A guest post by Jennifer Courtey
If not through art, how does love empower man to resolve the ancient contradiction between man’s desire to know and perfect the self and his desire to transcend the self? As the early Christian thinkers within the classical tradition excitedly realized, the answer was provided in the person of Christ: the spirit of love incarnate, the expressor of the divine will, and the truly divine object that self-transcending love requires.
David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, 95
The incarnation is a profound mystery. Too often, as Christian parents, we fail to realize that the act of incarnation is repeated in us. We are love incarnate—love with a body– for our children. This is not drudgery. It is the highest calling, one that deserves my all.
So how do we fill this very tall order? To answer the question, I must go back and illustrate my path from high school to college to career. I recently shared this story over dinner with Andrew and Karen Kern, and they asked me to share it with you.
I am fairly certain that my high school and college friends would have voted me least likely to be a stay-at-home mom, much less a homeschooler. In high school, I took every college prep and Advanced Placement course that my school offered. I had a zeal for knowledge and for good grades (they are not always mutually exclusive). I attended college on a full academic scholarship as a National Merit Scholar. In the eyes of the world I already had a great start on my education. (Never mind that I had developed a profound intellectual schizophrenia in which the worlds of academics and faith were segregated. But that’s fodder for another article).
Once in college, I majored in English with a minor in French. I sought out the experiences that universities used to offer when they understood their mission, taking courses in music and philosophy and yes, even statistics. I graduated as the top student in the College of Arts and Sciences and was a semi-finalist for the Rhodes Fellowship.
I then took the logical next step for a humanities graduate and went to graduate school at the University of Illinois because I desperately wanted to teach. There, more than ever, I saw that the university had lost its way. It was no longer about teaching students to contemplate the big ideas of truth, goodness, and beauty—the eternal and thus pre-eminent ideas. Instead, humanities professors are forced to publish research like their peers in the sciences in order to achieve tenure.
Troubled about the de-emphasis on teaching and on dialectic, I went to my academic advisor. What he said shocked me. Here’s a loose paraphrase: “It’s not about teaching. You’ll spend most of your time writing articles and books. The classroom time is basically what pays the bills so that you can research and publish.” I left at the end of that school year.
I next landed in a management training program at a large corporation. A group of young adults like me traveled the country to learn each division of the sprawling company. I was the only married trainee in the program. (Do people really still marry their high school sweethearts? Do they get married in their twenties?)
After a few years and a few promotions, I became pregnant with my first child. I immediately applied for a technical position with no travel. It was a demotion. In order to apply in another department, I had to have my boss’ signature. He called me in, sat me down, and delivered a stern lecture about the mistake I was about to make, certain that I did not truly understand the ramifications of my choice.
I had to suppress a smile as this bachelor offered me advice about motherhood. In the course of our conversation, he suggested that I ask my mentor (a woman with a high-profile job) her thoughts before I proceeded. Little did he know that she had told me a story that very morning which cemented my choice. She had just finished a heavy season of travel and was about to set out again. Her last visual that morning was of her young daughter pounding on the windows of the school bus begging her not leave.
I took the technical job and never looked back. After the birth of my second child, I chose to stay at home full time. Over the years, God continued to draw my heart closer to my children. I was grateful for the examples of two generations of women in my family as I learned to sacrifice myself for these tiny wonders who had stepped into my home and my heart. I learned to embody love by rocking them in the middle of the night when I desperately wanted to be asleep in my own bed. I learned to embody love by changing diapers, preparing meals, and giving baths. Most of all, I learned to embody love through laundry, laundry, and more laundry. Sometimes I paused to chuckle over the changes God had wrought in my plans.
In 2004, I began our homeschool journey. Nowhere else have I seen opportunities to be love incarnate for my children. Now, I embody love by rising at 5 am to study Henle Latin so that I can try to keep up with my thirteen year old. I embody love by calculating the lateral surface area of geometric solids. I embody love by training tiny hands to hold a pencil and make cursive strokes. I embody love by sounding out one-syllable short vowel words again and again and again.
In the fullness of his time, God granted the teaching job I always wanted. Through Classical Conversations, I tutor high school students in chemistry, Shakespeare, poetry, logic, philosophy, history, and rhetoric. He restored my career by allowing me to serve as the Director of Communications for Classical Conversations so that I can share the joys of classical, Christian education with others.
The journey home has not always been easy, but it has been joyous. I find myself wondering what might change if mothers and fathers saw themselves as love incarnate. What if, instead of saying, “I’m a stay-at-home mom,” we all said, “Every day I embody love for my children. I transform an incorporeal, abstract idea into a corporeal, living force in the lives of my family.”?