This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Emily: Hey guys. Welcome back to another part in our series all about educating our children and the Gospel. Last week we heard from Melissa Krueger on private school, and next week, we’ll be hearing from Jen Wilkin on public school. This week we’re hearing from Irene Sun, sharing all about her family’s decision to homeschool and how God leads individual families in unique ways to raise our children in the Lord. We know that you will love this interview. Irene is a pastor’s wife, a mom, and she is the author of the upcoming book, God Counts: Numbers in the Bible, available from New Growth Press in Fall 2018. Irene studied Chinese literature and Christian liturgy at Yale, and she recently completed her Masters in Theology in Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She occasionally blogs on websites like The Gospel Coalition, and keeps her own blog at waitinginthewaters.blogspot.com. You can also find her on Facebook. We will have all kinds of links in the show notes for you guys about how to get connected to Irene and her resources, which can be found at risenmotherhood.com/education. You can also find on our website, links to the previous shows in this series, and definitely don’t forget to come back next week to hear from Jen Wilkin. We are so excited to be doing this series, so we will jump in to today’s interview with myself, Laura, and Irene.
Laura: Hi Irene, thank you so much for joining us today on Risen Motherhood.
Irene: Hi, and thank you for having me.
Laura: We are thrilled to have you on the show today to talk a little bit more about the choice for homeschooling. Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself, your family make-up, and maybe just a very high level overview of what a day homeschooling your children looks like?
Irene: I am Irene Sun, and I am a pastor’s wife. I was born and raised mostly in Malaysia, though for some years, my parents were missionaries in Tahiti and Indonesia. Therefore, I kind of grew up all over the place with a lot of moving around. My husband, Hans, and I have five children; four boys are with us. They are 9, 7, 5 and by the grace of God, we’ll have a new born in a few weeks. So it’s exciting, and I guess we’ll nurse again after five years. We lost a baby last year during pregnancy, so I try to always acknowledge the life of that baby even though we don’t know him or her, as well.
A typical day for a homeschooler; I usually look at my schedule in weekly terms. For example, our weeks would begin with our community days – we are part of a community called The Classical Conversation. I don’t know whether you guys have heard of it?
Irene: Monday is our community day. For those who’ve not heard of Classical Conversation, we are a group of Christian families, and usually each community has about 40–50 children, though some are smaller communities. We come from different denominations and ethnicities, but despite all these differences, we are a Christ-centered community, and our desire is to know God and make him known. Tuesdays are my errands and groceries days, and all the boys go shopping with me. I kind of pile them onto those Costco carts even though they can walk now. But I remember those days when we had babies, and that was a little bit more complicated. [laughter]
Laura: But the snacks at Costco. I mean, you just can’t beat the snacks.
Irene: That’s true. Samples are always nice, but I think that’s part of their education because they know now that if ice cream is not on sale, we’re not buying ice cream. [Laughter] Wednesdays are usually our field trip days; our community sometimes will have field trips and we have membership to the botanic gardens. Thursdays and Fridays are usually our indoor days - we’re either at home or at the library. Then everyday, the boys will have to do a little bit of their handwriting and math. I spread them out throughout the week so that it’s not so overwhelming for our one or two days of the week. That’s kind of an overview of our week.
Laura: Wonderful. It definitely sounds like you guys are doing a lot of different things. You’re in and out of the house and there’s a lot of fun flexibility and activities that you guys are doing. It’s so neat to get the snapshot of what it looks like. Emily and I are both sort of on this precipice of trying to make some decisions about schooling choices for our own children down the road as our kids are nearing that age. Can you walk us through a bit why we, as Christian parents, have freedom in Christ in our educational choices? Is there maybe a better choice for a Christian family, and can you talk us through that answer?
Irene: I think that the process of making decisions is not that different in terms of other decisions in our lives. For example, when we were deciding whether or not we were going to breastfeed. There are so many different choices that we’re making for our children, but it comforted me that my children are broken the way that I am broken, and that they need Jesus to save them from their sin and their brokenness, just as Jesus saved me from my sin and my brokenness. That should give all of us an immense freedom to think and pray, and to discern what is the most wise decision for our family because we are not their savior. We are also not their sovereign Lord who holds their future in our hands. That takes a lot of pressure off us to know that their eternal wellbeing is in God’s hands. The Lord has already purchased their freedom as well as my freedom on the cross to break the power of sin. There’s also great freedom for the Christian in knowing that we are saved by grace through faith, and that we have nothing to prove to ourselves or to the world.
That is so important, right? Even when the boys were babies, I had to constantly tell myself that, “I have nothing to prove.” Our identity is rooted in the Lord, and the Lord does not require for us to succeed but simply to obey. That’s really hard for us because we are so prone to compare ourselves to other people. Another freedom that we have in Christ is that we are free to call out to God to help us, and he has promised to help us while we put our lives in the way of grace. No matter what options we have to educate our children, or what options we will eventually choose, we know that we can cry out to God for help because we need a lot of help. That’s the first part of your question.
Emily: Irene, just to summarize, because you covered like a ton of great stuff there. It’s reality that we are not our children’s savior. Therefore there is no formula that if we follow – if we just do this – then we can make our children right if we just teach them the right way, or whatever it is. That is something that only Christ can do for them. I love how you said also we have nothing to prove, and that is because our identity is fully rooted in Christ. He did every proving – everything that needed to be justified is justified through him. We have this whole righteousness, and there is no, “If I just school our children this certain way, I am going to be more accepted by God and by others.” That’s just not true. We’re as fully accepted as we can be in Christ. Then the last piece that you shared there is just that ability that because we’re in Christ, we now have his help. We can have access to God who has every resource available to him – he is going to help us fulfil the good works that he prepared for us beforehand. Therefore we can be confident in that. I wanted us to grasp what you said, because it’s so good.
Irene: As the load and the hardness of parenting increases, I find myself even asking for God to help me with the dishes. [laughter] He is faithful; he helps us even with these little tasks that we think are so insignificant. But the Lord is magnified when our weaknesses are magnified because the more faithless and weak and evil we are, the more steadfast and strong and faithful he is. Therefore, cry out to God for help and he is faithful to provide it.
Laura: That plays very well into my next question here. What advise do you have for a mom or dad to really thoughtfully and prayerfully crying out to God and asking him for wisdom? What advise would you have as they work through determining the various education options? I think that that’s a struggle that every mom and dad is kind of going through, especially at the beginning of stages of sending their kids to school. But also I know a lot of families kind of re-evaluate their decisions pretty frequently as their kids are growing. What thoughts do you have there?
Irene: Yes. I will answer this question along with your question about whether or not there’s a better option because I think they actually work really well together. As we are thinking and praying through our children’s education, the first thing to know is that we are all called to be homeschoolers. The reason that I say that is because we all teach our children at home. It’s just that it’s in a very general way. For example, when I talk to my friends and sisters about how to teach theology to our kids, I often say that we are visible faces of our invisible God. Our children know who a mother is, and who a father is – they know the face of our heavenly Father through the faces of their earthly parent. From the moment that we hold that newborn in our arms, we are in a sense, educating our children. We are teaching them and displaying to them what love, grace, faith, and hope look like. I am not saying that every parent should formally educate their children at home. But I would say that every parent is a homeschooler in that sense. We are all teaching our children, all the time, the way that Deuteronomy 6 has commanded us to do.
Moving into how Hans and I decided to work through the various education options, I was very helped by his vision for our family. Hans is 15 years older than me, and he thought it through. Like when we were first married, he had a very clear purpose and direction for our family, and I really benefitted from his leadership. After we determine what commandments are given to us, how do we decide which method of education then should we invest in? I think that every family is given different desires and different provisions; some families have more and some families have less. And every parent has also been given different abilities. Just to summarize, the three things that are helpful to think about are what is our desire or our calling? What is the provision God has given to us? And then, what is the ability that God has given to us? If we lack in any of these areas, for example, for us it was the provision thing. We know that we will not have an income, so private Christian school is definitely not an option. For me, teaching at a Christian school to be near my children was not an option because I was a student. We really needed to cry out to God for provision. In terms of whether or not there’s a better option, it’s just to look at our circumstances and discern and pray, and ask God to give us a fear of the Lord, to really look at our heart, and to be really honest with ourselves.
Emily: I really like that you’re saying Irene, is everything goes back to the heart. That something we talk a lot about on Risen Motherhood is that on the outside, two people can make the same choice. But on the inside, they can be doing it for different reasons; one person can be desiring to obey and honor the Lord and the other person can be trying to prove themselves, or trying to make ourselves more righteous before others. There can be lots of sinful motivations there. What I am gathering from what you’re saying is that it’s important for us to look at our hearts and acknowledge our limitations of our circumstances, to be humbled before the Lord, and to know that we’re not God. We may not have all the things, we may not be able to do our preferred method, or what we think would be the ideal. But we can do what God has asked us to do through Christ, and he’s going to equip us for that. That’s good. It’s also good to have faith that when he calls us to something that’s hard, whether because we think we don’t have the energy to do it, or it’s hard because it’s different than what we had hoped for. We have to have faith and do the hard thing that we feel like we can’t do. That gets at the root of what’s going on and who we’re worshipping.
Irene: I love what you said about the Lord is always looking at our hearts because he knows whether or not we’re obeying. He sees that action, but he also knows what is motivating us to do what we do. So yes, thank you, that was really helpful.
Laura: Irene, is there ever a time where you have second guessed your decision? Something that both you and Emily were hitting on is that we can feel this guilt and anxiety over decisions that we make. Even after we’ve made them, it can sort of be this waffling back and forth thing that we do. I am curious if that’s ever happened for you? And what gives you freedom from feeling those things in your decision?
Irene: In terms of the second guessing our decision, I don’t think we ever second guessed the decision to homeschool. That was quite clear from the beginning in terms of evaluating our desires, provision, and the ability of our family. But I know I am very prone to feeling guilty and anxious about many things in everyday circumstances. You know, like, are my children doing enough math? Or doing enough handwriting? I have no idea. I have never learned Latin.
So there’s a lot of anxiety and guilt that goes on in my heart throughout the day. The way that frees me is it goes back to the freedom that we have in Christ, which is that I have nothing to prove. When I know that it was a bad day of homeschooling, the way I combat it is by asking them for forgiveness. I tell them that, “Mommy has not done a good job today. But then the Lord is giving us tomorrow, and by his grace, hopefully we can try to be more obedient tomorrow.” That definitely frees me because it not only demonstrates repentance for my children, which is something really hard for me to do, especially coming from a Chinese culture. Often in Chinese culture, parents do not apologize to their children. I am therefore learning to do that, and learning that his grace is new every morning and his mercy is abundant to all of us. That frees me from guilt and anxiety.
Emily: What I love that you just revealed there is – I am just going to go out on a limb –sometimes I think once we get through the decision about how we’re going to school our kids, I am going to stop second guessing my whole world. [laughs] I am going to be done with anxieties about, “Are we doing the right thing? Are we not doing the right thing? Are we doing too many activities? Are we not doing enough?” Whatever those different things are, that’s kind of just a lie. Every parent, even those who seem most confident in their decision in terms of how they’re educating, everyone is still wondering. Like you said, “Did we do enough math? Am I doing exactly the right method of teaching them handwriting, or whatever those things are?” There is no, “Oh, you arrived and then you’re done evaluating and repenting and crying out to the Lord for those things.” It’s just a reminder to me and maybe other moms out there who are feeling like, “Oh, if I can just get this figured out, it’s going to be okay.” And sometimes yes, it is. But this is a heart problem that we all struggle with, and that’s something we can all run to the Lord with.
Irene: And again, it also frees me to know that he requires obedience and not success. That is the goal – he just wants to see us obeying, and repentance is a huge part of obeying. And crying out for help is a huge part of obedience. Sometimes I feel like when I have a bad day, it’s just God teaching me to cry out to him and to depend on him and not on myself.
Laura: Yes, and what I love too about what you’re saying here is all of these truths are universal for moms. Like no matter how you choose to educate your children, we’re all struggling. As Emily was saying too, just the guilt and anxiety; we’re all feeling these same things, and there isn’t this, “Oh if you pick this option, you’ll avoid all of those hard feelings.” But instead, we’re all, day by day, coming to the cross. As you said Irene, we’re repenting and we’re just called to obey. We don’t have to have success, or know the end – like in how our kids will turn out. But we’re trusting, day by day, in this decision that the Lord has let us in, that this is the right thing for our family and the way that God has led us to educate our children. We just need to be faithful in knowing that. I think too Irene, and in light of time, I am going to move us forward a little faster here. But one piece of the homeschool puzzle that I know a lot of moms have questions about – it’s something that we’ve talked about and that I have a question about, and I am sure Emily as well. In terms of maybe some of the potential weaknesses of homeschooling, one that I hear frequently is kind of lack of exposure to diversity. I am curious; if you can just speak to that point quickly, just for any mom who might be considering this path. How do you guys come back some of that when you’re doing this type of education?
Irene: We come back at that very intentionally, by being part of the community, by part of being the Classical Conversations. It’s a dedicated group of parents who are loving one another’s children. We come from all different ethnicities and – I said – financial backgrounds. No matter which formal education option we choose, we have to be very deliberate – that we are loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. For parents who are not plugged into the community, we also have our church community that is so crucial in the homeschooler’s life. Between field trips and grocery stores, my children know all the librarians and all the sample people at Costco. [laughter] Their community is just because these are the faces that they see every single day, every week. That’s one of the potential weaknesses. Another potential weakness of homeschooling is that my desire is to turn my children into me. The fear that we have is that we don’t want them to just behold us and not behold God. I am prone to wonder, and I am not their savior. Amy Carmichael has a poem which is really simple, and one that I’ve memorized by heart. But the way she prays is:
“Love through me, love of God. Make me like thy clear air, that thou may pour thy colors through as though it were not there.”
Therefore I just pray;
“Lord, just love through me love of God, and make me like thy clear air so that my children they would not see me, but they would see the Lord.”
I am not the person that they’re beholding all day everyday. But that they’re learning to behold God, and they’re learning to love God and worship him. I am just clear air. I am just the instrument through which God’s glory can shine, that God’s beauty, goodness, and truth can be brought to my children.
Emily: What you’re describing is something that we’re all tasked with, right? Which is imaging God toward our children, and teaching them to behold him the best we can, knowing that ultimately that’s the work of the Spirit. But we can be intentional in that and we can acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of whatever educational path that we take, and then work to say, “Okay, what things might we need to do differently or fill in the gaps of because we want our children to know God and understand the way he created the world, and what the gospel has to do with that?” So yes, thanks for sharing how you guys are being intentional with those things.
Laura: I really appreciate you putting in that part about prayer earlier too, with everything you’re saying about beholding the Lord, those things only come about by the work of the Holy Spirit. That is just something that should drive all of us, as moms and parents, to our knees to be praying that God would meet us where we’re at. We know that he will; he is sufficient and he is faithful to those who call out to him. No matter where a mom listening is at on this journey of determining her education choices, I am sure and hopeful that this interview and talk will just bless her and remind her of her true purpose – that we’re all called. I love that you said we’re all homeschoolers and that we’re all called to educate our children in the home, day by day, about the things of the Lord. Irene, I just want to say thank you so much for being on our show. We really appreciate you taking time to share about your experience and where God has taken you and taught you through homeschooling.
Irene: Thanks for having me. It’s just been such a pleasure to think through and to share my own mistakes, my own fears, and anxieties with all these people. [laughter]
Laura: We do it every week, we know how you feel. [laughter] All right, thanks Irene.
Irene: Thank you.
Laura: Thanks for tuning in today to the Risen Motherhood podcast. We encourage you to check out our web page, risenmotherhood.com/education. On that page, we’ve made it easy to find all our resources on this topic, with links to interviews and education questionnaire. Plus tons of additional articles and tools that we’ve found helpful for our families as we navigate this topic. And of course we’d love it if you came and found us on social media, where you can keep up with the ministry of Risen Motherhood. You’ll find us @risenmotherhood on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Thanks for joining us.