Listen in to a recent conversation we had about child training, habit training, and the Holy Spirit. Enjoy, and may your trust in Jesus grow stronger as He reveals Himself as the God who works in us.
We love so many of Charlotte Mason's methods. Living books, feasts of beautiful ideas, hours in the outdoors, short, varied lessons, narration, the importance of free play... the list could go on!
Last year, after reading several volumes of Ambleside's Concise Summaries, I wondered whether it was possible (hypocritical, even?) to embrace someone's methods while disagreeing with their foundational philosophies. We decided that Charlotte's philosophies are not the only way to arrive at her conclusions.
Her methods were ahead of her time. We see the wisdom and benefit of those methods. Yet Charlotte was a woman of her time. Her beliefs and convictions were shaped by Victorian religion, a form of godliness which had largely forgotten the power of the Holy Spirit (which is why the Keswick Convention rocked England).
My question comes from having lived with several families, both North American and European, with a variety of opinions on child training. Some use a consistent method very similar to habit training, and... it's not enough. There's an ever-present tension between law and grace; children who are constantly watched, yet evade and disobey; disciplined and discipled with love and grace, yet their hearts are untouched; ever hearing, never penetrated by the dynamis of the Gospel, by the Person of Jesus.
Galatians 3:23-4:1: "The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.... the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father." Absolutely true. Parents are to train up a child in the way he should go. However, when the child becomes the focus, instead of the Way (Jesus), habit training can quickly derail and cut the legs out from under the Gospel.
For Charlotte Mason, “the problem before the educator is to give the child control over his own nature” (Volume 1, page 103) so that he can overcome his bad traits, conquer his own inclinations, gain power over his own self. For Charlotte, the Will is what enables us to do that which we know is right but which we may not feel like doing, and therefore she desires to strengthen the Will. She is quick to add, “I do not undervalue the Divine grace––far otherwise; but we do not always make enough of the fact that Divine grace is exerted on the lines of enlightened human effort.”
Charlotte rightly recognizes the importance “of the Christian mother, whose highest desire is to train [her child] for the Christian life.” But she continues, “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.” (Volume 1, page 323) Hold on! Those last words highlight the way that habit training can easily try to replace the Holy Spirit. Philippians 2:13 actually says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
Charlotte believes “it is because of the possibilities of ruin and loss which lie about every human life that I am pressing upon parents the duty of saving their children by the means put into their hands. Perhaps it is not too much to say, that ninety-nine out of a hundred lost lives lie at the door of parents who took no pains to... fortify them with the habits of a good life.” (Volume 1, page 330) Is this how the Bible views salvation? Can Christian parents save their children by fortifying them "with the habits of a good life”?
Corrie ten Boom knew something different. “When I try, I fail. When I trust, He succeeds.”
Even if we append "I am, I can, I ought, I will" with, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," Charlotte's philosophy inclines a child to depend upon himself. When faced with the impossible standard of God's Word, such children often experience self-condemnation. The truth is confusing, because it seems to contradict everything they know: I am--a wretch? I cannot--but Jesus can?
I have seen what children are, when given free rein. I have seen what children are, when spanked ten times a day. I have seen what children are, when given time and space to consider their behavior, then gently led by a firm authority into the truth of Scripture. But it is not enough. None of these are enough. We must choose the Holy Spirit every single time, and we must help our children choose the Holy Spirit, every single time.
A couple things helped crystallize and articulate these thoughts. Andrew Murray, a Spirit-filled contemporary of Charlotte Mason:
“In this [the child] is to become the master of his own will, that he voluntarily submits it to a higher authority.”
“...cast yourself on the covenant for the leading of the Holy Spirit in your work, for the renewal of the Holy Spirit in your child, that it may be your and his joy to see his will given up to choose the good, to choose God.”
“...may a due sense of my own impotence, and Your Almighty Power working in me, combine to keep me humble and yet hopeful, conscious of my weakness, but confident in You.”
Also, part of an article by Leslie Ludy, titled Tending to Their Souls:
After walking our children through the Gospel, and joyfully watching them give their lives to Jesus, one of the most important principles we have had to continually remind them of is the concept of the “old man” and the “new man” (See Romans 6:8-13)
As they are newly planted in Christ, our children need to learn the principle of reckoning themselves dead unto sin and alive unto righteousness. When we see a sinful behavior pattern surfacing in their lives, we will often ask them where “old Kipling” or “old Harper” is. And they will remember that their “old man” is dead and buried, and that they are now “new Kipling” or “new Harper” who is in Christ Jesus. In their new position “in Christ,” they have the power to reckon themselves dead unto sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. It may sound like a complicated truth for preschoolers to grasp. But we have found that they truly do “get it.” They are very aware of the difference between their “old” and “new” man. The old man has no ability to overcome sin. But now that they are “new creations in Christ,” old things have passed away. Through Christ, they have been given the power to choose righteousness over sin. When we remind them of these truths often, we see an incredible difference in the way they live their lives.
This certainly doesn’t mean we have perfect, sinless children. (Ha! Wouldn’t that be nice?!) But they are beginning to grasp the secret to living a godly life, and they are starting to understand the fact that sin no longer needs to control them.
For instance, when my youngest son begins to whine and resist obeying, I appeal to his understanding of the Gospel. “Remember that you are ‘new Kipling,’” I will remind him. “You can ask Jesus for the grace to say ‘no’ to sin right now. You are in Christ, Kipling. Disobedience no longer needs to control you. If sin can’t get to Jesus, it doesn’t need to get to you!”
Often, these words will motivate him to stop the downward spiral he’s on and ask for the grace to behave like “new Kipling” who is “in Christ Jesus.”
Frequently there is a marked difference in his attitude after taking the time to remind him of these truths. It’s truly a marvelous thing to watch God at work in his little soul. When you are working with your kid’s behavior issues, don’t stop short and rely only on discipline and character training principles. Incorporate the message of the Gospel, and frequently remind them of the covenant they have made with Jesus Christ. As they grow and develop, the victory and power of the Gospel will become an unshakable foundation in their lives.