. But I do delight in memories of kids splashing in the pool, playing badminton in the front yard, and catching fireflies. These are the things your children will remember. These are the things that God wants you to accomplish in your summer. Take your list and present it to him and really listen to what he has to say. Add the things he tells you to add and cross off the things he says you don’t need to do.
I hope you’re enjoying your summer. If you want to make the most of the rest of it, I hope you will make a list of the activities, the people, and the goals that matter to you. Then I hope you will adjust or create a routine to make them happen. And finally, I hope you will present the list to God, listening for His reponse. I hope in His kindness, He surprises you by telling you to take a day off to kick your feet up and read a great book, or whatever it is that brings you joy.