Keeping God’s Priority in Focus

Dear Reader,

Thanks for stopping by the newly revised God’s WORLD News blog! If you’re a mom or a teacher with 1,001 things on your daily to-do list, I get it. As a working mom of teenagers myself, I know how challenging it can be to balance all the duties of a household—cleaning dishes (then filling them again!), organizing your home, and keeping kids (and dogs and cats and sometimes husbands!) on track. It’s more than a full-time job, whether you’re working outside the home, homeschooling, or serving exclusively at home. So we at WORLD News Group are grateful you would spend a few minutes of your day here. It’s my hope that this reflection and list of recommendations will lift, encourage, and help you as you do the work God has prepared for you to do.

When I started writing for WORLD Magazine in 2013, I was just beginning that daily battle for balance myself, so I understand. I was striving to raise godly kids in a decidedly ungodly world. My intention was to develop wisdom and discernment in them, while also igniting a love of learning. Early on, I spent a lot of time reading books about parenting and Christian education, including the writings of Charlotte Mason, Susan Wise Bauer, and many more. Much of what I read was helpful. But now that my kids are teens, I’ve begun to get a sense of the fruit—and lack thereof—of some of my labor and that of the other Christian families in our circle.

As I look back now, I suspect that like C.S. Lewis warns, in general our desires were “too weak” and “I was far too easily pleased” with goals that were less than God’s ultimate. Content or compelled to fool around with reading lists, curricula, educational toys, and play dates— the educational and social equivalent of Lewis’ “mud puddle”—some of us missed the greater goal, which he comparatively called “the trip to the sea.”

What should have been my parenting goal instead of checking those boxes on the regular? For one thing, I wish I’d focused more on love. Maybe that sounds simple, but I would say it’s the greatest teaching we can help to impart to our children.

Jesus sums up the goal of the Old Testament educational system—the Law and Prophets—this way in Matthew 22:37-39: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

So much to think about there! What jumps out to you?

I love that it both humbles and exalts.

It humbles me, because I can never accomplish this goal alone. And I certainly can’t accomplish it for my child. Can I pry open that child’s chest and point his heart to God? No educational system or curriculum can get us there. No book. No school. No plan for screen time limits or outdoor explorations. Such a goal can be accomplished only by God, on His time table and by His schedule and through the indwelling of His Spirit. So, I’m driven in humility to prayer again, looking to Christ and His sacrifice for help. And I’m driven back to His word as well as my iron-sharpening friends.

On the other hand, such a goal also exalts. It exalts God in His perfection and His goodness. It exalts us in the honor He grants us to be at work in our children’s lives. This passage frees us from despair when things go wrong. When the method fails. When children rebel—or simply stumble. A goal of love helps me value the lessons of failure, of “wasted time,” seeing them as part of God’s hidden plan. Our failures are opportunities for His glorious grace to abound, as He loves with a steadfast love and gently guides those who have young.

A benefit of shortcoming is that it helps me set better priorities. Sometimes, I needed to put that math lesson aside in order to teach children a life skill, such as how to mow a lawn, or a compassion trait, such has preparing a meal for a hurting family. Other times, buckling down to finish that lesson can be a conduit to practical service—enabling a child later to support a family, run a cake shop, or design a bridge. All such actions and traits can be put into practice to love God and love others when the heart has been directed toward His glory foremost.

How do you seek to raise kids who love God and others as their first calling? We would love to hear your thoughts. Send your response to me at ewhitten@wng.org or to our God’s WORLD News Managing Editor, Rebecca Cochrane, at rjcochrane@wng.org.

What Are You Reading?

Before I get back to my regularly scheduled chaos, one more question. I’m always looking for good books for my own teens, but also books I can review at WORLD . . . and books I can keep on my shelf to enjoy on a lazy afternoon. What have you been reading lately that you think others should know about?

Three books that have been taking up a lot of my thinking this month:

For parents and teachers: They Say We Are Infidels by Mindy Belz.

I interviewed author and WORLD Senior Editor Mindy Belz in my Classic Book of the Month piece at The World & Everything in It (TW&E), to which you can listen here. WORLD also published an excerpt from the book some time ago, which you can read here. What I love about Mindy’s book is that she writes about brave Christians facing the threat of Islamic Jihad, including from ISIS. The book includes Middle Eastern history and the context for the War on Terror since 9/11, valuable background information for understanding the situation in Afghanistan right now. But ultimately, They Say We Are Infidels is a boots-on-the-ground story about real people, experienced firsthand. Mindy was there, forming friendships with Iraqi women over lunch, staying in homes of persecuted believers, hearing their stories of sneaking past guards in forbidden places. Most of all, the book shows how God has been at work over these last 20 years, offering more true hope than many retrospectives covering the same area and sequence of events.

For teens: In a recent review list on TW&E, I shared my appreciation for Catch a Star. It’s the autobiography of recent Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Tamika Catchings (with writing help from Ken Peterson). Catchings overcame hearing loss and a speech impediment to play basketball at the highest levels, helping to bring home four Olympic gold medals for the U.S. Olympic basketball team. She talks openly here about the impact of her Christian faith on her life and career in this short, easy read. Adults may enjoy the book too, but Catchings’ struggle to find her identity and worth in God may be especially encouraging to teen girls.

For kids: I enjoyed this reflection by Steve West, which touches on some classic kids’ books worth revisiting, for both youngsters and the adults who love them. Goodnight Moon and I Love You Forever. Take a listen and enjoy!

Grace and peace,

Emily Whitten

Emily Whitten

Emily Whitten

Emily is a reviewer and correspondent for WORLD Radio and WORLD Magazine. She earned an English literature degree from the University of Mississippi and is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute. Before joining WORLD News Group, Emily worked at Peachtree Publishers in Atlanta. She gained a mother’s heart for good stories over a decade of homeschooling, and retains it after more recently transitioning her children to a Classical Christian school. Emily lives near Nashville with her husband, two daughters, and their menagerie (a dog, a cat, and a lop-eared bunny). Follow her on Twitter @emilyawhitten.