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As I mentioned last week, I helped out at the Charlotte Mason Educational Retreat this last weekend in Colorado Springs. It was truly, truly an honor to be able to help this year and I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am to be part of the homeschool co-op that is behind this event. I love these women beyond words. I am, honestly, a little amazed that I get to call them my friends.
Gushing aside, I got so caught up in designing the gift prints and making the print materials (except the beautiful nametags which were done by Sarah, one of the speakers at the event) over the last few weeks that I had little time to actually think about the event itself…if that makes sense. I was also so excited about being “away”….not cooking or cleaning or having to be responsible for other human beings for an entire weekend (the longest I’ve been away from the kids ever) and having good talks with my friends, that the other parts, the learning and growing and becoming a better homeschooling mom (you know…that stuff), were kind of shoved into the background of my brain. I knew I’d come home with something good, but I had no idea how good that would be.
My favorite of the plenaries was Friday night when Nancy Kelly, our guest speaker, spoke about humility, what it really means, and what it looks like for a homeschooling parent. There is a quote image I made for a client a few years ago from CS Lewis where he says (paraphrased from Mere Christianity), “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” What a fantastic thought and play on words! I thought when I grabbed this quote for the image I was making. So innovative! So ingenious! He was so wise!
Well, he was, but Charlotte Mason had actually taken it a step further many years before by saying:
Humility does not think much or little of itself; it does not think of itself at all. It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue. The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life. This is the quality that makes heroes, and this is the quality that makes saints. (vol 2 pg 284 – emphasis mine)
It was actually the second line of this quote that, even a few years after having heard the similar quote from CS Lewis, really brought home this point for me on Friday night – “It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue.”
If I understand it correctly, humility is not the absence of pride or the absence of ego or the absence of gloating. It’s not self-deprecation or self-hatred or self-denial. Humility is the absence of anything having to do with self.
And the heart of this, I believe, lies in the next part of the quote…. “rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue.” Here is where Nancy got me. Humility is not something I can practice or work toward. It’s not an exercisable muscle. It is, instead, a space where other things are right now (mostly me and my thoughts about me, both good and bad) and shouldn’t be. A place to be filled not with me but with God and other people. With service to him and to them (particularly the hidden kind) as in the middle part of the quote… “The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life.” “Small crosses and worries of everyday life”…. what a way to describe homeschooling and being a mom in general.
I’m really not doing the talk justice here in my feeble attempts at summarization, but there were so many other good quotes and concepts that she shared to tie it all together so well (if you ever get the chance to hear Nancy Kelly speak, I highly recommend it!). This talk, though, was my big inspirational takehome from the weekend. The idea of not allowing my brain to be so filled up with me, me, me, whether that’s thinking highly of myself OR beating myself up. To be more like my kids in their apparent complete lack of self-awareness which, honestly, sounds like so much freedom.
There were other, smaller ideas I grabbed as well. I’ve been hard on myself in recent weeks about how I’m still tweaking our schedule and topics we cover here and there. Re-arrange the schedule here, remove this thing, add this other thing. But we’re halfway through the school year! I can’t keep tweaking! Just leave well enough alone!
Then at the beginning of another talk, Nancy mentioned that keeping our homeschooling fresh and not getting stuck in ruts is not actually a bad thing, but is something that Ms. Mason recommended:
Experience which implies the progressive effort and receptive attitude of a fine intelligence always putting itself to school, the experience of continual change and regular advance, is another matter altogether: here is no groove, no set way; such a character is all the time under training, and is always ready for any new post, and that is why our men of foremost intellect are equal to any position that offers; there is no question of previous training, they are always under training. (PR Article – “The Home School” – emphasis mine)
And perhaps I’m taking some liberties here in my translation of what this means, but I still felt yet another little weight being lifted from my shoulders. It made me feel good that I’m not so set in our schedule or routine that I don’t see where it can be improved or altered to fit our needs at a given time. I don’t have to feel guilty anymore because changes and tweaks are not necessarily bad things.
And of course, there were good practical applications as well. Her scheduling talk was wonderful and gave me new ideas for how we can improve our school time. Math in particular has been a huge struggle for us and her talk along with another chat afterward with a good friend had me rethinking my approach (especially in how long I allow for math each day) and there is also freedom in that.
The break-outs were good as well. I attended one on “keeping” and felt very inspired to get my commonplace book in working order again. I also went to the picture study talk and gained new ideas for how to improve our own picture study time at home and in co-op. And the discussion on evaluations confirmed for me that they really are important and I was very encouraged in B’s progress in that area.
It really was just a wonderful weekend and I’m so glad I was able to go and help and be with my people. I’m already excited for next year!