Thoughts on School Education: Chapter 3 "Masterly Inactivity" – Part 2
Last week, we defined what is meant by Charlotte Mason's term "masterly inactivity". Today let's talk about how we can reach this serenity of attitude – this 'state of rest' as Andrew Kern would put it – so that we can practice Masterly Inactivity in our homes. Charlotte offers a few suggestions towards this end:
First of all, Charlotte encourages mothers to 'play' from time to time: "If mothers would learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes to tense, and just take a day, or half-a-day, but in the fields, or with a favorite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed without the children life would go on far more happily for both children and parents" (p.33-34).
I know, it does sound like a bit of a pipe dream, doesn't it? In my particular life situation, I don't have a lot of opportunities to get out and away from my children, and yet I do see the difference that it makes when I can. My ideal is to take a half a day at a coffee shop to read and think and journal, or to take a long walk in some peaceful place – but I can't do either of those in our current city. What I have been able to manage is daily quiet rest time – in which we all go into our separate spaces and relax with a book or take a nap, mama included. I also stop whatever tasks I am doing in the late afternoon early enough to be able to take 45 minutes or so with a cup of coffee and a book that nourishes my soul and mind before I need to start dinner. My children are often playing outside at this time of day, weather permitting, so I join them with a chair on the front porch. Occasionally my husband will take the children out or find projects that he can include them in on the weekends so that I can have some quiet time alone at the house to read or write. We are sadly lacking in places where one can take long peaceful walks in our city, but we soak that kind of thing up when we are able to get out of town for a while. An occasional ladies' night out can be refreshing too, although in a different way. What can you do to get some occasional refreshment for yourself? It's worth a think, even if it means thinking outside the box.
Charlotte also encourages us to try and have a 'state of leisure' in our homes as far as possible. The ideal is to try and avoid being rushed, busy, and stressed. Busy seasons lead to greater 'fractiousness' in the home. "Leisure for themselves and a sense of leisure in those about them is as necessary to a child's well-being as it is to the strong and benign parental well-being" (p.35).
This is a tough one in today's world, isn't it? There's almost a societal expectation that we make ourselves busy, with the accompanying guilt trip if we're not. I will confess that I probably have an easier time of keeping our day-to-day schedule leisurely simply because I live in Africa and don't have the myriad of activity choices that are available elsewhere. We still have busy seasons, though, especially around conference and co-op sessions…and I do notice the increased "fractiousness" in our home during those times. It always makes me glad these are temporary seasons in our family life and not our normal state of life! It is worthwhile to consider all the activities that we are involved in and all the running around we do. Is it possible to combine our errands into fewer trips? Can we evaluate the true value of our activities and cut some of them out? Cindy Rollins has some words of wisdom on this subject matter here. "Stress," she reminds us, "is the enemy of just about everything worthwhile."
Ultimately, though, and perhaps most importantly of all, Charlotte reminds us that masterly inactivity is the outworking of our faith in God and our rest in Him: "The highest form of confidence, known to us as faith, is necessary to full repose of mind and manner. When we recognize that God does not make over the bringing up of children absolutely even up to their parents, but that He works Himself, in ways which it must be our care not to hinder, in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble and wise. We shall give children space to develop on the lines of their own characters in all the right ways, and shall know how to intervene effectually to prevent those errors which, also, are proper to their individual characters" (p.35).
Masterly inactivity is really all about REST – teaching and parenting and living from a state of rest, trusting that God will lead and guide us – when to act, when to let things go - and trusting our children are ultimately in His care. Our role is to plant the seeds, He brings forth the fruit.
The message of masterly inactivity dovetails so nicely with my contemplations on rest over the past month or two. I highly recommend Sarah's new ebook and audio companion Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace if you need some practical encouragement in this regard. At the very least, you can listen to interview she did with Andrew Kern as part of the audio companion for free at the Circe Institute website.
In what practical ways have you striven to live out the principle of masterly inactivity in your living, parenting, and teaching?