Last spring I got to go see my sweet six year-old niece, Lucia, perform in Cinderella at the Kennedy Center. She was a delightful bumble bee who received spontaneous applause when tossed over the shoulder of one of the adult dancers in a humorous moment where she left the stage kicking her little leotards in a well-practiced protest.
Going to the ballet at the Kennedy Center is not something I get to do often, and so that evening, I soaked in the beauty and the grace of so many well-conditioned dancers doing exactly what they had trained their bodies to do. I lost myself in an enchanting forest scene where snow drifted peacefully to the ground while nymphs and fairies made magic with pirouettes, grand jetés, arabesques and relevés. Through the ballerinas’ constant practice, their muscles obeyed their minds in a way that seems almost unconscious. Grace becomes instinct. (Even off-stage, a ballet dancer can’t help but move gracefully. It is in the tilt of her chin, the line of her spine, the obedience of her shoulders, and the lightness of her step: grace habits.)
Lately, I’ve been thinking of those grace-conditioned dancers as I’ve been reading some of the writings of Charlotte Mason, a British educator, born in the 1840’s, whose life and legacy re-shaped English schools and is today having an impact on countless other families. While Mason has much to say on educational practices as we traditionally think of them, recently what I’ve been soaking in are her thoughts on habit-training.
She writes: “As has been well said, ‘Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.’ And a great function of the educator is to secure that acts shall be so regularly, purposefully, and methodically sown that the child shall reap the habits of the good life, in thinking and doing, with the minimum of conscious effort.” (Vol. 2, p. 124).
While certainly only the Holy Spirit revives and reforms our corrupt hearts and the sin-bent hearts of our children, we can and are instructed to train our children in righteousness. And through constant reinforcement of godly habits, God uses us to shape their characters.
I don’t want children who are merely outwardly conforming to good habits; I want children whose hearts have been transformed such that they crave goodness because God has changed their natural thirsts. But I pray that as I surround them with that which is good and pure and right and train them in habits which reflect those qualities, that I could somehow participate with the Holy Spirit in what God alone can begin and bring to completion: the work of giving them new hearts and minds. If my motions mimic His, if my mothering reflects that which is good, and pure, and true, perhaps somehow in this beautiful mysterious dance of aligning my life and heart with His, He might be gracious enough to choreograph His work of change in their spirits.
How I long and pray that my children—yes, my boys—would be conditioned in grace, would move instinctively through life with the grace of ones whose hearts have learned to bend to God in obedience, whose hands extend in gentle kindness, whose feet leap to help the hurting. How my heart burns to see their lives revolve around their rightful center, the God who is their fixed point in a turning world.
But it begins with grace in my own life. And so I have been asking God to train my heart as I seek to practice the daily conditioning of bending in obedience to my Creator, stretching toward Him in the midst of my heavy days, or holding the pose of patience even when my whole body aches to let go. My habits need constant attention, but I’m more mindful now of letting my ever-gracious instructor condition me in the disciplines of grace that I might in turn live gracefully before my children.
Interested in reading more about habit training? Download a free e-book from Simply Charlotte Mason called Smooth and Easy Days. Interested in reading more from me, check out some other recent posts about mothering with grace here: Play with Me Mama: a Lesson in God with Us, Just Another Day Dragon-Slaying: Raising Braveheart, or The Interrupted Life. You can also find my books: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting or As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda at your local bookstore or on Amazon.