Homeschooling is hard. Mothering is hard. Sometimes, life is hard. For some time, I have felt called to reach out to mothers of teens to speak encouragement, breathe life and bolster courage in their hearts, and mine. I searched many quotations looking for the right words and couldn’t find what I was looking for until these words popped into my head one Saturday morning as I watched The Crown with my sick husband. “Once more unto the breach, my friends.” I thought it was a Winston Churchill quote but…it’s Shakespeare! To be fair, Churchill was a Shakespeare/Henry V fan and his greatest inspirational speeches are traced back to this theme: in the face of overwhelming odds don’t give up, keep fighting, have courage.
There’s no doubt that this is a war analogy. In Henry V, King Henry gives a speech to encourage his soldiers as they launch an attack on a breach in the wall. As I considered this quote and why it was resonating so powerfully in my mind that it touched my soul, several things occurred to me. First, of course, I defined my terms. “Once more” implies a repeat. “Unto” implies an action or going forward. And a “breach” is a hole in a fortification or wall. This breach is a very dangerous place for both the defending and attacking army. It represents a breakdown in defense, a weak spot which allows the enemy to get in. But it is very risky for the enemy to traverse the breach. It is a narrow, single point, which makes it easy for the defenders to defeat one or several attackers at a time. The attackers enter into unknown terrain and are weakened to a single man or a few men instead of having safety in their numbers. But it is the only way in, so they must try. Finally, “my friends” implies that the words are spoken to someone who matters, someone who is loved, and someone that has a personal relationship with the speaker. So, the application of this quote, “Once more unto the breach, my friends,” is to encourage loved ones to go back into battle with courage because it’s a battle worth fighting or a battle that must be fought.
What do battles have to do with us? Raising teenagers! When the kids are young, we fight black and white battles. We are physically exhausted, but knowing when to say yes and when to say no is easy to determine.
“Yes, you can sit at the table and watercolor paint.”
“No, you may not paint your legs with nail polish.”
“Yes, you can make a salt dough swamp for Diego.”
“No, chocolate syrup on my kitchen floor is not a good swamp for Diego.”
Yes, those are actual events from when my two teens were young. But as the kids get older the battle fronts change. It seems every battle has a soul connection and we are dealing with unique and different souls. Finding the balance between “training them up” and “not exasperating them” becomes a constant tightrope walk. Picking your battles is no longer a choice but a necessity if you want to cultivate a good relationship with your teen. But we know that we are told to “train them up in the way they should go”. As classical Christian educators we understand that virtue is the true aim of all education. Aristotle identified intellectual contemplation as the highest virtue, followed by these 12 others: courage, temperance, charity, joy of life, pride (self-satisfaction), honor, good temper, friendliness, truthfulness, humor, friendship, justice. Sound familiar? It reminds me of the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Historically, the 4 cardinal virtues (hinge virtues) were prudence, temperance, fortitude (forbearance), and justice. Christians added the 3 theological virtues of faith, hope, love/charity. So, every moment of teaching and training is, and should be, about one of these virtues.
It is my belief that the heart of every battle worth fighting with our teenagers is tied to one of these virtues. There is a breach in the wall of their soul. There is a virtue that needs training. They desire to know, but do not know how to ask for the good only. They desire to feel harmony, but do not know how to reconcile chaos to truth. They desire to rule but do not yet know what or how to rule. They desire rest but have not learned how to persevere and be diligent with work, which is the only way to achieve true rest. They seek glory but do not realize that being recognized as a good and faithful servant is the only glory that matters. And all this is encompassed in the fact that they love, but do not yet know how to order their loves. In “Men Without Chests”, C.S. Lewis says:
“St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. . .Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.”
So, our true aim in training – the true task we have been assigned – is to cultivate right responses in our teenagers. We mothers, who are still learning to order our own loves, are faced with teenagers in chaos and we are asked to train them to order their loves, which is not an easy task. As you face the chaos, take a deep breath and utter,
“Once more unto the breach, my friends.” For Proverbs 22:6—”Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” (They won’t find the right path without direction!)
“Once more unto the breach, my friends.” For Ephesians 6:4—”Do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that come from the Lord.”
“Once more unto the breach, my friends.” To train them to do their chores and school assignments faithfully because it helps them learn to rule.
“Once more unto the breach, my friends.” To praise them for hard work and diligence, not their gifts, because it teaches them the right way to get glory.
“Once more unto the breach, my friends.” To push them to work hard so they can experience true rest looking back over their accomplishment and saying “it is good”, instead of imitation slothful rest achieved by excuses and laziness which doesn’t lead to true rejuvenation and satisfaction.
“Once more unto the breach, my friends.” To teach them to have the hard conversations and confess when they are wrong so they learn that harmony isn’t a random chance, it’s a deliberate choice.
“Once more unto the breach, my friends.” For Psalm 31:24—”Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”
“Once more unto the breach, my friends.” For 1 Corinthians 15:58—”Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.“
“Once more unto the breach, my friends.”
May this encourage you in your homes and communities as you teach in the name of the Lord.
May these words be a battle cry that calls forth all of these ideas to vanquish weariness and allow you to press on in doing good.