Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Book Review: Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie

by Rebecca Berg Manor

For a little background information, I grew up helping my parents run Beautiful Feet Books from the time when it was a fledgling little bookstore run out of our playroom. This was the mid-1980s and homeschooling was starting to take off in California. It was still a little "freakish" and we definitely worried about truancy officers showing up at our door. It was the days of pioneer homeschoolers forging new ground and taking all sorts of risks. Homeschool conventions were scrappy and there were not a lot of curriculum options outside of Abeka and BJU and Saxon Math. I think I was eight when I first attended a homeschool convention to sell books with my mom, Rea Berg. It was the first of dozens and dozens of conventions that I would work throughout the years. From California to Massachusetts, New York to Florida, I grew up talking with homeschooling parents of all stripes: box curriculum devotees, unschoolers, classical, Charlotte Mason, etc. I also worked for many years answering phones at the BFB offices chatting with moms as they worked through their curriculum decisions. These brave (mostly) women have always had my utmost respect. In speaking with them I've seen their hearts, heard the stress, witnessed the sacrifices they're making for the sake of their children's education. At the time I was not a mother myself, but I was given the gift of seeing examples of the sort of mom I hoped to be. And in all those conversations there were always mothers who were clearly overwhelmed by the task they had undertaken. It's a huge responsibility and I tried to assure them, in my youthful way, that it was all going to be OK. I always wanted a book that I could recommend to those moms needing a little more assurance. Thanks to Sarah Mackenzie from Amongst Lovely Things, I now have a book that I will recommend to every homeschooling parent I meet: Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace.

This short (it's a mere 80 pages) is so chock full of wisdom and assurance I can see myself returning to it again and again. It's brevity, while a gift to busy moms, belies its depth and substance. Within its covers are spiritual guidance, practical application, and a whole lot of love. Reading it is like meeting with a spiritual advisor, one whose honesty and kindness shakes you out of your stupor while assuring you of your status as a loved friend. Mackenzie clearly has a passion for assuring other moms of their ability to "order a child's affections and teach him to love that which is lovely"–the true goal of a character-oriented education.

Mackenzie's approach to rest is deeply rooted in her faith and you can see her heart for God as she writes of surrendering our ideals (maybe idols would be a better word!) of productivity, success, and earthly approval, in order to allow us to see these little people entrusted to us as image bearers of their Creator. Choosing to remember that what is most important does not show up on a standardized test is a discipline for many moms, myself included. Sarah gently reorients our focus back to where it ought to be; resting in the knowledge that these children are not ours, they belong to a sovereign God who loves them more than we can even imagine. Our role is to be faithful to the task to which we've been called. There is something so reassuring in this and it provides the freedom to teach out of joy instead of fear. This passage provides a practical example of how this would work itself out:
"When my child does not understand a math lesson, it should not disturb my peace. After all, God intends that study and work involve challenges that we face and overcome, so we expect difficulties from time to time when teaching our children. Now it's time to troubleshoot, problem-solve, and come alongside her. When she doesn't understand the day's lesson, it isn't a setback; it's just God showing us our marching orders for the day. My child doesn't need me to fret and fear; she needs me to love and guide her with grace." (Mackenzie, 6)
Such a refreshing way of looking at the setbacks, frustrations, and trials that are inherent in childrearing! There is so much more in this book that I'm not even touching on; my copy is full of highlighted passages, underlining, stars, scribble exclamations of agreement. I cannot help but see this book as anything but a gift from one mother to another, an encouragement along the pilgrimage of motherhood. Thank you, Sarah!

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  1. I whole-heartedly agree! It's a tough message to swallow as I get trapped in the productivity/checklist thinking so easily. Even so, it's a welcome message, bringing with it a gift of real joy. I hope to embrace it, with the help of God's grace!