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    Educational Philosophy, Other Thoughts

    Lessons from Charlotte: Governing the Kingdom of Mansoul {Part II}

    June 26, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Kingdom of Mansoul is a sort of metaphor {which I am assuming Charlotte Mason adapted from John Bunyan’s fabulous allegorical tale The Holy War} for the internal life of the person {get it? Man’s soul?}. The man is either governed {or not governed, as the case may be} by his will, which is influenced primarily by his conscience which, in turn, is influenced by its loyalties and where they lie. For Christians, the loyalty lies with Christ, our King and Priest, and the goal of all Christian parents is to pass this loyalty on to their children. {The question is always how much influence we parents actually have.}

     

    Lessons from Charlotte: Governing the Kingdom of Mansoul {Part II}

     

    Today, then, we’ll look at the details concerning the will.

     

    The Misunderstood Will

    Charlotte invites us to help our children strengthen their wills. In a world where “strong-willed children” are hard to raise and have many a book written about them, Charlotte turns our misconception upon its head:

    If the will have the habit of authority, if it deliver its mandates in the tone that constrains obedience, the kingdom is, at any rate, at unity with itself. If the will be feeble, of uncertain counsels, poor Mansoul is torn with disorder and rebellion.

    Charlotte wrote that persons can go through life without any real exercise of the will. On the one hand, we have those who have coasted through life, “hedged in,” Charlotte explained, “by favouring circumstances.” It is harder to identify a lack of vigorous will in a life so abundantly blessed. But there are others, she says, “whom circumstances have not saved, who have drifted from their moorings, and are hardly to be named by those to whom they belong.” In both cases, there is no real character in these people. Rather, both types are floating down life’s river. It is just that some are battered upon the rocks, and others the current manages to keep safe.

    Character, sayeth Charlotte,

    is the result of conduct regulated by will. We say, So-and-so has a great deal of character, such another is without character; and we might express the fact equally by saying, So-and-so has a vigorous will, such another has no force of will. We all know of lives, rich in gifts and graces, which have been wrecked for the lack of a determining will.

    Charlotte tells us that the will has three functions:

    1. Controlling the passions and emotions
    2. Directing the desires
    3. Ruling the appetites

    And then she makes this wise observation:

    But observe, the passions, the desires, the appetites, are there already, and the will gathers force and vigour only as it is exercised in the repression and direction of these …

    The strong of will, then, are characterized by the ability to be self-governing, rather than a slave to these natural passions, desires, and appetites.

    Charlotte then says that our prevalent wrong view of the will leads many parents into a “metaphysical blunder.” She gives the example of the child-tyrant. He screams to do what he has a passion for, is obstinate, and monopolizes the toys and games in the nursery. No one can make him do anything {not even himself}. We parents see this, and there are typically, Charlotte says, two responses. On the one hand, there are the parents that recognize that a vigorous will is required for a man to make his mark in the world. Mistaking the child’s wilfullness for a truly strong will, they decide that his will must not be broken, and “all his vagaries must go unchecked.” On the other hand, there are the parents that recognize the behavior as sinful {though they do not understand where and how the will is involved} and so they determine that

    the child’s will must be broken at all hazards, and the poor little being is subjected to a dreary round of punishment and repression.

    Now, though I personally believe that little sinners need some external “punishment and repression” now and then, my goodness, do I see her point!

    Back in Charlotte’s day, what we call “strong-willed children” were simply called “wilful.”

    But, all the time, nobody perceives that it is the mere want of will that is the matter with the child. He is in a state of absolute ‘wilfulness’ — the rather unfortunate word we use to describe the state in which the will has no controlling power; willessness, if there were such a word, would describe this state more truly.

    What is it, really, to be “strong-willed?”

    Simply this: remove bit and bridle — that is, the control of the will — from the appetites, the desires, the emotions, and the child who has mounted his hobby, be it resentment, jealousy, desire of power, desire of property, is another Mazeppa, borne along with the speed of the swift and the strength of the strong, and with no power at all to help himself. Appetite, passion, there is no limit to their power and their persistence if the appointed check be removed … [T]he child is, in fact, hurried along without resistance, because that opposing force which should give balance to his character is undeveloped and untrained.

    We do recognize this a bit in our culture, for when we see a child having a complete meltdown, we often say that he is “out of control.” We just don’t follow any logical progression, or ask who or what should have been in control, and wasn’t.

     

    Why Train the Will?

    At this point, Miss Mason explains that there are weak-willed Christians. These Christians, as assured as they are of salvation {and they are}, are not the same as heroic Christians. A disciplined will is “necessary to heroic Christian character” she says:

    All this the divine grace may accomplish in weak unwilling souls, and then they will do what they can; but their power of service is limited by their past. Not so the child of the Christian mother, whose highest desire is to train him for the Christian life. When he wakes to the consciousness of whose he is and whom he serves, she would have him ready for that high service, with every faculty in training — a man of war from his youth; above all, with an effective will, to will and to do of His good pleasure.

    Belonging to a Christian family should be a real advantage. The family is a gift to the child. They might have been born in darkness, but they were not. They were born to be raised in the Church, to be encompassed by the paideia of God in their youth.

    Charlotte believes the will is a dividing line:

    And here is the line which divides the effective from the non-effective people, the great from the small, the good from the well-intentioned and respectable; it is in proportion as a man has self-controlling, self-compelling power that he is able to do, even of his own good pleasure; that he can depend upon himself, and be sure of his own action in emergencies.

     

    How the Will is Trained

    By this point in the reading, I was convinced that the will deserved my attention, that I should train it as best I could. So how is this done? How do parents go about training the will?

    It’s a thousand little things. It’s getting their mind off the pain when they fall, rather than coddling them. There are any number of opportunities throughout the day to challenge the child to elevate himself above his passions, and they start at the earliest of ages.

    Charlotte boils a lot of this down into the principle of “changing your thoughts.”

    It is by force of will that a man can ‘change his thoughts,’ transfer his attention from one subject of thought to another, and that, with a shock of mental force of which he is distinctly conscious. And this is enough to save a man and to make a man, this power of making himself think only of those things which he has beforehand decided that it is good to think upon.

    She names a thousand temptations which present themselves to a man — forbidden pleasures, resentment, weariness from the repetition found in his days — and gives us the strong man’s response:

    [H]e pulls himself up, and deliberately fixes his attention on those incentives which have the most power to make him work … His thoughts run in the groove he wills them to run in …

    [H]e just compels himself to think of something else — the last book he has read, the next letter he must write, anything interesting enough to divert his thoughts…

    [H]e simply does not allow himself in idle discontent; it is always within his power to give himself something pleasant, something outside of himself, to think of, and he does so…

    And so, she asks us to teach this secret to our children:

    [T]he knowledge of this way of the will is so far the secret of a happy life, that it is well worth imparting to the children. Are you cross? Change your thoughts. Are you tired of trying? Change your thoughts. Are you craving for things you are not to have? Change your thoughts; there is a power within you, your own will, which will enable you to turn your attention from thoughts that make you unhappy and wrong, to thoughts that make you happy and right. And this is the exceedingly simple way in which the will acts; this is the sole secret of the power over himself which the strong man wields — he can compel himself to think of what he chooses, and will not allow himself in thoughts that breed mischief.

    This caused me no small amount of angst at first. I must confess that I wondered if this were true. Can a man have such a power over himself? Ought he? So I prayed. I talked this over with my husband. And I was reminded, first of all, that God instructs us to control our thoughts, to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

    Or, we could look at those heroic Christian men, Timothy and Paul. There were myths and false speculations swirling around the church at Ephesus, and what did Paul tell Timothy to do? Instruct the men not to pay attention to the falsehoods. Does Paul tell Timothy to pray for strength? It seems to be assumed that, since Timothy is a Christian, he already has divine strength accessible to him. So the directions are plain: fight the good fight, keep the faith and a good conscience.

    In other words, have a vigorous will. Discipline yourself; godliness itself is a discipline. You are not floating along down a river, Timothy. Flee from bad things and actively pursue good things.

    Paul’s letters imply that a vigorous will is possible for those who believe and have been freed from the chains of sin. It is here that we realize that Charlotte’s advice is distinctively Christian.

    Charlotte lists off various prerequisites for a developed will, including the power of attention, good habits {bad habits — because they are in conflict with the conscience — do battle with the will and are a cause of struggle}, cultivated reason {understanding the whys of life}. She then tells us to allow the child to engage in the conquest over his passions and appetites:

    Every effort of obedience which does not give him a sense of conquest over his own inclinations, helps to enslave him, he will resent the loss of his liberty by running into license when he can. That is the secret of the miscarrying of many strictly brought-up children. But invite his co-operation, let him heartily intend and purpose to do the thing he is bidden, and then it is his own will that is compelling him, and not yours; he has begun the greatest effort, the highest accomplishment of human life — the making, the compelling of himself. Let him know what he is about, let him enjoy a sense of triumph, and of your congratulation, whenever he fetches his thoughts back to his tiresome sum, whenever he makes his hands finish what they have begun, whenever he throws the black dog off his back, and produces a smile from a clouded face.

    I feel as if a whole world of potential encouragement of my children has been opened in me in this single paragraph. Here we have a tangible preparation for The Great Well Done.

    Charlotte ends by reminding us that while learning is quite common, self-control is a rare jewel. In this regard, training the will towers above our academic pursuits.

    Next up: The Conscience

     

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    5 Comments

  • Reply More Important Than Intelligence (Charlotte Mason and Gifted Kids) | Afterthoughts October 10, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    […] Charlotte Mason talks about habit training, growing minds with ideas, building relationships, and training the will (among other things), all of this began with her observation that education as it stood in her time […]

  • Reply Naomi July 13, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Kristine and I were enjoying your insightful posts and when she pointed out you were in CA, we were both hopeful that you would be able to join us. Keeping in touch via blogs is a close second :)If you’re ever in the area, you’ll have to let us know.

  • Reply Anonymous July 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Enjoyed reading this, on the recommendation of Naomi. I’m bookmarking your blog and will be back to read more when I have time.
    -Joy

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts July 10, 2010 at 2:22 am

    Naomi, I have heard about your book group! I sure wish I was about two hours closer to you. 🙁

    I am always amazed that Charlotte had so much insight, even though she never married and never had children. The Lord certainly used her to influence generations…

  • Reply Naomi July 8, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Thank you so much for this post. We are discussing this very section of CM’s writings and the discipline of the will at our meeting tomorrow night and the scripture references you made are wonderful. As I read through the section I did wonder if this CM wasn’t ascribing to some kind of “think yourself to success” type of thinking, a kind of success gospel like we see being preached so often today, but after reading 1Tim 4:7-8, I recognized the difference is that one is for the sake of self, CM directs our children for the sake of godliness. For His Glory, not our own. So many wonderful things for us mothers in this section!

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