It’s hard not to notice the way things change between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the time known in the Church calendar as Advent. Christmas lights and decorations go up, Christmas tunes play on rotation everywhere you go, and candy canes and peppermint flavors start making their way into coffees and all kinds of goodies. Add in a major snowstorm, and you’ve got the makings of a total transformation. It’s as though all of creation bears witness to the world-changing, humanity-changing, eternity-changing power of Christ’s incarnation and mission to redeem His people beginning with Christmas some two-thousand years ago. Advent, in its purest form, recalls the somber yet hopeful period of waiting for the promised Christ, coming to set His people free, and in it we acknowledge our sinful and needy state, waiting for God to change us from broken sinners into brand-new saints.
This past month, I attended the annual Northwest ACCS Administrators’ Conference at The Oaks in Spokane, where I was able to spend time learning from and growing with other administrators from schools like ours from around the Pacific Northwest. During the two-day conference, several common themes surfaced about our current cultural challenges and opportunities, simultaneously unique to our times and “nothing new under the sun.” One of my favorite quotes from the sessions came from a fellow head of school from Oregon: “Nothing is more deadly to education than fighting the notion that we’re not here to change who you are.” I had to let that sink in a little, but it’s a rich reminder for us during this time of change. It declares clearly both that the entire reason we educate children is to change who they are, and that we tend to buck against that very idea at the same time.
You’ve no doubt heard before that our desire at CCA is not just to inform our students but to form them into a certain type of person. That, naturally, involves change. In the process, we aim not just to shape the students’ minds but also their affections, hearts, and character. But for all that, we shouldn’t downplay the importance of the mind in that mix. We are a people called to think God’s thoughts after Him, to take every thought captive to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), and to not be conformed to this world but to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
The reality of education and change, in general, is that we both need it and resist it. When we enroll our students in a classical Christian education, we find ourselves easily agreeing to the results without always counting the costs or understanding the demands of the change involved. Our culture tells us that we’re just fine the way we are, that we should celebrate our expressive individualism (see Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self), and that no outside standard should make a claim upon us. On the other hand, our culture readily encourages us away from God’s standards to the point of even changing the people we actually are, made in the image of God, male and female. In other words, culture celebrates change that moves us further and further away from conformity to Christ and condemns that which makes us change to be more like Him. And yet the entire reason we change is to be more like Him, the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Properly speaking, only God can transform us into His renewed and restored image (notice that Paul uses the passive voice in Romans 12:2, “be transformed by…”). Yet He also uses concrete means of doing so, particularly through the Spirit-filled work of His people. Parents play perhaps the most important role in this process, as God has given each child to his or her parents with the call to raise that child. As parents delegate their authority to teachers, they are asking those teachers to help them effect change in their children. That requires diligence and discipline, and as the author of Hebrews reminds us: “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Notice the final phrase in that verse, “to those who have been trained by it.” That’s education. And as much as we want our students to love learning, it doesn’t mean they can accomplish great things without developing some grit, enduring some difficulty, and pushing through some pain. As parents, we should expect tough times and maybe even some tears along the way. It may involve some failures and some disappointing corrections or poor performances. That’s not a sign that things are going wrong; it may be a sign that the Lord is sanding down some rough edges and doing the real work of molding and shaping a new person. It may be a part of the process of avoiding conformity to the world (a painless process in the short term with disastrous consequences in the long term) and embracing a transformation by the renewing of the mind (a painful process in the short term with fruitful harvests in the long term).
As we progress through the school year and new lessons and new rigors present themselves to your students, it may be that God is using their challenges to provide some productive pain in your home to parents as well. Don’t be alarmed if those difficulties come, but give thanks and look for the opportunity that God may be presenting. Knowing that CCA is here to help you change who you are (as we ourselves change too), rejoice and remember that God was not content to leave us in our helpless state. And as you prepare for your celebrations this Advent and Christmas season, take a moment to thank the Lord that Jesus is not only the reason for the season but the reason that CCA and all of education and transformation exists. Thanks be to God, and Merry Christmas!