Keeping the Most Important Thing, the Most Important ThingJanuary 5, 2023
I still remember the day many years ago when I was kept late after school for turning in an incredibly terrible book report. It wasn’t that the book was bad or that I didn’t know how to write. I even enjoyed the book. Instead, I’d chosen to do an awful job writing about an underground Bible smuggler because I didn’t like how he’d handled a trivial issue mentioned on the last page. After my English teacher, “Mr. H”, asked enough questions to know I’d actually read the book, he waded through excuses until he discovered the problem. Then, he explained that I’d kept myself from learning anything because I’d focused on the trivial, rather than keeping the most important thing, the most important thing.
Majoring on the Minors
Sounds basic, doesn’t it? Yet from long experience, I think we all often miss what is most important because we are focused on the endless details of our lives without always considering how to keep the most important thing, the most important thing. We deal with jobs, bills, spouses, children, grumpy neighbors, cooking, laundry, mowing, church responsibilities, taxes, and how to prevent family arguments – including between the kids about who was supposed to do a certain chore. Those are all important things we can’t forget about, right? I mean who wants to be the one who lets someone out of the house minus some vital article of clothing or with the remnants of a PB&J sandwich or a spare donut glued to their face or clothes? (My wife and daughters have a terrible time trying to help me look presentable when I’m let loose on the world.)
Most tasks in our school day seem necessary, but have we made the temporary and the subjective more important than the purpose? I mean, why do we want our children to learn – “For the sake of learning itself,” “Getting a good job,” “Taking care of their family,” or “Being a valuable member of society”? All important things, just not the most important thing.
The Most Important Thing
God is not biting his nails about whether our child earned a B rather than an A+, but rather did they learn character by not cheating somehow to get the better grade. He’s not worried that your child still misspells the words “You’re” or “Their”, but misses the point of doing all things well. I also know that your children will gain an even greater education if they hear and learn to emulate your, “I love you, and let’s figure this out” than fearing your anger when they struggle with Algebra or Trigonometry. In fact, I’m pretty sure God cares more that they read His book and understand He wants a relationship with them rather than that they can just rattle through the Table of Elements like a champ. (I’ve never had the problem of rattling them off, myself. Especially since I couldn’t ever seem to memorize them.)
Now I’m not advocating for you to sluff off your daily responsibilities or your children’s education. As always, I humbly ask that you understand the principle of what I’m saying and not get lost in the details as I once did. Providing your children with a good education is important for their future success. Pursue it with gusto and determination. Just keep it in perspective and don’t lose sight of the actual goal.
Maybe this is best shown through an analogy. Personally, I spent a long career obsessed with everything my education and ability could gain for me. For years, my office walls were lined with an impressive library, degrees, awards, pictures of me and “important” people, and “cool” memorabilia from around the world. I’d placed them on marble pedestals and polished them daily until they ruled my life like mute and pagan idols rather than the servants they were created to be. I was a perfect example of when the Scriptures say, “. . . for they worship the creation rather than the creator.” Because I focused on the secondary rather than the ultimate purpose I should have been pursuing, I came dangerously close to permanently failing life’s test. Only this time it was my well-educated and hardworking children, not just a school book report that I risked. It’s only by God’s grace that I learned this lesson before it was too late.
Maintaining Appropriate Priorities
I still remember learning that a few generations ago, the old one-room schoolhouse Primers didn’t just teach the ABCs or how to write empty sentences about the newest cultural fad. Instead, they taught the principles related to God, family, country, and the development of personal character as children recited lessons such as:
A – In Adam’s fall, we sinned All.
B – Thy life to mend, this Book attend.
Or when they read in U.S. History that General George Washington was a man of great humility, patriotism, and deep faith who was more often found quietly petitioning his Creator than petitioning human allies during the Revolution. In other words, the Primers weren’t just teaching information, they were teaching children what was most important.
I recently had a good personal reminder of this principle during a cold-weather camping trip with my sons, about keeping even important things in perspective. Our three-day trip took us down a long, winding river through the midst of a large national forest long after the more sane campers had gone home to their warm beds. We were supposed to have gone with a much larger group and more canoes, tents, etc., but almost everyone else canceled at the last minute. Each item we’d planned or started with had been a good thing, but their quantity now hampered us. We realized they were only tools and not the purpose of the journey. When we reorganized and eliminated things, we ended up with an adventure full of unexpected encounters with animals, great conversations, and strengthened friendships rather than a disaster.
Just like the lessons learned from my failed book report years ago and my camping trip, I’d encourage you to consider your ultimate purpose in What, How, and Why you’re doing things. I don’t have a list for you. What you need to refine for your own homeschooling family is up to you. Maybe it is eliminating “trying to keep up with the Joneses” or the local public school; keeping your children in every different sports or music program possible; not allowing your children to fail at anything; or believing your children need to focus on test-taking rather than learning to think critically.
Wouldn’t it be worth it though if someday your children used the education you’ve provided them to help the poor, the widows, and the orphans rather than just get an expensive college degree or fancy job title? Maybe they could even use it to serve God like Johann Sebastian Bach with music, Sir Isaac Newton in science, and William Wilberforce in government.
I wonder what would happen if we managed to keep the most important thing, the most important thing?
More About the Author:
Gabriel is a former homeschooled missionary kid and homeschooling father who adores his wife, children, and grandchildren. He is currently rebuilding a 130-year-old homestead, writing a historical fiction book on character for young people, and mentoring young men. He is a former U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondent, Army National Guard Photographer, and U.S. Army Deputy Public Affairs representative and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. He lived in Central America during Junior High and served on military short and long-term assignments across the U.S. and in half a dozen countries, including Iraq during his military career. Besides his deep faith and his family, his passion is writing and developing young men into capable steward leaders.