Fortiter fideliter forsan feliciter, or Repentance
part of the Education Is for Life series
This series is rather ill-timed and ill-spaced. Honestly, these posts have actually required research of me, and a lot of thinking. So they have taken longer to write and hence are spread out over months rather than running for a week or two as I had originally thought. The series began while listening to Chris Perrin’s recent webinars on Principles of Classical Education, when I realized that these same principles that are key to classical education are simply key to life. And, if they are key to both life & education, then does that not emphasize how education is simply a subset of life itself? Education is a life, Charlotte Mason said, and education is also for life – it enhances life and it lasts a lifetime.
The Latin motto for this principle is another I discovered with the aid of Google, but when I saw it I knew it was perfect. There are versions that leave off the forsan (“perhaps”), but it was that forsan that drew me immediately in and keyed into a vague notion I’ve been pondering lately: The idea of focusing more on the process, on doing what I should do, and leaving the results, the outcome, to God. The world recommends setting SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, timely) goals, where the focus is on achieving measurable results. But, doesn’t the Bible focus more on obedience and trust? And aren’t so many of the things we strive for as mothers and home-educators not exactly measurable?
Yes, getting dinner on the table or taking the kids to the dentist could be accomplished as a SMART goal, but these things are small parts of a bigger vision and goal that is not at all measurable, not even all that specific, and much too long-term to be “timely”: raising healthy, happy, godly children.
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Fortiter fideliter forsan feliciter
The motto means “bravely, faithfully, perhaps successfully.” What I love about this motto is the reminder that so often the results are not in our hands. We are called to obey faithfully, but God gives the increase - in His time, in His way - and it often doesn’t look like what we expected. We can’t control how things will work out, but we can control whether or not we obey, right here, right now. We can trust that God will work it all out in the end.
"True education is a form of repentance. It is a humble admission that we've not read all that we need to read, we don't know all that we need to know, and we've not yet become all that we are called to become. Education is that unique form of discipleship that brings us to the place of admitting our inadequacies." – George Grant, “Repentance"
It is so easy to get the message from the world that we are supposed to be awesome, and if we aren’t awesome, then we need to fix things – ourselves, our situation, our habits, our tools. We are all only a quick fix away from being awesome.
In fact, we were created to be awesome: to reflect God’s glory, to sub-create in this world, and to rule it profitably. But it is sin that mars what we were created to be, and any fix that ignores the fact that we cannot fully be what we were made to be will set us up for disappointment.
The satisfying life is not the life of super productivity or super health, but one of repentance, of sanctification, of growing in godliness and being conformed to the image of Christ.
Martin Luther, in the first of his 95 Thesis, wrote:
When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent," He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Luther then distinguishes between repentance and penance: we are to live a life toward God, turning from our own sinfulness and selfishness. Repentance is not making up for our guilt ourselves, paying off God with either money or good works. Christ is the only sacrifice that alleviates guilt. Repenting is not living in perpetual guilt and woe-is-me introspection; it is faithfulness, it is obedience, it is listening to and believing God rather than ourselves and how we may feel. Repentance is not sackcloth-and-ashes living; it is abiding in Christ’s will rather than our own. Abiding in Christ is our joy and our strength. No, we don't do so perfectly, but the answer is ever turning away from our sin and toward Christ; that is repentance.
Repentance is bravely and faithfully changing our attitudes, changing our perspective, changing our actions, whenever we are made aware that they are not aligned with God’s Word, His revealed will. It is hard, but it is life-giving.
Repentance at Home
Repentance in our homes encompasses everything, not only our own personal sanctification. Even housework, in a way, is a small ritual of repentance. If we adapt George Grant’s quote, we might say it is a humble admission that we are not as orderly as we should be, that we are inadequate keepers of our domains.
That doesn't mean we stop trying; we bravely continue in faithfulness, even when we don't measure up or feel like a success.
We can see our homes as a picture of our own hearts: they do not naturally tend toward order and rightness, but are always being pulled by entropy toward disarray if not actively attended to. Just as we need to daily pick up the house, wash the dishes, and wipe the tables, so we need to daily receive forgiveness, turn from our selfishness, and pursue faithfulness despite our failures. Though justification is a once-for-all event, sanctification is made up of these small repentances, little bit by little bit, always again and again.
When we feel the weight of mundane housekeeping bearing down upon us, we can remember that our call is bravely to be faithful in it, not to be successful in it. Our life is a vapor, and so is our housekeeping. We aren’t meant to get it all done once and for all. We are given a stewardship, a care-taking office, to continually put back to rights our domains: our homes, our personal lives, our relationships.
Repentance in Schedule
We are called to make the most of our time here on this earth, but that often doesn’t look like how we might assume it should. Things so often don’t go the way we plan them to, even when our plans are sincerely made for good. Yet we know that nothing comes to us by chance, but from God’s fatherly hand. Yes, that means God is the one ensuring our lives do not function according to our plans. And it is for our good, that we may trust Him more and not trust in our own abilities. God wants us to know we are not in control.
Our job, our calling, is perseverance, not control. God calls us to faith, not to living out a formula of good works that guarantees the outcome we desire. God is weaving a story, and we act our part and trust that the Author will work it out to His praise and glory by the end, even when we don’t see it in the here and now.
And that sounds grand in the big picture vision, but it comes crashing in too close to home when we realize it applies to the toddler calling from the bathroom while we’re in the middle of helping with a math problem and our coffee sits untouched on the counter next to the pile of yesterday’s dishes. That’s not according to plan. But it is a chance to repent: to bravely, faithfully, put one foot in front of the other and continue in obedience.
Repentance isn’t wallowing in feeling inadequate. Repentance is looking to God, admitting we are inadequate, praying He will work good despite us, and just doing what we can do without snapping off children’s heads (or our own, internally).
Repentance as a Mother
Oh my, is there ever a life more fraught with conviction than raising up children who are with us all day, every day, for the entirety of their little lives. We love to jump to conclusions about bad influences, but what about when we are their primary influence? Children are more than mirrors of our own faults; children are magnifying glasses, taking the fault we have masked in socially acceptable ways and showcasing it so that it’s obvious and in-your-face. Our children’s sins are often immature reflections of our own sins. This is a blessing to us; it allows us to see ourselves better, giving us opportunities to peel away our self-deception. A mindset of repentance is a mindset of “it starts with me.” Whenever correcting our children, we should always stop and correct ourselves first. Oh, how many times have I snapped harshly and irritably that a child needs a better attitude?
These children and their problems are given to sanctify us. Let us embrace this life of repentance.
Let us bravely face our inadequacies, faithfully following the path before us, trusting God and not our efforts for the increase. God can feed 5,000 with 5 loaves, and He can take our dismal efforts to obey and transform us, others, and the world through them.
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