Since finishing The Bible and the Task of Teaching (a book I can no longer link to in good conscience as the price is now ridiculous) I have been thinking about the power of metaphor. We often hear how our ‘worldview’ affects our thoughts and actions. Our ‘worldview’ is in a sense our picture or metaphor of the world. But in teaching and raising children we also have a picture within which we operate. Therefore it is important that we are operating within the right picture.
When I first started teaching my own children I viewed myself as the potter shaping and forming lovely vessels. I operated under this picture for 19 years. It was beautiful and it was wrong. I didn’t even realize it was wrong until my handsome, brilliant, talented, oldest son decided to join the Navy. Suddenly I felt like I was living in one of those ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ scenarios. Everything was wrong. My beautiful work of art was taking on a life of its own almost as if it was being worked by another potter who was not me.
When I put my son on the bus for boot camp I cried solid for 3 days. I had 8 other children left at home and after rising up joyfully every single morning for 19 years to work on my pottery, I found myself suddenly without purpose. What was I supposed to do with the rest of these lumps? For a while I just woke up, pushed back the tears and did the next thing, without joy or hope. Then one day the Lord looked down on me with mercy and revealed to me a little secret: I was not the potter. At first, I was disconcerted but after a little while it was as if someone had released me from a terrible prison. I felt like running through the house joyfully yelling, “I am not the potter! I am not the potter!” to the tune of Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead. All was not lost. Just because my son was not the vessel I had imagined did not mean that he was not a work of art. He was an even more beautiful piece than my measly ideas had ever imagined. Today his own 3 precious sons attest to that.
All those early years the puzzle of my teaching metaphor had been missing a valuable piece. That piece was that “children are born persons” in the words of Charlotte Mason. When we begin to form our picture of parenting or teaching we start with a background of love but the very first piece of the puzzle that we must put down is respect. Our students are made in the image of God and stand before their own Master and Maker (Author and Finisher) just as we do. God does not give us our students and children to form and shape. He has already formed them and shaped them. (Psalm 139) He has given them to us to steward and shepherd for a time. That changes everything.