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    Discipline and Authenticity

    May 26, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    In thinking about marriage, we tend to think that spontaneous actions are genuine while others performed from a sense of duty are stifled, artificial, and contrived. We especially think this way if we are considering questions “of the heart.” Doing one’s duty is thought to be restrictive to true love.

    But the Bible defines love as a whole-hearted keeping of God’s commandments. The greatest act of love was certainly the death of Christ for His people, and that act of love was not offered on an emotional high.

    -Douglas Wilson in Reforming Marriage

    I have been using a timer with my four-year-old, who has proven to me that she is perfectly capable of making her bed beautifully, but prefers to procrastinate. In general, this child daydreams, which is sweet, and dawdles, which is sometimes a problem. So, in the name of learning to be responsible in a timely manner, every morning I set a timer for dressing, and reset it for making her bed. If I can get her moving, the rest of the morning goes just fine.

    All of this is to say that I use timers, and have often used timers for myself or my children when necessary. And yet, when I read this, part of my heart was troubled:

    My 7th year students work on lessons for approximately 4 hours every morning and have an hour of reading right after lunch and chores. Many subjects get accomplished because I trained the kids with timers when they were younger to move from one subject right onto the next with out delay.

    -Linda Fay at Higher Up and Further In

    I think it was the unschooling part of my educational soul which rejected {at first} the idea of schoolwork with timers. I was tempted to believe that “authentic” schoolwork was the sort of schoolwork that was allowed to ramble on, even in such a way as crowded out other subjects and other, necessary, parts of life.

    In brief, my gut reaction was to divorce authenticity from discipline.

    I spent some time thinking about this. I’ve struggled with this in other areas of life. Marriage is a common place, I think, to believe that something isn’t “real” unless it’s filled with gushy passion and cheerfulness. But then I thought about when my third child was an infant, and I hadn’t yet got the swing of things. I was exhausted. And yet, I made my husband’s lunch. I did not want to make his lunch. What I wanted to do was go to bed. But I felt it was my duty, and also an appropriate act of love, and so I made it.

    Does this mean that the act of making his lunch was somehow inauthentic?

    I would say emphatically no. What was authentic was my desire to do the right thing before God for my husband in spite of what my energy level was or whatever else I was interested in doing. In this way, my desire to obey and do my duty was the most authentic thing about my actions.

    I was not only glad to do my duty in this instance, but I am also forever grateful to those who do their duty towards me, regardless of how unlovable I’ve been.

    So we see that in this instance, the disciplining of fleshly desires doesn’t trump authenticity.

    Might this also be true of schoolwork? When I put a timer on my daughter, I don’t walk away feeling like she isn’t “authentically” making her bed. After all, the word authentic deals with reality and genuineness. I can check her room and see that it was done.

    And I can check the timer and verify that she did it in a timely manner.

    So back to schoolwork…

    Perhaps the timer can be a tutor in this area as well. How many times in college did it take me four hours to do a two-hour task simply because I had four hours? How many times have I seen my own children dawdle through a book because they have time on their hands?

    This is not to say that children should never have such time. In fact, Linda Fay goes on to explain that her children have scheduled hours daily for what Charlotte Mason called “masterly inactivity.” This is a time set aside to pursue their own interests.

    But what I learned is that the timer can be a tool in schooling also. It can offer structure to the child who is tempted to take an hour for spelling. It can teach the children that time in life is limited, and so it is best to give each subject at hand our full attention. It can even remind Mommy that if I did a two-hour task in two hours rather than four, I’d have two hours left to fill with other good things.

    And none of this nullifies the “authenticity” of the learning experience. In fact, experience tells me that too much time on our hands makes us sloppy learners, sloppy doers, sloppy at living in general. It is in discipline and attention that we get the most out of life {and marriage}, rather than in living a life of slavery to our emotions. Emotions only take us so far, and we miss the depth that is possible when they are not disciplined. As Wilson wrote:

    It was a bitter grief for Christ to drink the cup of God’s wrath, but that grief does not take away from His love for us; rather, it adds to it.

    When we come to our duties gladly, it helps us to discipline our emotions. When we come to our duties with the knowledge that God has framed them for us and has assigned all marital duties appropriately, we can rejoice in His goodness.

    Oh, that God might allow me the honor of teaching my children the delight and goodness of healthy discipline.

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  • Reply Brandy May 28, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Mystie, I DID end up leaving a comment over at HU&FI to see if Lindafay would give us all a timer tutorial. Here is hoping she will! I mentioned in my comment my child who is easily overwhelmed by the idea of timers to see if she had any advice…

    Ellen, I can’t take credit for it. I was in the habit of timing myself, since I tend to dawdle a bit, too, and then someone suggested to me that I try it with the kids. I’m glad they did!

    Kimbrah, You know Poetic Knowledge is my favorite book. That means I’m not a sallow-faced school marm, right? (Right?!) 🙂

  • Reply Kimbrah May 28, 2009 at 6:10 am

    “I think it was the unschooling part of my educational soul”

    Oh how those words coming from you bring joy to my heart! 😛 Just teasing you!

    I am entirely convinced that your A. and my Bobby are two peas in a pod. I have to use a timer with him as well, but the little stinker broke my timer, so I will have to get a new one now.

    I am really interested in how you are relating this to homeschooling. The time management issue is a big one with me, too. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Reply Ellen May 26, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Wow, novel concept! I actually never thought of using a timer before. It wasn’t something my mom or dad did growing up, but I can see how it would be really useful. Thanks for the tip!

  • Reply Mystie May 26, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Great connection, Brandy! I have used timers off and on, but haven’t gotten into the habit of using them consistently. I don’t use them often enough for myself, either, though I always intend to. Timers and having specific time slots helps keep me disciplined, since I don’t have a developed self-discipline yet.

    It definitely can seem tyrannical, overbearing, and stifling. But my guess is that if it’s used in a cheerful, upbeat attitude (on Mom’s part) and used in order to give the student more free time, it wouldn’t have to be that way.

    And now…off to start dinner and stop dawdling, myself!

  • Reply Brandy May 26, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Me too, Emily! Actually, a lot of this Reforming Marriage book is bringing up concepts which aren’t totally foreign to me, but are definitely things I need to think about more.

  • Reply Lift Up Your Hearts May 26, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    It’s a concept I need work on myself!

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