Jesus once told a story about a demon being cast out of a person (Matthew 12:43-45). The spirit leaves and roams the desert. Finding nothing else to do, he returns to where he came from and finds the place “empty, swept, and put in order.” Naturally, he goes out and invites his friends to join him. Jesus concludes the story by saying “the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
It’s impossible to read this story without considering that there is something beyond the casting out of the unclean spirit that ought to have taken place. Honestly, a house being swept and put in order doesn’t sound like a bad thing, and yet here we have this orderly (albeit empty) place serving as an apparently welcoming place for demons.
In the preface to his book None Greater, author Matthew Barrett uses this story to talk about theology:
[W]hen bad theology is cast out by one generation but not replaced with a substitute by the next, the home of Christian theology is left empty. When that bad spirit of theology returns and finds the home empty, it brings with it seven more unclean theologies. The last state is worse than the first. Such is our heritage. p. xvi
He uses this to describe the goal of his book:
… to fill the house with good theology proper, the type that will keep the demons away for good.p. xvi
Putting Fear and Reactivity in Their Proper Place
If we’re not careful, we can create empty rooms through fear. As mothers and homeschool moms, the temptation can be to focus on the bad. And there really are bad things. Um. I live in California. Have you seen the new curricula around here lately? (Here’s Exhibit A.) We’ve got strict vaccine laws, too. I’ve been homeschooling since before these things were issues, but if I were a newish mom now, it’d be so easy to slip into having fear as a primary reason to homeschool.
We want to cast out the demons, and that’s not a bad thing. But if we’re not careful, we’ll focus so much on demons that we end up with a really clean and tidy room. The problem is that it’s also empty.
Good Homeschooling Isn’t About the Things You Avoid
I’ll repeat that: good homeschooling isn’t about the things you avoid. Fear or reaction to truly bad things might be a valid starting place, but they aren’t a vision of goodness.
Emptying the house is wonderful and it must be done, just don’t forget to fill it up.
That’s a vision for good homeschooling and mothering right there: FILL THE HOUSE.
We want these kids packed with goodness, truth, and beauty. I don’t mean force feeding. It’s more like … saturation. A good example is what Charlotte Mason says about daily Bible reading with our children:
[The child] should not be able to recall a time before the sweet stories of old filled his imagination; he should have heard the voice of the Lord God in the garden in the cool of the evening; should have been an awed spectator where the angels ascended and descended upon Jacob’s stony pillow; should have followed Christ through the cornfield on the Sabbath-day, and sat in the rows of the hungry multitudes — so long ago that such sacred scenes form the unconscious background of his thoughts. Parents and Children, pp. 108-109
So here we have as a foundation of a filled house the Gospel stories, read over and over a thousand times. This is how the Scriptures become “the unconscious background” of a child’s thoughts.
Don’t Let the Good Things Overwhelm You
This fill-the-house approach is, in a sense, the essence of a Charlotte Mason education. It’s a beautiful thing. But, if we’re not careful, it can also be an overwhelming thing.
To Bible reading, we add many wonderful living books. Living books fill the mindwith ideas on a million topics — the ideas themselves are living. They capture the child’s attention and drive him to learn and grow. When these are added to regular Bible reading, the house starts to fill up.
After this, we add visions of goodness. Or perhaps I should say sensations of goodness? Because good things can come in through the ears as well as the eyes. Hymns, for example.
Couple this with pictures, twelve to eighteen per year, let’s say, from two or three of the world’s greatest painters.
And don’t forget the great outdoors, soaking in sunshine and honing observation skills all at once.
Are we starting to see how this works? The house is filling up! What’s left?
I think the obvious thing would be what Charlotte Mason calls “the habits of the good life:”
Obedience in the first year, and all the virtues of the good life as the years go on; every year with its own definite work to show in the training of character.Parents and Children, p. 65
Whew! I haven’t even gotten super detailed about curriculum and some of us are already paralyzed with the magnitude.
Back up and Remember What You Are Doing … and Why
I think the main remedy to the temptation to let this overwhelm us is to keep the proper perspective.
That’s it? I really think so, yes.
We can keep perspective by grabbing hold of an appropriate mental picture. Filling the house is one. You’ve cast out the bad things and now there is a vacuum — what are you going to fill it with? Behold the list of awesomeness! And go from there.
Another mental picture, similar to that of filling the house, is that of filling a museum gallery:
[E]very child should leave school with at least a couple of hundred pictures by great masters hanging permanently in the halls of his imagination, to say nothing of great buildings, sculpture, beauty of form and colour in things he see. Perhaps we might secure at least a hundred lovely landscapes too, — sunsets, cloudscapes, starlight nights. At any rate he should go forth well furnished because imagination has the property of magical expansion, the more it holds the more it will hold.Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 43
As we offer our children these good things, we are really offering them adornment for the walls of their minds. We can’t control what they choose to hang up, but we can control whether or not they have been offered these things in the first place.
So let us not worry about whether we did this or that just so, or whether we did enough of it, or whatever it is that pesters you at night when you should be sleeping. Keep a list of good things and offer them. Offer them consistently. Offer them whenever and however you can. Replace that worry with delight.
Fill the house.