This article continues the discussion on how we deal with sin, guilt, and shame. Find the first part of this series here.
In our world today (and perhaps in humanity in general) we tend to confuse results with character. We tend to admire the folks who are “making it” and shake our heads at those who don’t. This mode of judgment turns inward on ourselves, too.
Am I failing at what I set out to do? Am I feeling not-awesome? “I’m bad.”
Am I achieving success? Are things going great? “I’m amazing.”
We carry guilt and shame (or else self-justification and pride) over these self-assessments, often ignoring an objective moral standard in favor of our own or society’s ideas about “success” and what we should be, do, or achieve.
This became shockingly evident to me when I read the results of a Barna poll from 2012. When Christian women were asked to choose what they struggle with the most, they rather staggeringly cited the modern “sins” of disorganization (50%) and inefficiency (42%), with traditional biblical sins like anger, selfishness, envy, and lust ranking much, much lower.
For the majority of respondents, it would seem their self-evaluations are guided more by extra-biblical categories than by scripture.
This focus on failures that undermine our personal success rather than sins as defined by God means our emotional heap of guilt and shame is often clouded, confused, false, or misplaced. And it means our confidence is on rocky ground, as well.
It’s no wonder women-focused memes often try to pick us up out of our pit of despair by telling us we’re beautiful and amazing and enough. That we can do it. Just follow this five step plan.
But these memes operate in the same muddied realm as our misguided guilt and shame.
To really be free from the disorienting weight we carry, we need clarity not congratulations, true relief not trite reassurance.
Heaping praise on ourselves usually just creates further shame and dissonance when we inevitably fail again.
Clarity comes when we look to a higher court of opinion than the flighty world around us or our fickle heart within us.
We feel weighed down with guilt, shame, and anxiety. Then someone tries to talk to us about our sin, our moral failings. What?! “I’m beating myself up enough already, thankyouverymuch.” In the moment, it feels better to talk about our struggles in non-moral/non-sinful terms. We assume that to go in that direction is an attack on our person, a hindrance to our well-being and self-esteem.
But what we don’t realize is that the world and our own hearts are harsh and inconsistent taskmasters. And our heavenly Father, who calls us to a higher standard, also grants us mercy and compassion. And in Jesus, we see that our God, who “will not break a bruised reed,” calls the weary to come to Him for rest and to find that His “yoke is easy and [His] burden is light.” (See Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20, and Matthew 11:28-30.)
You see, our God is specific enough about actual sin, actual spiritual and moral failing, that we can know right from wrong–what pleases Him and what doesn’t. His commands have much more to do with love and faithfulness than with getting results or being productive. God’s call to righteousness is very different from the world’s call to awesomeness. The world focuses on outcomes, but God is most concerned with the substance of our daily living.
By submitting to what God’s word says is right, we can see real sin and guilt more accurately and deal with it promptly, freeing our conscience from a lot of weight and confusion–and freeing us to pursue faithfulness while trusting the outcomes to God.
If we allow our general feelings of success and failure to rule, either fearing others’ or our own scrutinizing judgment rather than fearing God, we will find an ever-present cycle of self-exaltation and self-condemnation. A crazy cycle that doesn’t bring the peace that God intends when He calls us to humble ourselves, confessing and turning from sin, and resting with confidence in the righteous Savior Jesus.
Ever felt weighed down with guilt and shame? Ever decided it was all your fault because you’re just the worst? Ever decided it was all a lie because you’re just too awesome to be down on yourself like that?
It’s easy to respond to the weight on our conscience with either total self-condemnation or total self-justification. But neither tends to help us see clearly. Both tend to muddy our vision. Both tend to miss the bigger picture.
I’m working on a project that confronts our tendencies around sin, guilt, and shame. As I share some of those thoughts on this blog, I’d love to hear what you think. Here’s your first opportunity.
Self-condemnation and self-justification are two very natural responses to our experience of guilt and shame. And the guilt and shame that we feel may or may not be in response to sin. If we’re Christians, we know we’re to fight sin. But we may get wounded in the battle. The lines may get hard to see. The truth may be hard to feel.
Our battle with guilt and shame and the fight against sin are actually two sides of the same coin. It’s been well-said that “we must be killing sin or it will be killing us.” Sin brings consequences–to our selves, to our relationships, and especially our relationship with our Creator.
But perhaps an overlooked way sin kills is that it can heap guilt and shame on us without remedy. The enemy of our souls loves for Christians to be weighed down with sin…or with guilt over things that aren’t sin, so that we are tempted to despair and also so that we are paying attention to a decoy instead of the real enemy. Let’s explore this for a bit.
I hope I don’t have to convince you that feeling guilty over doing wrong is right. Feeling shame over unfaithfulness to God and others whom we may have betrayed makes sense.
But feeling guilty over not measuring up to a vague or non-moral standard isn’t necessarily right, and it may actually be wrong, weighing us down when we are meant to have joy and be free.
Feeling shame over merely personally embarrassing and non-moral situations, or as a habit developed under an abuser, is not right–or at least it isn’t right to hold on to it. There is a kind of shame that we don’t have to carry.
In any of these last two cases, if we are concerned with our perceived and misplaced guilt and shame, we may be blind to our actual sin, or we may launch headlong into some sinful response as a way of coping or grasping for control. By falling for the decoy, we can’t see our sin very well because we’re looking in the wrong direction. By falling for the decoy, we may use our misguided feelings as justification for actual sin in the future.
Again, Our battle with guilt andshame and the fight against sin are two sides of the same coin.
But if we have guilt and shame over non-sinful things, how do we deal with them? We know that we’re to go to the cross with our sin. But what do we do with our misguided feelings and merely human frailty?
In dying for our sin, Jesus didn’t leave us alone or unaided in our experience of guilt and shame. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He bore not only our sin but our shame on the cross. Do you think this was only a transaction for sin? His death certainly was a sacrifice for sin, but consider what Jesus endured in that process:
The accusation of blasphemy by the Jews (false accusations of guilt)
The humiliation and mockery by the Romans (a shameful experience)
Being stripped naked in public (a shameful experience)
Becoming weak so that a man was asked to carry His cross for Him (physical weakness and inability)
The insults of the convicts (false accusations of likely both guilt and shame)
The disciples’ disappointment that Jesus, who they thought would become King, was now being crucified as a criminal (the shame of disappointing others, though Jesus knew exactly what He was doing)
Being abandoned by almost all of His followers…and then by God the Father (the shame of abandonment and loneliness)
Suffering crucifixion (brutal and lethal public shame meant to intimidate onlookers)
Jesus died for our actual sins. But He also identified with our weaknesses and experienced guilt and shame that was not rightly His own. To be sure, He experienced these things without being defiled or deterred by them, without giving in to them or being brought to despair. But He did experience agony in the garden in anticipation of all of these things. He sweat drops of blood. He knows anxiety, too.
Dear sisters, the cross calls us to deal with our sin. To lay it down. To turn from it. The kindness of God leads to repentance, and that kindness is most definitively shown in the love of God demonstrated at the cross. Repentance isn’t a word that ought to conjure up mental images of an angry preacher. It ought to bring to our mind the sweet wooing of a lover: “Turn from all those things that won’t satisfy you and come away with Me.”
But the cross and kindness of God calls us to turn away not just from obvious sin, but from all the weight we carry, whether for sin or not. Repentance means primarily “a change of mind” or a “turning”. If we are carrying false guilt and misguided shame, we can bring those to the Savior as well.
Turn from being your own judge on these things. Recognize that Jesus knows what it means to bear guilt and shame that doesn’t belong to you. All your feelings of failure, whether they are based on sin or not, or some mixed up experience of sin-and-not-sin that you can’t pick apart–bring all of it to Jesus. He’s a great high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. Not just our moral failures–our weaknesses, our humanness. He knows. He understands. And He calls us to come.
This whole big, beautiful Creation was subjected to futility after the fall in the garden of Eden. No wonder we may feel like we fail even in instances where there isn’t an obvious sin to point to (or at least when one’s not on our radar).
I think it’s important to recognize that some of our feelings of failure are just part of the fall in general.
He has set eternity in our hearts, but death cuts our lives short. And we feel it. We feel that we won’t have time to accomplish all that we desire. And so on a given day, especially in a modern world that so preaches and values productivity, we feel the pain of not getting things done. Interruptions and weakness and distraction rob us of our ability to be “awesome” and do what we set out to do. And we feel that failure in much the same way as we feel moral shame. And so, interestingly, women report on surveys that they see their biggest struggles with sin are in their lack of productivity or organization. (More on this in a later post.)
We often have a lot on our plates, and yes, we ought to manage things well. But let’s be clear about what is sin and what isn’t. Is it a sin to be lazy? Yes. But is it a sin to not get everything done that we imagined we would? No. Emphatic: NO.
Not getting all-the-things done or being as organized as a magazine cover may result from several things: maybe life is just hectic right now—you’re caring for a baby or aging parent or juggling some combination of work, school, or family that makes it inherently hard to keep up; maybe your expectations are unrealistic and you need to reevaluate what you’re capable of in this season; maybe your schedule is unrealistic and you need to cut some commitments and activities from your calendar; or maybe you have actuallybeenlazy, binge watching shows and socializing with friends instead of doing the dishes, your homework, or your taxes; maybe you’ve been scrolling social media instead of changing that nasty diaper that you first smelled an hour ago.
Sin may be (and likely is) a part of the equation. But our feelings tend to lump it all together into one big heap of guilt and shame over the result: “I’m so lazy/unproductive. Look at the mess! I can’t keep up with the house, I can’t figure out how to calm the baby. I’m a failure at everything.” This is what it looks like to heap on guilt and shame without biblical discernment and without remedy.
Instead, what if we recognize the situation for what it is: “Sigh…I really shouldn’t have zoned out on social media while the baby was crying. Lord Jesus, forgive me. That was wrong. And it didn’t help me get the house picked up either. Lord, please give me the strength to get up and make the best of this. The baby may not calm down quickly, and I can’t get the house perfect today, but I can decide to do the right thing right now and do what I can. Help me to be faithful.”
Part of my goal in this long-term project is to help us sort out the difference between actual sin and falseguilt and shame, to help us respond to the nitty-gritty struggle within us in a biblically appropriate way so that we live lives consistent with God’s truth, empowered by His Spirit.
That’s a big goal far beyond the reach of this first article, but here’s a takeaway for today: the remedy for our consciences, weighed down with guilt and shame, whether real or imaginary, is the same in either case. “Cast all your cares on Jesus, because He cares for you.”
I’m not all-knowing. I may not ever figure out where exactly the line is between my every actual sin and my mere failings and not-awesome shortcomings. And that’s ok. Jesus knows and He has dealt with it. Come to Him.
As noted above, this article is the tip of the iceberg. It’s nowhere near a comprehensive treatment of this subject! I hope you’ll follow along as I seek to define terms, develop ideas, and dig into the scriptures in future articles.
Please comment with your thoughts, questions, challenges, and suggestions. 🙂 Your feedback will help as I develop this project going forward. I’d really love to hear from you! How do you grapple with guilt and shame? When it’s justified? When it isn’t? When you can’t tell the difference?
I’ve got a pre-release e-copy of The Convivial Homeschool and it is excellent! I highly recommend this, my friends! Mystie has been a huge blessing to me over the past [nearly] six years, in both homeschooling and homemaking. She has a knack for bringing gospel truth to bear on everyday, ordinary [and sometimes crazy!] life–offering both encouragement in Christ and godly motivation to take the next right steps. Her book is slated to release this week, and you can get a sample of the first chapter by getting on the wait list here.
Another amazing book that you can snag for FREE on Kindle: You Who? by Rachel Jankovic.
In You Who? Rachel Jankovic offers a breath of fresh air to those of us struggling to sift through the worldly ideologies that so dominate our culture and our newsfeeds. We desperately need to know who we are and Whose we are. I highly recommend this book as a helpful tool for both personal discernment and discipleship, encouraging us as Christian women to find our identity in our Creator and to live lives of purpose rooted in Christ. How exciting that it’s available for FREE on Kindle now through November 28!
Compass Classroom has so many great courses to enrich your homeschool journey. My family has LOVED WordUp! the Vocab Show and Visual Latin. I’ve taken one of Jonathan Rogers’ Creative Writing courses myself and found it quite valuable. As the kids get older, we plan to explore more offerings from Compass Classroom. Their courses are high quality and a lot of fun!
I’m coaching my oldest son as he writes an entry for his first-ever essay contest. The process is a struggle for him. His knowledge of the subject isn’t deep, he struggles to organize his thoughts, and he doesn’t know how to develop an idea once he has one. And this all makes him a bit reluctant to keep at it.
This is normal. He’s twelve.
I’ve coached him on how to brainstorm with a mind map, and then I’ve told him to simply sit at the computer to start typing his thoughts in sentences and paragraphs. He’ll start, and then pretty quickly he’ll get stuck and discouraged.
“Mama, I don’t know what to write next. I don’t know how to start my next thought.”
“Don’t worry about starting it. Jump in the middle if you need to. Just write down the ideas you do have. You can go back over it and add transitions, expand your ideas, or cut things out later. For now, just write.”
When the words came out of my mouth, I realized that I needed to hear them myself.
How often am I the twelve-year-old who kinda wants to but kinda doesn’t want to sit down and do the work? I think I have some ideas worth sharing, but when I try to organize or articulate them it’s hard. I don’t know where to start or jump in, so I feel stuck. And I’d much rather go do something else than apply myself to my current writing project–whether it’s a small essay-type-post or a long-form writing goal.
Being a writer means, of course, that you actually write. But how often do I run from the process? Just like my son would do if he didn’t have Mom around to structure his day and coach him through the rough spots.
My son would rather write a silly poem about animals. Or play legos.
I might rather read other people’s articles and comment on other people’s posts–anything that is easier and makes me feel productive while ignoring the real work to be done.
The struggle with temptation to do something else haunts my housework, too, but that is a topic for another day.
…Or is it?
Perhaps I shouldn’t view my writing or my housework as two distinct and separate categories. Both are things I feel called to do for the glory of God. So if I see a similar preference for distraction pop up when I ought to be folding laundry to edify my household, just like when I ought to be working on a writing project to edify my readers, maybe I ought to tug on that common thread for a bit. Figure out where it leads.
It seems to me the common thread is faithfulness (or a lack of it). Am I willing to do the right thing at the right time? And to continue to do so through all of the mundane moments and ups and downs of my feelings and performance?
Writing and laundry both reveal our character, don’t they? Whether we’re a seasoned 36 year-old or a budding 12.
>Intermission: Got to go make breakfast and enjoy it with my family. Writing is right when kept in its right place. But wrong if it becomes the distraction from the right thing at the right time.<
Aaaannnd we’re back.
Sometimes I need to tell myself, “Just write. Don’t worry about whether or not it sounds great now. Do the work, even if you have to severely edit it later.”
Or, “Just fold the clothes for crying out loud. Don’t fret over the the fact that it will just be undone a day later. Do the work, even if you have to do it again next week. (Because you will.)”
When I read well-established writers commenting on the writing process, they invariably say the same thing. It’s hard. Show up anyway. Do the work. Just write.
When coaching my son, the advice is the same, albeit gentler and with a much heftier helping of sympathy for the hardness of it.
I used to imagine that writing would get easier with age, that somehow I’d find my stride and the words would flow. But it’s still work. It’s still intimidating. And nothing gets easier without a lot of practice.
And feedback, if you can manage to get some.
That’s why I’m writing this post today. It’s admittedly a bit more stream-of-consciousness, but that’s partly the point. It’s good to just write. And I hope to start doing a lot more of it.
Above I alluded to a long-form writing project I’m supposed to be working on. I’ve come a long way on it, but I have a long way to go. I’ve held most of my work on the subject in reserve, not really sharing it anywhere–not even on my blog.
But it turns out this process is big and hard and intimidating, and I need to break it down into smaller chunks.
And I need feedback.
That’s where you come in, dear reader. Behind my writing, even behind what you might read as a confident voice, is a very human, very just-like-my-12-year-old author: me.
I want to put aside my perfectionistic hang ups and just write. And I hope to do so more often.
But I don’t have a mom to organize my days or coach me through the ups and downs. That’s on me.
My husband is a great sounding board and a great encouragement, but I still need feedback from those who actually receive my work.
I need to know when my ideas fall flat. I need to know when they resonate.
I need to know when something excites you, challenges you, or confuses you.
So please, let me know.
And especially as I churn out more articles for women like me who are walking with Jesus, dealing with sins and messes and hang ups, and seeking to live joyful, obedient, God-honoring lives…please, tell me what you’re thinking. Ask me your questions. Add your insights and experiences. It would be a great blessing to me.
I’m not just saying “I’d love to hear from you.” I really would. You can be a part of my process and spur me on to create something that will, I hope, be a blessing to you and many others.
I’ll try to just write. Would you please write back?
I’ve been on a bit of a minimalist kick lately, decluttering my house, my closet, my recipes, my priorities, you name it. While I don’t necessarily hold to minimalism as a whole-life philosophy, I find that it does offer some necessary push-back to our modern tendencies to be “ever expanding,” whether that be in our possessions, resources, opportunities, or social connections.
On that last item, social connections, I recently read an article explaining the theory of what’s called the Dunbar Number. A British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar posited (after some research on primates and combing through human records) that the greatest number of meaningful connections any one person can hold at a given time is about 150.
I have to admit I had quite the confirmation bias response to this article, because not too long ago I was explaining to my husband that I have social limits, and I simply cannot keep up with all-the-people, and I certainly don’t have energy for continually adding to the number of all-the-people to whom I feel some measure of social obligation.
With interest and perhaps some of that confirmation bias running through my veins, I decided I’d see where my current number of connections stood. I pulled out my brain dump notebook and began to write down all of the people with whom I have some meaningful or working connection. I started with family. That easily reached over 30 people. Then it was long-standing friends. You know, the people you may or may not see each year but whom you are committed in some way to maintaining for the long haul: again, over 30. Neighbors came to about 20. Homeschool connections almost 30. Church connections (which is small right now because we’re still new at our local church): about 15. And then I listed those who are a bit more distant but still qualify under this idea of meaningful connection: 60 or more. If you just add up the rounded numbers I’ve listed, that makes 185, more than the Dunbar Number (150). No wonder I feel a bit overwhelmed and like I can’t add any more.
But guess what kinds of people I didn’t add to any of those lists of contacts? For the most part, I didn’t include online-only relationships. There are seven ladies who make the cut because they are part of an online stand-up/accountability group. Other than those ladies, every other person on the list has some real-life, meaningful or workable connection (or has had in the past and therefore they are on the list).
What this little exercise demonstrated for me was twofold: One, there isn’t really any room for me to build or even maintain relationships on social media or other online platforms. No wonder I feel a little overwhelmed trying to keep up. Two, even these connections that I wrote down are pushing the limit, and I need to prioritize.
Now, Dunbar’s theory itself has prioritization built in. He suggests that any one person can have only about 5 people in their inner circle—these are loved ones, your most trusted and closest kind of friends (large families can adjust this number accordingly, IMO). Next up are “good friends,” of which you can maintain about 15 (or just ten more than the 5 closest friends we already mentioned). There are about 50 that can be called “friends” in a meaningful way before our own capacity is stretched enough to make the term “friend” less meaningful (I’m looking at you, Facebook). And then the next jump is up to that limit of 150 meaningful contacts. Beyond that, the study claims we could have face-recognition of up to 1500 people–but not meaningful relationships. I can’t say I’ve taken the time to test the limits on that last one.
Now, all of this should be taken with a grain of salt. The Dunbar Number is a theory, not gospel nor scientific law. But it is interesting, isn’t it?
I’ve titled this article “Titus 2 and the Dunbar Number,” so it’s about time I brought this back around. As Christians, we know that the greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And while Jesus insisted that anyone who we find in need of our help can be considered our neighbor (see the parable of the good Samaritan), in today’s times, we tend to be over-exposed to people and needs via the internet and social media, skewing our sense of responsibility away from our nearest neighbors and toward those far from us.
The impact here is both quantitative in that we’re compelled to give emotional energy toward more people than we have capacity for and qualitative in that we’re tempted to prioritize (at least in the moment) people far away from us, for whom we are not most responsible. The issue here isn’t that caring for people far away is bad (it’s good to be concerned for people in different places than we are), it’s just unnatural to have a constant reminder of them and to be pulled away from the people literally right in front of us or across the street. The combination of those quantitative and qualitative elements makes for a rather big challenge, especially if we take seriously the call to “love our neighbor.” We’re left asking Jesus for clarification, “Who is my neighbor?”
This is where Titus 2 comes in. Some people hate this passage because they see it as limiting women to the home, keeping them barefoot and pregnant, etc. But I think we can see it in a different light. Here it is for your consideration:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
If we are to love God and love people, the first place that we ought to practice that God-honoring people-love is within our own households. What Titus 2 (and a few other passages) implies to me is that this temptation to concern and even distract ourselves with people “out there” isn’t something only modern social media mavens have experienced. Even women in the first century needed the reminder that a love that isn’t fulfilling its duty at home first is a hypocritical love that can lead to the gospel being blasphemed, the good news being spoken of as if it’s bad.
Now before anyone throws stones because they think I’m promoting “the patriarchy,” let me be the first to say that this principle holds true for men as well. It’s why elders are supposed to be good managers of their own households before they are recognized as leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). It’s why a man that doesn’t provide for his own is called “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). The call to prioritize the people right in front of us is universal. This responsibility to one’s own household is why singleness is, for some, an effective state to be in for the sake of ministry to others: because the man or woman who isn’t tied down has more time and energy to devote to the Lord, which may include serving others beyond the home in a way that the married person simply can’t (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). But that’s more the exception than the norm for believers. Most of us are called to marry and build families to the glory of God.
So the reminder in Titus 2 to love your husband and love your children and focus on the work that must be done to keep the home running well isn’t slavish or limiting. It’s a sane call to put first things first. The calling toward home and family doesn’t necessarily preclude other callings, but it does take precedence over them.
And, if you think about it, all of this makes sense in light of Dunbar’s thoughts on human social capacity. We each may vary in terms of our social capacity, and some of us may need to cut back while others may need to stretch themselves. But at the end of the day, we all have limits. And we all have to choose how we will use the limited resources we’ve been given.
How about you? Do you feel our modern connected world pulls your attention away from the folks that matter most to you?
We may not need to dump online community and resources altogether, but might it be helpful to imagine what our priorities would look like if those things didn’t exist. Join me for a thought experiment?
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you want your family life to look like? How might you prioritize your husband? Your children? If you are in a different stage of life: your roommate, parents or siblings, or extended family?
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you do to get to know your neighbors? To be a blessing to them?
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you do to get to know the people at your church better? How might you reach out to discover needs and meet them? In your church and your local community?
If the internet didn’t exist to make long distance relationships many-and-easy, who would you 100% want to keep in touch with–even if it meant more effort?
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a commission at no additional charge to you.
We’ve been reading The Story of the World series of history books for several years, and we’re now starting into the fourth and final volume: The Modern Age. I read the author’s foreword and was reminded why I love reading Susan Wise Bauer’s narrative of history.
Having a degree in history myself, I’m turned off when materials aimed at children push political agendas rather than an understanding of history and human nature itself. Bauer does not disappoint. I’ve appreciated her handling of history from Volume One on. Reading the foreword to Volume Four, my appreciation has only been confirmed and strengthened.
Here are her words concerning the violence of history, and especially the brutality of our modern era–why this particular volume should be saved until at least fourth grade, but also why it should not be kept from children.
…A fourth grader hears the news on the car radio, on the TV, or in the conversation of his elders. He hears the words (“terrorism”) and senses the worry of the adults around him. A fourth or fifth grader who has a vague idea of what is going on in the world deserves to be started on the path to understanding. The shape of the world today is not random; it has been formed by a very definite pattern of happenings. To deny a child an understanding of that pattern is truly to doom a child to fear, because war, unrest, and violence appear totally random.
Even in this book [on the modern age], violence is not random. It is alarming, but not random. As you read, you will see, again and again, the same pattern acted out: A person or group of people rejects injustice by rebelling and seizing the reins of power. As soon as those reins are in the hands of the rebels, the rebels become the establishment, the victims become the tyrants, the freedom-fighters become the dictators. The man who shouts for equality in one decade purges, in the next decade, those who shout against him. Boiling history down to its simplest outline so that beginning scholars can grasp it brings this repetition into stark relief.
Again and again, while researching this book, I was reminded of the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent eleven years in the labor camps of the Soviet Union, and who, when he became powerless, finally understood that revolution never brings an end to oppression. Solzhenitsyn wrote, “In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. …Even in the best of hearts there remains…an unuprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being. …And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: They destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them.”
Revolution shatters the structures; but the men who build the next set of structures haven’t conquered the evil that lives in their own hearts. The history of the twentieth century is, again and again, the story of men who fight against tyrants, win the battle, and then are overwhelmed by the unconquered tyranny in their own souls.
Bauer’s telling of history–in each of her volumes–gives this kind of instructive look into the patterns of human nature played out in the global theater. There is drama and interest and wisdom–without need for embellishment or politicized rhetoric.
This is why I love her books and I love reading them to my children. Because at my core I believe that history in itself is instructive if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. There is a bigger story than our current political drama. And there is a higher right and wrong than our current iteration of left and right. I want to give my kids wisdom and understanding so they can see straight in the midst of fearful and confusing times. Mere social studies or politically-driven books for children won’t cut it. I want to give them history.
Whether you homeschool or your kids are in public or private school, these books make for great family read alouds. My children have begged for them over the years: “Mama, let’s play Legos while you read The Story of the World!” We simply read, discuss, and sometimes find the place we’re reading about on a globe. Easy. A small investment that has reaped huge dividends in our family’s understanding and ability to have good conversations about all that is going on in our world today. It’s hard to grasp big principles without some kind of context. History gives kids (and their parents!) the story, the context, for understanding the patterns and principles at play in our world.
Bauer’s books are by no means our only source of history reading (reading more than one author is incredibly important), but these volumes have made for a delightful overview and they are a great place to get started if reading history with young children is new to you and your family.
If you have early elementary children (K-3rd graders), I recommend starting with Volume One: Ancient Times. The reading level increases a bit with each volume, and the story unfolds in a chronological sweep, so this is a great series with which to grow. If you have kids that are at least ten years old (or a mature nine year old), you may enjoy jumping in to Volume Four: The Modern Age. Just know that it’s like jumping into a movie series at the end. No worries, the movie may be enjoyed as a stand-alone. But it’s so much more meaningful if you know what led up to it! 😉
All four Volumes are available as audiobooks if you find that more convenient.
I suppose this post may have turned out to be something like an ad. That’s not really the point. If needed, go back and read the quote again and let it sink in. Bauer’s words are more the point of this post. Her books are just a great way to apply it, and I couldn’t help but recommend them because my family has found them so valuable.
Any other history read alouds that your family has enjoyed? Have you noticed the difference between giving kids social studies and giving them history?
The following article has been adapted from a talk I presented at the Natural State Charlotte Mason Retreat in April 2021. This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.
Here’s a little literary puzzle for you: What do the following books have in common?
Literary nerds would say most of these are examples of “The Hero’s Journey”, but my husband says they’re all just backpacking stories.
Getting Outside to Live the Adventure
This spring my family reached the halfway point of the 223-mile Ouachita Trail.
We’ve been section-hiking the OT ever since I read True Grit back in 2018 and wanted to walk down where the story takes place.
Backpacking has provided our family with many transcendent connections—literary and otherwise. When we set out to cover some ground on foot, we’re getting in touch with a very ancient human practice. When we do something challenging, we have a chance to grow in character. When we face a grueling, rocky climb, our books can inspire us: “It’s the steps of Mordor! Onward to Mount Doom!”
Backpacking isn’t for everyone, but I firmly believe that reading living books and spending time outside are the one-two punch when it comes to helping our kids experience and enjoy what Charlotte Mason calls the science of relations. Some of our best family discussions and most interesting ah-ha moments happen on the trail. And it’s beautiful. But the magic doesn’t happen if we don’t step outside.
Do you know the context for the familiar Charlotte Mason quote “…mothers work wonders once they are convinced that wonders are demanded of them?” It’s from Volume One, in the section on “Out-of-Door Life for the Children.” Miss Mason recognizes that getting our kids outside might require us to work wonders. It’s a high calling. And it may feel at times that we have to climb mountains to make it happen. But the payoff is worth it. The connections made, the character built, and the awe at our Creator’s handiwork are all worth the effort.
I want to address two attitude obstacles, drawing from my family’s journey into backpacking. Even if you don’t choose to get into backpacking, I hope these concepts will help you recognize your own obstacles to getting outdoors and think of how you might work wonders to overcome them.
Attitude Obstacle #1: The Anxious Mama
We have not always been a backpacking family. I’ve enjoyed hiking since my teens, but sleeping outside is another story.
Several years ago, my husband looked into hammocking as a more comfortable alternative to sleeping on the ground. One evening, he set up a brand-new hammock kit in our yard, complete with a narrow “mummy” sleeping bag, bug net, and rain tarp. He tried it out and thought it was great. I tried it out and literally started hyperventilating. I’d never slept in a mummy bag before, and it turns out, I’m mildly claustrophobic. I couldn’t see the sky, I couldn’t move my arms or legs. It was too much all at once.
My husband realized that we needed to start by just getting me comfortable being outside. So, he’d set up the hammock on a pretty day and suggest I go out to take a nap or read a book. That, I could do.
Over time, as I got more comfortable, we tried sleeping outside on mild nights with no need for rain tarp or bug net. But I would still sometimes go inside midway through the night. This was not my thing, but it was growing on me.
Fast forward to today: I find my hammock quite inviting after a long day of hiking. And I’ve even gotten to the point where I can sleep on the ground on an ultralight air mattress.
Your husband may not be the one leading the charge into the great outdoors for your family, and that’s ok. You may not be interested in backpacking, and that’s ok—I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for my husband. But I hope you can see some of the takeaways from this story.
First off, we need to be patient—with ourselves and with our people. We are all–moms, dads, and children–born persons. So, consider your people and their quirks.
Secondly, we also need to recognize that if there is a strong reaction to something, it may mean we’re doing too much too soon. Start small, with things you can enjoy, and build up gradually from there.
Thirdly, our fears and anxiety may also mean we need more exposure—not less—to the things that scare us.
Let’s say you’re terrified that a snake is hiding behind every rock, just waiting for you to walk by so it can strike. You go over the facts: “Snakes are as eager to avoid me as I am to avoid them.” But often the facts by themselves don’t govern our emotional response until we’ve had the experience of safely walking past 100 or maybe even 1,000 suspicious rocks, with no snake incidents.
Facing our fears and dealing with our hangups is part of practicing masterly inactivity. It’s well worth reading chapter three of Volume Three to get better acquainted with what that means. But Miss Mason does give us a short list of what masterly inactivity involves: authority, good humor, self-confidence, confidence in the children, and a sound mind in a sound body.
Miss Mason adds, “If the sound body is unattainable, anyway, get the sound mind.” 😉
Our anxiety can trip us up, but it can also trip up our kids if we allow it. If we don’t face our fears and cast our cares upon the Lord, we may fail to communicate “confidence in the children,” we may be more inclined to say no when we should say yes, and we may deny our kids opportunities to test their capabilities and to grow in grit and resourcefulness.
Instead of modeling anxiety, we want to model curiosity and wonder at the things God has made. Instead of allowing our fears to keep us inside, we want to show our children by example how to step out beyond our comfort zone and grow.
Attitude Obstacle #2: The Reluctant Child
We know we’ve got to deal with ourselves first, but we may find that our kids are just as hesitant as we are–or perhaps even more so. What’s a mama to do?
Here are some considerations that may help.
Make it Sensitive
My oldest son loves Legos. When we started more serious backpacking the thought of missing out on more than one day of Lego playtime almost brought him to tears. So, for his birthday one year, my husband bought him a minifig backpacker complete with accessories. There’s even a Lego bear, a fish, and some poison ivy. He gets it out when we stop for lunch or after we’ve set up camp, and it’s made our extended time in the woods much more enjoyable for him.
It makes a big difference for a child to know that their interests have been considered. If there’s an activity that they already enjoy, taking it outside may be a good way to gently encourage a new love for the outdoors. Take read-alouds or poetry tea-time or something artsy out on the lawn. If your reluctant child can get more comfortable doing ordinary things outside, it can help the transition into more outdoorsy activities.
Make it Special
We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it special. There are treats we enjoy only while hiking—things like pre-packaged snacks or GORP (good old raisins and peanuts) or homemade apple leather or dried fruit. And this brings up the idea of special responsibilities. You don’t need to do all of the preparations, mama. It can be more fun for kids if they have some skin in the game and can say, “I made the trail mix!” or “I sliced the apples!” Give them the opportunity and see what happens.
We can also give our children special tools as appropriate. A well-timed gift of a compass, spyglass, or pocketknife can be a big boost to a child. If you have a garden or do landscaping around your home, let your kids use real tools as soon as they are capable of safely wielding them. Our kids are often more capable than we give them credit for. If we tell them “no” all the time when they’re little, we shouldn’t be surprised if they shrink from doing big person things when they’re teens.
In backpacker culture, people use special names that in some way describe who they are. My trail name is Persistent Turtle. 😉 My 9-year-old is ALP, which stands for Apple Leather Power. You don’t have to be a backpacker to enjoy coming up with trail names.
Make it Social
We can also make our outdoor time more fun by making it social. My kids love having friends over to play in the woods or in our creek, and we enjoy hiking with other families. It can be a really great way to learn, too, as we observe and wonder at things with friends whose outdoor knowledge and skills are different than our own.
Make it Seasonal
Make it fun by making it seasonal. Nobody really enjoys tick season. So, we do our backpacking mostly in spring and fall. In summer, we do more short hikes to swimming holes. Bonus points if there’s a waterfall to jump off of.
And in winter, our day hikes might focus more on finding waterfalls—frozen waterfalls look really cool.
Other seasonal elements we consider are fall colors, spring blooms, and berry picking season. For years when my boys were small we would read Blueberries for Sal and then go and pick blueberries.
Make it Smile
Make it fun by smiling. This is simple, but powerful. When your kids make an observation or create something with mud or rattle off more snake facts than you ever thought you wanted to know—or better yet they bring a snake inside the house—acknowledge their discovery or creativity and smile, even if you’re simultaneously leading them and the snake out the back door. Miss Mason says it like this: “…if they see that the things which interest them are indifferent or disgusting to you, their pleasure in them vanishes, and that chapter in the book of Nature is closed to them.” Vol. 1, 58
So, keep that book of nature open by showing interest and smiling. Even if it’s gross.
Make it Screen-Free
Sometimes our screen habits are an obstacle to our outdoor habits. One may need to be cut back significantly to make room for the other—not just as a consideration of time but as a consideration of how our habits are training us. Charlotte Mason emphasizes training our children to really see when they are outside. The more we look at screens, the less practiced our eyes are at seeing depth and detail that isn’t pre-focused for us. Carefully consider screen habits in your home, as they can affect attitude on a general level as well as hinder our ability to really see and appreciate God’s world.
Once you’ve addressed attitude obstacles, the rest is just details.
This post isn’t going to go into all of the potentially relevant details, but I do want to briefly address hiking safety. The three most important things I can tell you about keeping your kids safe on the trail are these:
Train the habit of obedience—when you have little ones on the top of a cliff, they need to be able to stop when you say stop.
Train the habit of attention, of really seeing and being aware of their surroundings.
Get every walking member of your family a whistle. In our family, one blast means “Where are you?” or, in response, “Here I am.” Two blasts means “Come here.” And three blasts is an international distress signal, used for emergencies.
Along with these safety tips, check out the principles of Leave No Trace–these are outdoor ethics which serve as an excellent guide to walking wisely, practicing good stewardship, and loving your neighbor while out on the trail.
Take the Long View
Remember that this goal of getting outside is not a competition. To whatever extent we lead our children out of doors, we’re setting their feet in a wide room, and it doesn’t get much wider than the big world God has made and the living books that we enjoy.
Three years ago my family set out on the first section of the Ouachita Trail. I was so sore and tired by the end of our third day that I suggested to my husband that he might need to hike out to the highway and hitch us a ride back to our car in the morning. But after a good night’s sleep in my comfy hammock I felt much better, and we set out to complete the last eight miles of our 24-mile trip. Toward the end of the day, we climbed to a peak and looked behind us. After diligently studying the map and the horizon, my husband told me to look at the furthest peak in the distance.
I asked, “Is that where we started four days ago?”
“No,” he said with excitement. “That’s where we started this morning.”
Remember that if you and your family just keep taking the next step, before you know it, you will reach a vantage point far on down the trail, look back, and be amazed at the ground that you’ve covered.
Looking for great places to hike and camp or otherwise explore Arkansas? Check out my friend Lindsey’s website: All About Arkansas.
I’ve been reading Charlotte Mason’s fourth volume, Ourselves, and while it is full of wise words, this section I’m sharing here today struck me by its almost surprising timeliness.
It’s easy to get the idea that folks over a hundred years ago lived lives so vastly different from ours that they were somehow either more boring and serious or else more backward and superstitious than people are today. The reality is that humanity is humanity, no matter what the era. And apparently there were people getting obsessive over special diets in England at the turn of the 20th century. They may not have the same names or focus, but they perhaps share the same craze. And it’s the craze, the self-absorption, that Miss Mason calls attention to in her chapter on temperance. I’ll let her take it away:
Conscience is not, in fact, so much concerned with the manner of our intemperance as with the underlying principle which St Paul sets forth when he condemns those who “worship and serve the creature more than the Creator.” This is the principle according to which we shall be justified or condemned; and, in its light, we have reason to be suspicious of any system of diet or exercise which bespeaks excessive concern for the body, whether that concern be shown by a diet of nuts and apples, of peacocks’ brains, or of cock-a-leekie. England is in serious danger of giving herself over to the worship of a deity whom we all honour as Hygeia. But never did men bow down before so elusive a goddess, for the more she is pursued, the more she flees; while she is ready with smiles and favours for him who never casts a thought her way. In truth and sober earnest, the pursuit of physical (and mental) well-being is taking its place amongst us as a religious cult; and the danger of such a cult is, lest we concentrate our minds, not upon Christ, but upon our own consciousness. We ‘have faith’ to produce in ourselves certain comfortable attitudes of mind and body; this serenity satisfies us, and we forget the danger of exalting the concerns of the creature above the worship of the Creator. The essence of Christianity is passionate love and loyalty towards a divine Person: and faith, the adoring regard of the soul, must needs make us like Him who is ‘meek and lowly of heart.’ A faith which raises us to a ‘higher plane’ should be suspect of the Christian conscience, as seeking to serve ourselves of the power of Christ, less to His glory than our own satisfaction. (Ourselves, Book II Part I Chapter III, p. 230-231)
Wow. Fad diets aside, isn’t it so easy to fixate on improving our physical and mental well-being apart from the glory of God? Our culture is drunk with this sort of thing. And while Christians certainly seek to learn and grow, our aim ought to be entirely different.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added,” Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew.
It’s good to be reminded that in all our living and striving, our eyes ought to be on Christ and not on …ourselves. Even when writing a book with that title, Miss Mason makes clear that self-knowledge isn’t an end in itself. And neither is self-improvement. In all of our growth, are we growing more “like Him who is ‘meek and lowly of heart'”? It’s a good question to grapple with before the Lord.
What have you read lately? Anything quote-worthy? I’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment below.
It’s garden-planting time where I live. And that means I’m spending more time outside in the cool air and warm sunshine with my hands in the dirt. Time outside often gives me space to think, and time in the garden gives me a lot to think about–including the attitudes that I bring with me.
I can be a bit of a perfectionist. Wanting to get things just right. Spending way too much time researching a subject until I know it thoroughly enough to not mess it up (as if that were somehow possible). Perfectionism is a kind of obsession over performance and results. While it focuses on improvement and promises fulfillment, it actually tends to get in the way of both.
When I walk out into the garden and away from my other chores and plans and projects, I’m confronted by something very outside of myself. It’s easy to assume that my home and my work and my plans are all somehow a kind of extension–or at least a reflection–of who I am. But when I walk outside, I encounter something obviously other. There’s a wild beauty to things that grow. And in the presence of this wild beauty, I’m less tempted to delusions of control over it. Instead I’m drawn into wonder.
By the time I’m out planting our first seeds, the snow has just melted and revealed that under a thick blanket of frozen white, our daffodils have not only been surviving but actually growing–green and tall. And I didn’t do a thing to make this happen. I’m in awe of their happy refusal to stay dormant in our recent and unseasonable cold snap. Arguably not the perfect conditions. Yet they respond to the call to perk up–a call that doesn’t come from me or my plans.
Stepping outside of the four walls of my home usually gets me out of the four walls of my perfectionistic, all-or-nothing head. You could say that going outside prepares the soil of my heart to receive seeds of truth. To that soil, the garden adds images, active reminders of those seeds, of that truth.
As I plant and marvel at seeds in the dirt, my Father sows and tends seeds in my heart.
Here are a few of them:
Not every seed will sprout. When you have an all-or-nothing mentality, it can be discouraging to know that if I plant just one seed it may not work out. Planting more seeds than the number of plants I intend to grow feels potentially wasteful. I don’t ultimately control germination. I can help it along, but I mostly have to sit and wait and see. And be generous enough with my seeds to see something come to life. If I’m seeking perfect outcomes and efficiency, I might be upset that I won’t get a return on every little bit of my investment. But that’s just reality. God calls me to generously plant seeds anyway.
But somehow seeds DO sprout. We’ve been at this gardening thing for at least six years and yet it never fails to amaze me when tiny bits of green pop out of the ground where we planted seeds a few days or weeks before. God is good. He made this beautiful process and I get to take part in it. How much more delightful when God is at work in human hearts and invites me to participate and marvel at His work?
Frost may come and kill. Sun may scorch and burn. Those precious little seedlings that do sprout are up against the elements. I do what I can to protect and provide for them, but I cannot shield them from everything. In fact, a measured exposure to the elements is actually part of the process for these little plant babies to grow strong and learn to stand up on their own. Oh, how this speaks to me as a mama!
It pays to be firmly rooted. That exposure to the elements can benefit the plant only if it has a good root system–both for taking in water and nutrients from the soil and for keeping the plant sturdy enough not to topple over. When we transplant tomato seedlings, we burry about three quarters of the plant! It feels like a setback. Like we’ve now put ourselves behind in terms of growing a nice, big plant. But that apparent setback results in greater health and fruitfulness.
Bugs may devour. Vigilance is required. Whether it’s squash bugs or tomato hornworms or aphids, we’re always on guard. This is not a once-and-done thing, as though picking all of the bugs off in one day would keep us from having problems the rest of the season. A perfect sprint doesn’t work here, but rather faithful watchfulness. And even still, we will lose some fruit and some leaves to pests. That’s how we know they are there.
Pruning is hard. Cutting off potentialities doesn’t feel good. But we don’t have infinite space in the garden (nor does each plant have infinite resources). Despite aiming for high-intensity growing methods, there are still, by nature, limits within which we must work. Refusing to stay within the limitations of nature results in stunted growth and disease. That perfectionistic tendency to push for more-and-better often ignores the reality of limitation. If we don’t cull the excess seedlings, if we don’t prune the lower and non-productive branches, we aren’t helping our plants. I, like my plants, am finite. I, like my plants, have limitations. Culling and pruning are necessary and good.
Results will vary. With all these variables of seed conditions and weather and pests, it should be obvious that I can’t perfectly predict the outcome. I can’t guarantee the results. Sure, I plan carefully and consider quantities needed in advance. But the results simply aren’t that much in my control. We may get a lot, we may get a little. Our harvest may be beautiful or riddled with holes. Related to this fact…
Imperfect fruit still eats. In the store, when I’m putting down money for fruits and veggies, I inspect every piece, making sure I get the most perfect and untainted produce possible for my dollar. But when I’m harvesting out of the garden, a tomato that is only half-eaten by a worm is still good for half a tomato. A couple of these “bad tomatoes” can dress a salad or tacos. A bunch of them can make a batch of salsa or a tomato pie. It requires more work to make the most of the imperfect gifts from the garden, but they are gifts nonetheless. It’s an opportunity to grow in both thankfulness and resourcefulness–two things that I might miss if I continued to always insist on “perfect” produce.
God causes the growth. This is the real “capital T” truth. And it’s the truth that runs through the rest of these bullet points. I’m not in control, God is. I’m not on the throne, He is. I may plant the seeds and provide what I can, but God causes the growth. The reason gardening is so powerfully instructive, so beautifully corrective of my perfectionistic tendencies, is because it visually, tangibly illustrates the truth that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and that He simply invites me to participate with Him in His beautiful work.
We read in the scriptures truth about God, truth about the world, and truth about ourselves. We know we are to respond to it properly. But sometimes the truth takes time to sink in. And sometimes it takes living the metaphor.
When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden. He told them to “cultivate it and keep it.” The Hebrew words in this phrase from Genesis 2 mean something along the lines of “work or serve it and guardor attend to it.” Working in a garden was part of the original earthly paradise. And I think it’s interesting to note that God’s calling here is not to make things grow–that was His job. His children were simply to work and guard, to serve and attend. Basically, to show up and care for it.
It’s the same for me, whether in the garden or in life. My responsibilities, beyond staying firmly rooted in Christ and His Word, come down to these:
Every time I wander out into the garden, it’s an invitation to enter into the metaphor, to contemplate the truth beautifully woven into the fabric of Creation.
Here are a few of the scriptures that bring my garden time to life:
And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;and he goes to bed at night and gets up daily, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. Now when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:1-5
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
I’ll sign off with a quote my husband found in a gardening article some time back. He shared it with me, and I’ve made a point of hanging on to it.
The principle value of the garden . . . is to teach . . . patience and philosophy, and the higher virtue – hope deferred, and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation, and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning.
Post script: The day I started writing this article, I realized that our refrigerator went out. Nothing was cold. All the ice had completely melted. My day was not my own. We had to change gears, adjust, adapt. Within 30 minutes of wiping up the floor, I managed to drop a quart jar half full of coffee as I was attempting to put it in a cooler. Coffee splashed all over the floor, the fridge, and the cooler, requiring me to wipe up everywhere-again-and-then-some. I found myself saying, “Well! This is the day!” And then I laughed. And started singing, “This is the day that the Lord has made…We will rejoice and be glad in it,” inviting my kids to smile and laugh along with me. Yes, my friends, God is good. He graciously allows us many imperfections–and uses them to capture our hearts…if we but recognize the invitation.
Gardening is just one way God reminds us we’re not in control, that seeking to be perfect in ourselves is a fool’s errand. How else do you feel His gentle nudge?
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a commission at no additional cost to you.
Scroll to the bottom for quick-reference information on the book!
A friend of mine lent me It’s a Numberful World by Eddie Woo a couple of years ago in case I might want to share some of it with my boys in our homeschool.
It’s a modern book with modern appeal, and that makes it a fun and very approachable read. Famed Australian math teacher Eddie Woo pulls from all over math history and modern technology while approaching subjects topically–finding math all around us and applying it to all kinds of situations and phenomena. Woo does a great job of communicating his wonder both at the beauty of mathematical patterns and at the way math works, striking an engaging balance between awe and practicality. Here are a few samples page spreads:
For Eddie Woo, the wonder is inextricably linked to his Christian faith. The book is “Dedicated to the Author of Life” and quotes Galileo on the dedication page: “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.” While Woo’s faith comes out in his dedication, the book itself stays very safely within the realm of secular discussions of mathematics.
I really enjoyed the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if the wonder at God’s handiwork hadn’t been limited to one page. I’d love to hear more of Woo’s awe of God directly connected with mathematics, as he is quoted in this article:
We talk about the fact that the universe is designed in this way and you can find all of these patterns; do you think that that’s a coincidence? One of the things I love to point out is we call the universe the cosmos which means ordered and structured and designed, as opposed to chaos, and the reason why we can find these mathematical principles is because there was a designer. We didn’t just spring into being. It has immense beauty.
I mean, how can it be that mathematicians and physicians – secular ones – all agree that one of the primary criteria for judging whether something is mathematically true or not is whether the equations are beautiful. Why on earth should the equations of the earth be beautiful? And the answer is we have a beautiful designer who designs things beautifully. So for me it’s a source of marvelling [sic] at the way that God crafted the Universe.
While I would have liked to see more of that godly awe, It’s a Numberful World was a really fun read. I appreciated the invitation to take a multi-disciplinary exploration of mathematics–and to play with it along the way. I haven’t really used it in our homeschool, but that’s partly because we already have so many interesting things (Fibonacci sequence, tessellations, using drawing tools, etc) that we’re exploring in our Right Start Math lessons. Wonder and play with math are already part of what we do. I might keep Woo’s book in mind for when we hit high school math, however. And I’m very interested in exploring his teaching videos on YouTube or …wait for it… WooTube.
Recommended for: High School to Adult Uses: Supplement to math curriculum, enjoyable math reading. Consideration: Chapter 25 “Why Aren’t Left-Handers Extinct?” refers to Darwinian evolution, specifically the theory of natural selection, as the author mathematically explores why certain traits persist.