March 1, 2017

Stepping Up to Serve

Tavia [another writer in the issue of Learning Tangent in which this article was first published] provided some very helpful insight and wise counsel about knowing when and how to step down from serving. I’m in a somewhat similar position – not needing to let go just yet but on the cusp since my daughters are now teens. And, in fact, all of us currently serving on the board of my local homeschool association – as well as a number of coordinators for key group events – are in the last few years of having school-aged children; thus, we’ve begun trying to figure out how to effectively pass the baton to the “next generation” of home-educating parents. We feel the weight of responsibility to try to insure the continuation of a strong, active group that has existed for nearly 30 years.

The fact is, though, that as we hold out the baton, we need younger parents to step up and grab it. We need them - we need you if you’re a parent of younger children – to choose to take up the mantle of service.

Yet convincing folks to do so is a struggle. Why? As I’ve thought about this, I’ve identified three key reasons homeschooling moms (and dads) fail to step up:

I don’t have time.
I completely understand this concern, and it’s sometimes valid. After all, we’re told that “for everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3.1, NLT). And as homeschooling parents, caring for and educating our own children – along with maintaining and growing a relationship with a spouse if we’re married – is truly our most important priority. If we pour ourselves out in service to others – even the homeschool community – such that we sacrifice our own families’ needs, we’ve made a grave mistake.

However, I think we can use the “lack of time” argument as an excuse. Are we really so busy that we cannot devote two hours a month to serve on a homeschool board? Is our schedule so jam-packed that we can’t organize one homeschool field trip a year? Are we so overwrought that we can’t bring cookies to the spelling bee, or volunteer to apprentice with the coordinator so we’ll be equipped to take the reins a few years down the road?

If your answer is “yes,” might I be rather brazen and suggest a need to re-evaluate? We obviously each have a finite amount of time – and a big chunk of that time rightfully goes toward our families. But if home education is among our main priorities, it seems axiomatic that supporting the larger homeschool community by giving of one’s time and talent is part of that calling. If we want fun, engaging group events for our children, we should make a way to contribute toward that end. To quote British dramatist John Heywood, “many hands make light work” for all.

For me, that has meant using the “season of life” principle to prioritize service to the homeschool community over other activities…for now. I don’t lead a Bible study at my church, though I’m capable and have been asked. I don’t volunteer for community organizations despite being recruited. Instead, I guard my free time so I can serve other homeschoolers without spreading myself too thin. There was time for other service before my children were born – and I’ll have time again before I know it. To everything there is a season.

Of course, you may truly be too busy with “just” caring for your home and family; maybe you’re like my friend Amie who has four little ones under the age seven and is now expecting her fifth. We all have such seasons. But consider finding a small way you might serve – could you bring those cookies since you regularly bake with your kids anyway? And then commit to – and plan for – stepping up in a larger capacity a few years from now.

I’m not good enough.
If I’d been given a dollar every time a fellow homeschool mom has undercut her own gifts and talents, I’d be on Easy Street. Sadly, these women acknowledge they have time to give, but dismiss their ability to make a meaningful contribution. Some believe they’re not organized enough to help plan an event – even as part of a committee. Others insist they don’t have the “gift of hospitality,” or they’re embarrassed to open their small or older home to fellow home educators. Still others believe they’re incapable because they’re “not as outgoing” as other moms in a group.

In response, I cannot help but think of a pointed and practical passage from the New Testament: …The body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, ‘I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,’ that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,’ would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?” (1 Corinthians 12.14-17, NLT)

The fact is that everyone has something to offer. Surely, you want your children to appreciate how each of them has been “wired” as a unique individual…and you can go a long way toward that end by modeling a desire to recognize, use, and maximize your particular gifts and talents for the benefit of others. You might be the “eye,” or you might be the “ear.” In fact, you might be a part regarded in general as “less honorable” (1 Corinthians 12.23, NLT) – but if you catch the drift Paul attempts to make in the passage, you’ll understand that a body cannot survive without those “hidden” parts. So, too, you may be the only one in your group with particular skills and abilities, but if you don’t offer them, the body of your group will suffer.

A couple of years ago, I spoke at a local homeschool event – not because I’m “all that,” but simply because I happen to be gifted with an ability to communicate in a group without fear. Afterward, I was talking with a woman excited but nervous to begin homeschooling. As I listened to her, my peripheral vision caught sight of a big, burly guy – whom I shortly realized was the woman’s husband – stacking up chairs and putting the room back in order. Every time he passed us, he smiled at his wife and said, “You’re gonna do this, honey. You’re gonna be great.” Even though he was brand-spanking-new as a homeschool dad – in fact, he hadn’t yet officially joined the group – he served by simply seeing a need he could meet and jumping in.

I shouldn't have to.
Of all the reasons a person might give for not serving, this one is unquestionably the most disturbing – and, tragically, its occurrence is rapidly increasing. As Tavia notes when quoting a fellow veteran homeschooler, “The problem of all takers and few givers seems to be a theme resounding in a lot of groups across the nation.”

Simply put, we live in an “entitlement culture” – where people crave instant gratification and believe they “deserve” to get something for nothing. And, while the sociological reasons for the phenomenon are many, one thing is sure: the homeschool community is, sadly, not immune. I see it in church, too, where roughly 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Others have time and realize they’re capable of making a contribution. But they choose, instead, to remain on the sidelines, reaping the rewards of those who volunteer without acknowledging their own obligation to reciprocate.

This situation brings to mind what John Smith told the Jamestown settlers in 1609 after more than half in the colony had starved to death following an experiment in socialism: “...The greater part must be more industrious, or starve… You must obey this now for a law, that he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled). For the labors of thirty or forty honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain a hundred and fifty idle loiterers.”

In my local association, members agree when joining to volunteer in some way – be it large or small – each year. Some do, often taking on multiple responsibilities. Some are truly unable for a season. But many who could contribute simply choose to consume the fruits of others’ labors instead. Yet, as I’ve found to be true in talking with other home educators around the country, we are perhaps charitable to a fault, not wanting to apply Smith’s principle by removing those who fail to abide by the agreement they sign. Instead, we end up cajoling and begging, hoping against hope that someone will eventually step up. Some do. Many do not. As a result, I fear the group may one day “starve” for want of willing workers.

I don’t intend with my words to be “Debbie Downer” or “Guilt-Trip Gwen.” The fact is that “you must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully’” (2 Corinthians 9.7, NLT). But just as it’s true in a relay race that the team will falter and lose unless each runner in turn is willing to step up and grab the baton handed to her by a teammate, so, too, the same can be said of volunteering in a homeschool group. Evaluate how you use your time. Inventory your gifts and talents. And, by all means, acknowledge that choosing to belong to a group brings with it a responsibility to contribute to it in some way. Decide how you can step up, and make the call or send the text to the group leader. Again, many hands make light – and rewarding – work.


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