I could use one word to sum up my ideas on how to live life. The word is excellence. My husband has helped instill this value in me. He preaches to his congregation about the importance of excellence in ministry. Every action, objective, and form of ministry should be done with excellence. The reason is simple, yet profound: we carry on this way because of the almighty God we serve and who we are in Him. As children of God, this thought should permeate not only our ministry but every aspect of our lives. Whether our marriages, parenting, teaching our children, or doing our work, we should be intentional in doing it with excellence.
As a homeschooling mother I have seen that it is dangerously easy to go through life accomplishing tasks in a mediocre fashion—not because I want to, but simply because of the busyness of life. Homeschooling is time-consuming. In fact, I will just say it right now: there is not enough time in the day. There are too many things I want to teach my children. There are too many curriculums I want to try. There are too many outside activities I want them to participate in. Add the fact that all of my children need to be taught with different styles and on different levels.
And it doesn’t stop with education. There is a house to run that comes with a vast amount of responsibility. Then there are external influences that pull on our lives, like family, friends, sports, hobbies, and recreation. And many mothers have outside jobs and personal ministries that compound the issue. Please do not misunderstand: the life of a Christian mother should be full of activity. We are to be productive, and that leaves no place for laziness. But when you add it all up, sometimes this plethora of activity develops into mediocrity.
Doing too much will cause us to do nothing well. Think about that statement in light of teaching our children. If we try to teach them too much, they can become overwhelmed and unable to learn any of it. It would be irrational to teach state history, American history, and world history all at once, just as it would be unreasonable to teach a child Spanish, French, and sign language at the same time. All of these are good things, but our teaching can quickly become futile if we try to do too much. Children need time to meditate on what they have learned, and they need time to practically apply their skills.
The same is true within the family. We can go through life doing numerous good things, but this can lead to the family being spread too thin. When this happens, our attention becomes divided, the family loses focus, and priorities are misplaced. I have seen this happen in various ministries as well. A person will be involved in doing a good work but neglect the family. (I submit that the family God gave us ranks higher on any priority list!)
In his corporate book Good to Great, Jim Collins says that “Good is the enemy of great.” He goes on to say, “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” I love this quote. Maybe you can relate. We do a lot of good things in life, but often at the expense of missing out on the greatest things. Collins’s book addresses the idea that greatness has little to do with circumstance but instead is a matter of choice and discipline.
Living the Simple Life
How does this apply to our homes and life in general, and just what does it have to do with homeschooling our children? If we are to conquer mediocrity, we must learn to live the simple life. To do this, we need to be intentional in the choices we make.
Several years ago, my son made a statement that I will never forget. It had been an exhausting week filled with activity. We were constantly on the go and gone most evenings. So I had determined this particular day would be different. Throughout the day, I was intentional and focused. Gone was the attitude of “Let’s finish our schoolwork so we can move on to other things.” It was replaced with an attitude of joyfully teaching my children and giving them a love for learning. We were relaxed, and the house was peaceful. While the children enjoyed lunch, I did a few extra chores, making sure the house was in order. Then I put dinner in the Crock-Pot so that when Dad came home, our evening meal would be prepared.
That afternoon, as a gentle rain fell, I sat down in the living room with my computer and a cup of hot tea. Soft music flowed from the kitchen as my two younger children played a game together. My oldest son was sitting on the couch reading a book, and he said, “Mom, I love days like today. Life is calm and peaceful.” That simple statement spoke volumes to me. Simplicity makes life joyful. Simplicity creates room for reflection and growth.
Learning to Say No
This is where discipline comes in. In order to live a simple life, we must learn to say no! We cannot do it all. Let me amend that statement: It is not an issue of whether we can do it all or not. The issue is that we shouldn’t even try. Mother, what are the most important things in your life? Are you able to focus on those with excellence? I have to ask myself this question often. The truth is that I like saying yes. However, wisdom is often exuded more when we say no than when we say yes to everything.
Steve Jobs understood this concept, and it was his resolute attitude that solidified the successful results in his business life. At an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997, he said, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”
Did you catch that? He was as proud of the things he did not do as the things he did. Would adopting this line of thinking revolutionize a typical homeschool day?
Striving for Excellence
We can conquer mediocrity by living the simple life and learning to say no, but there is still one more aspect to consider if we are to live in excellence. The key is in the striving.
Notice how Karen Andreola encourages young ladies to strive for excellence in her book Beautiful Girlhood: “No girl can rise higher than her ideals. It is impossible to attain higher things than we strive for; and few even reach their ideals. So it is imperative that a girl set before her good and pure ideals, that she set her mark high. It is better to aim at the impossible than to be content with the inferior.”
Does the idea of being content with the inferior alarm you? I do not want that for myself or for my children. I want to aim high and teach my children to do the same. Of course, as believers we understand that we are to aim for the highest goal there is. Paul stated, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Just what is the prize of the high calling? It is to be like the perfect Son of God. It was Christ who told us to “Be...therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This is unattainable this side of heaven, but one day we will reach our goal: “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Until that day, we keep striving for excellence in all we do.
This article was originally published in the Sep/Oct 2012 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Learn more at www.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com
Kimberly Williams is a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother. She lives in Arkansas with her husband and three precious children. She is the author of theLiving Out the Word series, verse-by-verse Bible studies for women. Her most recent book, From the Mouth of Babes, is a compilation of short stories about life, children, faith, and the world we live in. In addition to writing, Kimberly enjoys speaking to women and encouraging them to live out God’s Word. You can learn more at www.livingouttheword.net.