After writing the Prayer in Action post, I wanted to touch on a few details about prayer that I keep in my mind and heart as I homeschool my children.
- Why is prayer the most important part of our homeschool?
- What are our obstacles to prayer?
- Going slow: attentiveness and attention.
Why is prayer the most important part of our homeschool? I think this can be summed up rather quickly for me. It is because prayer is, and I quote Abba Pimen, ” [where] we unite to God with our minds.” There is a popular classical homeschool resource entitled The Well Trained Mind. It is interesting to note that nowhere in that how-to book is prayer mentioned. If Christ is the perfect man, body and soul, and prayer is the way that I unite with Him, why do I assume that the mind is not best placed in His hands? Cannot God form the man in a way that does not diminish him/her in ANY way? Acquiring the mind of Christ IS the ultimate education. I have nothing to fear. Will my children be prepared for the real world, I ask? Absolutely. This is the Orthodox faith, this is our belief.
What are our obstacles in prayer? The greatest obstacle in prayer for me is unbelief. I do not believe fully that prayer is life. Sadly, I believe algebra and Great Books, and dictation, and handwriting, and math facts, and histories, and art projects are more essential to the training of my child’s mind. This is what I myself realize about homeschooling as an Orthodox Christian: I as the parent must believe. When I do not, I must struggle to believe. I must pray myself, and open my heart to Christ. I must be in this world, but not of this world. Distractions will indefinitely present themselves, but how I handle the distractions is what really matters. Like the long phone conversations with my mother in the mornings, or the quick check of my email that turns into a sink whole, or how I schedule outside activities, or how I skip the third hour prayers in favor of finishing one last long division problem. That does not even include the distractions of my mind and body, the worry, the fatigue, the stress, the shopping, and cooking, and cleaning, and disciplining…the list is limitless. But, in the midst, prayer is still the most important thing, even when I fail and struggle. I want my children to see me struggle and keep going. I want to bring them on this journey with me.
Going slow: attentiveness. Prayer is not a race to the finish or a box I can check off. Like, whew, that task is complete. Prayer is life. That means that I try to always keep in mind that I and my children should try to connect to the words we are praying. This demands that we go slow. Better to have shorter prayers and attentiveness than longer ones and distraction. Standing before the icons silently for a minute or two before we pray helps. Memorization through repetition helps. Discussing certain prayers and what they mean helps. Going slow is very helpful. There is something to be said for just saying the prayers and forming habit, and this is definitely part of making prayer the top priority. But ultimately, I desire that my children connect to God, not just say their prayers. How this exactly happens in their minds and hearts is a mystery, but I do know that being attentive is something that we must practice and practice and practice.
In the end, I must trust and believe. God can and will provide. I would like to conclude with a comment I received in a previous post on the subject of Orthodox Homeschooling:
Now that I have kids in college I can say that making the Church calendar our most important calendar was the wisest choice I made. If our kids don’t acquire the phronema then all other educational endeavors won’t matter. The mind of Christ is all we really need. A friend once told me that the most important thing we can teach our children is to pray, especially the Jesus prayer. She said God will enlighten us or reveal to us everything we need to know, when we need to know it, if our minds are full of prayer.
We acquire the mind of Christ organically not through any one set of “classes” but through prayer. St Gregory of Palamas was a great defender of prayer as being the way of acquiring wisdom and knowledge yet he was very educated himself.
You have put in words what I have known in my heart but wondered if my convictions were wrong because there was no boxes to checkoff or schedules to keep that would say ‘yes your kids are learning what they need to learn’
I still have a truck load of kids to get through home schooling and yes I am trying my best to teach them to read, write, and do math but as a less stressed mom wondering if they are getting it.
(BTW we have not perfected prayer by any means, just the understanding that prayer is the one thing needful.) ”