TTUAC: Normal Is Not Enough

TTUAC: Normal Is Not Enough March 29, 2018

To Train Up A Child, chapter 21, part 2

Chapter 21 begins with Debi Pearl’s letter to her daughters, but ends with two sections that act as conclusions for the book itself—one conclusion is written by Debi, and one by Michael. Chapter 21 is the last chapter in To Train Up A Child.

Today we look at Debi’s conclusion. Given that, throughout this review series, I have quoted this book in its entirety, I will do so with this (relatively brief) section as well. I found this section a bit dense, and less than clear than some sections. Still, Debi’s main import seems to be that one can live a “wholesome” lifestyle, homeschooling and home birthing and eating unprocessed foods, and yet still fail in the ultimate goal—to raise up and train new soldiers for Christ in the army of God—and that is significant.

All that you have read is what we have put to practice in rearing our children. It is also what we have seen some of the Amish families do. Some of the Amish families know the Lord in a sweet way. Yet, some are lost, trying desperately to gain favor with God through their simple life style. Nearly all of them, lost or saved, have been able to rear moral, obedient and respectful children. You can rear happy, obedient, temperate, even God-fearing children that are still lost and undone before God. There is more to knowing God than techniques and principles. There has to be that living, breathing life that only the Holy Spirit of God can give.

Children brought up in a home with parents that are active in knowing and serving a risen Savior are aware of this life. If your end is yourselves (which includes all things clean and wholesome), then your end is the same as the lost Amish families. They have always home-birthed, home-schooled, and eaten natural, wholesome foods. They have for many generations lived a simple life, with the father having a central role in the child rearing. They have always cherished God’s handiwork in nature and worked to maintain it. But, do they know the Savior? Do not get caught up in pouring your life into a good cause–even the rearing of a large family. Pour your life into knowing and serving the Savior and seeking that every life you touch be touched with the knowledge of forgiveness in the shed blood of Jesus.

This section underlines the amount of insecurity and fear involved in conservative evangelical or fundamentalist child-rearing.

Throughout this book, the Pearls promise parents that if they follow the steps they lay out, they will have obedient, respectful children. The absolute certainty with which they offer this promise is one reason so many Christian homeschooling families were so willing to adopt their book and its methods despite their lack of any formal training in child psychology or any related field.

Yet here—despite their insistence that their methods will produce obedient, respectful children—Debi states that even when these methods are properly applied, all may be lost, because the ultimately goal is no to raise obedient, respectful children, but rather to raise godly, spirit-filled children with a passion for the gospel. The first is only a means to the second.

We are called to be soldiers in the army of the living God. Raising up young, new recruits of our children is an exciting side line. Children raised up seeing God in action, saving souls and changing lives, are seeing something real, something eternal. They are hardly aware that they are home-schooled; it is just an earthly means to a heavenly end.

This is actually somewhat interesting. And, dare I say it, healthy.

I grew up in an ordinary conservative evangelical family. We were not missionaries, and my father was not a pastor. My parents didn’t engage in the ministries the Pearls did, such as ministering to prisoners (Michael would go into the local jails and preach the gospel). My mother sometimes told me that the reason they weren’t missionaries on the field, or leading a church, or engaged in politics (to return the country to the Lord) was that they were raising us up to do those things.

Do you know how much pressure that puts on a child?

There are many families where children are expected to follow in their parents’ footsteps, or to achieve something their parents ultimately were not able to achieve. Perhaps it is in sports, a father expecting a son to be the high school quarterback and maybe be recruited for college football and beyond. Perhaps it is in education, a parent expecting a child to get the grades needed to get into a specific school, or pursue a specific career. The pressure these things put on kids is not healthy.

In my own case, every one of my siblings who has grown up and begun leading an ordinary, normal life—job, house, kids—is, on a certain level, a failure. That is not what we were raised for. We were raised with the expectation that we would be missionaries, pastors (or pastors’ wives), or political operatives banning abortion. We weren’t raised to work an ordinary job, live in an ordinary house, and raise an ordinary family. We were raised for something far more. I still feel that pressure, even now.

Living an ordinary, normal life feels like failure. It shouldn’t.

It’s against this backdrop that I read Debi’s statement that the parents reading her book should focus on their own actions and ministries, and not on raising children to do things they put off doing to raise children. And it’s against this backdrop that her statement seems downright healthy—even if her statement still comes with the expectation that such actions will wear off on the children, leading them to also eschew ordinary, normal lives in favor of radical soul winning and ministry opportunities.

A quick note before I go on—I would be remiss if I did not address this line from the above paragraph:

They [the children] are hardly aware that they are home-schooled; it is just an earthly means to a heavenly end.

It’s possible that Debi simply meant that homeschooling should be part of an integrated life where education takes place every day, and not to seemingly endorse educational neglect. However, her statement occurs against the backdrop of the rest of this book, and the number of times Michael and Debi have endorsed educational neglect in its pages is somewhat horrifying. Read in that context, this line made me cringe. Children should be aware that they are being homeschooled.

And finally, these two paragraphs:

When our daughter came back from a missionary trip to Central America, I asked her about the missionaries’ children. Her reply startled me. “The missionaries’ kids have a vision to be the one to reach the next tribe. They are aware of the lost and dying tribe with no one to go unless they fill the gap. They spend their youth preparing and planning for that tribe. They know what they want to be when they grow up. They want to be the one who breaks the language and tells that tribe the story of God. They grow up with purpose, the purpose that those who have never heard might hear.”

The missionary family does not see their family as the “purpose.” The family is a blessing along the way. The children do not grow up thinking they are the “end.” Going into all the world preaching the gospel is the purpose of a Christian’s life. Many Amish, as well as many of us “back to the basics” folks, have stopped with receiving the blessing and do not pass it on. It is a wonderful but selfish life. Children actively involved in a family that is serving God become servants of God.

For all the positive feelings I had when reading Debi’s statement about being a soldier for Christ in the army of God yourself first, and seeing raising up new recruits for this army (i.e. preparing your children to join the battle) as a sideline, these two paragraphs bring back the pressure on children in full force. A child who grows up and wants to lead an ordinary, normal life—while also going to church and reading the Bible and carrying on a devoted relationship with Christ—is a child who is a failure.

And God forbid a child grow up and cease to be a conservative evangelical—or leave religion entirely.

It occurs to me that all of this pressure helps explain why my grandfather’s very different formula for determining success in child rearing, problematic as it was in its own way, made an impression on me when I heard it at some point during my childhood. According to my grandfather, a child had been successfully raised when they left home and did not come asking to move back in, married and stayed married, and were financially stable and did not come back for money.

Obviously, this formula was not without its problems—being single should be an option, divorcing should be an option, and sometimes grown children will need a bit of extra help and support, whether financially or otherwise. Still, compared with the pressure that came with the expectation that I be a missionary, a pastor’s wife, or a politician’s wife working to oppose gay marriage and restore Christian values to the nation, my grandfather’s formula felt refreshingly simple.

More than that, it felt achievable.

Christian homeschooling—and by that I mean the type of homeschooling designed to rear Christian children, as opposed to simply Christian families who homeschool—was originally about removing children from the world to raise them in a godly atmosphere, in order to produce godly Christians. There was a lot of fear at the advent of the Christian homeschool movement, fear that children were falling away from Christ through atheist teachings in the public schools, or through negative peer pressure and a worldly, fallen peer culture. Christian homeschooling was designed to remove children from these influences.

At some point along the line, however, the Christian homeschool movement as a movement began to be about more than raising godly children. It came to be about raising culture changers. Christian homeschool leaders like Michael Pearl argued that homeschooling parents were “the Moses generation,” removing their children from the evil influences in Egypt and raising them in the wilderness. We children were to be “the Joshua generation,” the generation that would retake the promised land—or, in other words, the United States—for Christ, both culturally and politically.

“Libby Anne lives next door and loves Jesus” would no longer be enough. Instead, it would need to be “Libby Anne’s husband is a state senator, he’s pushing legislation to ban abortion after six weeks in their state.” Or, “Libby Anne and her husband are missionaries in Bolivia, working among the Quechua there.” Or, “Libby Anne’s husband is the pastor of a church in Columbus, their outreach ministries are part of a united church-driven effort to change the city.”

Normal would no longer be enough.

And guess what that means? Pressure. Lots and lots of pressure.

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