Staying Afloat: Classical and Christian for Busy Families

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I was honored to have an article in the Clear Lake Classical newsletter last fall when school started, but forgot to link it. Now that we are starting a new calendar year, much of the advice seems pertinent again. You can find the original newsletter (and subscribe!) here.

Stay Afloat

In 1901, the freighter ship SS Hudson left port in Lake Superior, heading east with valuable cargo. But just a few precious hours later, they would fly distress signals, and shortly after that, succumb to a raging storm and sink beneath the waves. A vicious gale plunged the mighty freighter 825 feet down to its watery grave. After just setting out, the Hudson was already sunk.[1]

Welcome to how parents feel, just a few months into the start of another school year: a few weeks in, and we are ready to fly distress signals before we go down with the ship!

The hectic schedules, filling the children’s lunch boxes, making sure everyone gets to practice, brushes their teeth… it is enough to keep even the most disciplined family scatter brained. And when you attend a rigorous school like Clear Lake Classical, how do you keep on top of it all?

Let’s see if CLC’s twin emphases on classical education and being Christ-centered can help overwhelmed families with the busy pace of life.

Help From History

One of the blessings of a classical education is that our students glean the wisdom of the ancients. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel with “new math” or the latest teaching style. We see what has served us well in history, and we wisely borrow those timeless truths and apply them in meaningful ways to today.

To respond to the scarcity of time, wise families will want to consider the ancient Stoic practice of habitus (habits) and rhythm. The founders of classical education knew how life could easily spiral out of control, and so they fought back by practicing daily habits and rhythms. Epictetus (55 – 135 AD) once said, “every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking to running, and running to sprinting . . . therefore, if you want to do something, make a habit of it.”[2] Habits make up our routines of days, weeks, months, and years. The better the routine, the more joy we will see.

Many of us feel pressure from deadlines: the kids need to be to school on time; and piano practice on this day; and don’t forget the after-school activities. But there is wisdom in not being pulled away by the tyranny of the urgent, and instead settling into routines – rhythms of life – to guide us. Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) famously said, “If a person doesn’t know to which port they sail, no wind is favorable.”(3) Good habits help to ground our busy schedules to get us to the best destination. Later, Seneca commented, “We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.” Time is one of our most valuable commodities. Understand habits as wise investments in your own time!

You can probably already identify several routines in your life: work schedules, after-school pick up, and Sunday worship. Carefully observe your calendar and your time. What habits or rhythms are already happening in your schedule? Are they necessary? Are there rhythms and habits you would like to include? If so, what steps would need to be taken to realize these new patterns of time in your life? A classical understanding of our schedules can help us take control of our time in a hectic and fast-paced culture.[4]

Seeing Clearly

Getting into a healthy rhythm is important, but if we don’t see life’s events through the proper perspective, we will be prone to discouragement, or being ungrateful. Great thinkers from the past encourage us to see things more clearly.

Marcus Aurelius (121 – 181 AD) wrote in his Meditations that “Man is not disturbed by events, but by the view he takes of events.”[5] In other words, it is not so much what happens to us, but how we see and respond to these events.

Suppose you have a big work presentation, but that morning your child wakes up sick, you forget your phone, the car is running on fumes, and your boss is in a foul mood. It would be easy to get discouraged or feel hopeless about what you need to get done that day.

But a classical view encourages us to look at it differently. Many things – a sick child, a grumpy boss – are outside our control. Instead of worrying or agonizing over these, we realize we have the responsibility to maintain our composure, and not let these outside, external factors overwhelm us. Rather, we have a responsibility to what the classics called the summum bonum, “the highest good.” In the face of everything we cannot control, we should strive for the highest good we can do in the situation facing us. Marcus wrote, “Just that you do the right thing. The rest is of no great matter.”

As for the things we can control – an empty gas tank, or losing your phone – we should practice premeditatio malorum, or “planning ahead for what could go wrong.” Many of the things that go wrong in life are simply due to negligence, or not planning for the worst. The Stoics were realists, and expected things might not go the way we always hope. Once we planed for the worst, and sought the highest good, then we could possess amor fati, “a love of what will come next.” We might not be able to control the future, but we can see the events in our lives in a clear light.

Do you see the year ahead clearly? What are your hopes for your children at CLC? Is it merely to get through the next year, or to thrive and flourish? Will you allow external factors dictate your joy for the year ahead, or have you looked hard at what is in your control, what is outside of it, and how you can joyfully move forward in it all?

Christ The Center

If we stopped here, we might have a greater appreciation for ancient wisdom in our hectic lives. But we would lack Jesus! At best, Stoic philosophy might give me guidelines for life, but it lacks the transforming grace to empower me to change. That is why CLC highlights not just the wisdom of classical education, but seeks to be thoroughly Christ-centered in everything we do!

It is wonderful to have habits and rhythms, but how do you know which habits? And are the rhythms of my life pleasing to God? To answer those questions, I need the wisdom of Christ, who is The Way (John 14:6) and promises to give me His wisdom (James 1:5; I Corinthians 1:30). Jesus tells us that it is only when we seek first His kingdom, that all the other rhythms of our life will fall into place (Matthew 6:33).

And beyond just merely setting up our time in certain habits, Jesus actually commands us to “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16). Using our time – for teaching in the classroom, cleaning up at home, or pursuing our hobbies – is never neutral. One day, we will all give an account to Jesus the Judge for every word spoken, and every second spent. The ancients can give wisdom about ordering our time, but only Jesus gives grace that our time – and our lives! – may be redeemed.

God has blessed us with weaving many holy rhythms into creation: work and worship, labor and rest, solitude and fellowship. But apart from the mercy of our Lord, those God-ordained habits will either be abused or neglected due to our sin. It is only as the Spirit of Christ indwells us that we learn to do everything for His glory (I Corinthians 10:31).

The Stoics were right to teach us to distinguish between what lies outside our control and what we are responsible for, but keeping “Christ at the center” means Christians can rejoice that nothing is outside of His control! Our years and lives (Acts 17:26), decisions of governments (Proverbs 21:1), good and bad (Isaiah 45:7), acts of random chance (Proverbs 16:33), even the death of a sparrow (Matthew 29), are all apart of our gracious God’s control.

This means that we can be patient when things aren’t going our way, knowing that He will make all things work for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). When we receive blessings, we can be full of gratitude to our loving Lord (I Thessalonians 5:18). And when we consider the future, we are filled with neither fearful dread nor delusional dreaming, but a firm confidence that our Heavenly Father will sustain us and that nothing can separate us from His love (Psalm 55:22, Romans 8:39).[6]

Seeing clearly at the events of our lives can be helped by worldly wisdom, and the founders of classical education knew many truths. But we will only see clearest when we walk by faith, and not by sight. After all, since we trust El Roi, the “God who sees,” we see best when we confess from the heart, “in Your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9).

Conclusion

There are many ways to make a shipwreck of our busy lives. A high-octane school like Clear Lake Classical can add new challenges. But I am thankful for the ways that CLC emphasizes the classical component of wisdom for our students, and the Christ-centered approach to every aspect of our school’s life. Pray that CLC would be faithful to this calling, to stay the course even through stormy days ahead.

Ponder the classical wisdom that God has given in ages past, that it might benefit us as we seek to keep Jesus front and center in our lives. Don’t let life’s storms sink you, but cling to Christ and His Spirit-wrought wisdom to follow wisely in holy rhythms. Stay afloat, dear Christian, for He will hold you fast!

—-
[1] Details of the story of the Hudson are taken from story by Andrew Kruger, “118 years after ship sank in Lake Superior gale, searchers locate wreck 825 feet beneath the surface” MPRNews (Sept 22, 2019). Accessed online at < https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/09/22/searchers-locate-shipwreck-hudson-lake-superior>.
[2] The Works of Epictetus: His Discourses, in Four Books, the Enchiridion, and Fragments. Trans. Thomas Wentworth Higginson. (New York. Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1890). Chapter xviii.
[3] Seneca the Younger, Moral Epistles. Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library “Epistle LXXI” 10.4159/DLCL.seneca_younger-epistles.1917.
[4] I recommend the following article by Jen Oshman, “Seven School-Year Rhythms to Establish Your Family in the Lord” Gospel Centered Discipleship (2019, August 18). Accessed online <https://gcdiscipleship.com/article-feed/2019/8/18/seven-school-year-rhythms-to-establish-your-family-in-the-lord>.
[5] The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Trans George Long (Garden City, NY: International Collectors Library, 1873).
[6] This language is inspired by the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10 on the providence of God.

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