When I was in junior high, Tina Turner’s song “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” played on the radio hourly. Even as a child, I recognized the profound sadness of the lyrics and underlying worldview. For, of course, love has everything to do with it. Unless we be filled with Christ’s love, we cannot fulfill the calling He has placed on our lives. In perhaps no other endeavors do we sense the importance of this love more than in rearing and educating children.
As classical, Christian educators, we must love our children and students above all else. And yet, loving others is a hard task. Our love is broken. Consider the words of John Donne’s sonnet:
Batter my hear, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d to your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
I recently studied this sonnet with my sixteen-year-old students. The first thing they noted was the violence of it all: “batter my heart. . . o’erthrow me . . . bend your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” Donne has masterfully illustrated the struggles that we face as fallen humanity. We do not love naturally; neither our God, nor others.
We often speak romantically about being the bride of Christ, but Donne forces us to recognize that our marriage to Christ first requires a divorce because our desires are wedded to the prince of this world. He teaches us all the opposites of love. His lessons encourage us to take the easy road and to love ourselves above all others, to shun the difficult road of self-sacrifice required in order for us to truly love our husbands, wives, children, colleagues and students.
My students, passionate about logic and debate, lingered over the lines about reason. “What does it mean that our reason is captiv’d?” they asked. Here they bumped into the central tenet of classical, Christian education. The attempt to know anything, to employ our reason to understand any ideas, is folly unless we first love God. Unless we are married to Him, our reason always proves weak or untrue (We later returned to this idea while discussing Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, but that’s a story for another day). We must love God wholly and seek His ways in order to love our students and to point them to truth, goodness, and beauty.
Contemporary author Michael O’Brien writes this of love in Island of the World:
In this place where we first appeared, we did not doubt that love is the path of ascent. We did not think of it, as we did not think of the air we breathed. In time our flesh received instruction as we grew, and our hearts and our souls. We came to know that love is the soul of the world, though its body bleeds, and we must learn to bleed with it. Love is also the seed and milk and the fruit of the world, though we can partake of it in greed or reverence.
So, I must ask myself hard questions. Did I pray for and with my students today? Did I plan my lessons with the goal of pouring Christ’s love over them? How can I demonstrate love for them while studying Latin subjunctive mood or passive voice verbs? How can they demonstrate God’s love by writing persuasive essays about American history? Can I share God’s love and beauty with them in my chemistry lab? When my children at home or my students in the class are struggling, do I bleed with them? Do I share with them the seed and the milk of love so that they can bear fruit?
Love is with us in the struggle and in the celebration of learning. As teachers, we are the matchmakers, preparing our students to serve and to love and to praise their Husband. What a delight! Love has everything to do with it.