Chapter 3 of For the Family’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay explores our need for balance in our lives, that is, freedom within boundaries.
An abundant life is necessary for healthy personal growth, an idea I imagine we’d all agree with if we really thought about it, but the path of life has two sides and we have to navigate the narrow space between the two sides. On the one side we have human freedoms and choice, while on the other, the stability and structure provided by Good Laws.
The title of this chapter, ‘Free as a Bird, Dutiful and Humble as the Angels,’ is part of a larger quote by Charlotte Mason which may be found in Essex Cholmondeley’s book, The Story of Charlotte Mason:
‘It is more life and fuller that we want,
That we crave sometimes with a sick craving…
Life of joyous, generous expansion…
free…as a bird’s life’
Macaulay observes that permissive educators would applaud Charlotte Mason’s initial idea of a full life, but they would shrink from the next part of the quote:
‘Life – dutiful and humble as the life of angels’
“Dutiful?” “Humble!” I hear the typical shocked, questioning exclamation. “Surely not. Where does duty come in? Surely I and all persons have a right to our personal choices!…And humble—honestly! Are you suggesting being a doormat ? What about self-esteem?”
Duty has become a dirty word these days. It means doing what is required of us; doing what we ought to do. It limits our choices and we don’t want to have limitations imposed on us!
I’ve been reading Corrie ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, for the about third or fourth time, and have been inspired again by her and her sister Betsie’s lives of faithfulness and obedience that prepared them for their ministries during World War 2. The book tells us about their lives beginning with their quiet, dutiful, hidden lives in Holland, to their involvement in the Resistance Movement, and then their capture by the Gestapo and subsequent time in a German Concentration Camp.
Corrie survived the war, returned to Holland at the age of fifty-three and began a ministry to those who suffered during the war. Her speaking engagements eventually took her all over the world.
As Macaulay points out, duty and rules is not about legalism. Duty and rules are not designed to crush us but to provide the structure that holds through the storms of life.
When the author was a child, her dad took her and her sister to see the Mississippi River in flood. She remembered looking out across the water with the feeling that she was standing at “the edge of infinity.”
‘To be beautiful, the river needs its boundaries, or the waters actually become like the muddy Mississippi flood. So with our lives.’
The East Coast of Australia has been hammered by record-breaking rain and widespread flooding this year. It’s not a pretty sight to see submerged roads and houses and people being evacuated from their homes. It causes chaos and distress to those directly affected and has a ripple effect into other areas. When we overextend our moral boundaries and just do what we feel like regardless of anyone else, we don’t just affect our own lives.
‘No one is ever called to design the pattern of right and wrong. We are asked to fit in…To many it would seem that these two balancing sides to life’s path are plain contradictions. But within the Judeo-Christian design, both are essential. Tip over too much on one side or the other in any area of thought or practice, and you get disasters, rather like the flooding of the “free” Mississippi on one hand or the asphyxiation of life by a hard, mindless legality on the other.’
Children growing up today in the same place where author grew up fifty years ago don’t ride their bikes around the streets by themselves any more. The neighbourhood school is still there and providing ‘a ray of light’ for many of its students. The children feel safe…a police unit is based in the school near the entrance door:
‘The easy freedom I knew of coming and going without a care in the world is lost as more and more persons do whatever they feel like doing, rather than obeying life’s basic rules.’
Earlier in this chapter, Macaulay tells about the time her parents took her to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. She was seven years old and she ‘met’ Rembrandt’s Night Watch for the first time. Her parents stood back and let her connect with the painting herself. They displayed “Masterly Inactivity.” I touched on this in my post on Chapter 2 that mentioned ‘play based learning.’ Play initiated by adults is totally different from the play that occurs naturally when the adults stand back and don’t interfere.
Masterly Inactivity was an idea that became popular in Britain in the 1860’s. I’ve seen it used occasionally in older novels and it is an idea that was used in medicine and politics. (I’ll post some links below that explain the concept in more detail) It referred to letting things alone, not micromanaging, but also not being indifferent or neglectful. In medical situations the favoured therapeutic method could be just waiting and seemingly doing nothing while being ready to act if need be – ‘first, do no harm!’ In a political situation it might be not rushing in and allowing the parties to sort things out themselves – a ‘wise passiveness.’
‘We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, ‘late and soon.’ We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education.’
‘They are free under authority, which is liberty; to be free without authority is license…’
A child who is aware of his parent’s authority; whose parents are confident as to his comings and goings enjoys freedom. Masterly Inactivity doesn’t happen if the child is not under his parent’s authority. There’s the balance again – authority and freedom.
‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’
Masterly Inactivity vs. Micromanaging – an interesting podcast showing how Masterly Inactivity plays out in a political situation.
What is Masterly Inactivity? – a blog post about Masterly inactivity in a Charlotte Mason context.
“Don’t bother to give God instructions; just report for duty.”
― Corrie ten Boom
7 thoughts on “For the Family’s Sake – Chapter 3”
I want to send this to some fellow parents I know, you have tied all these thoughts together so well. Thank you!
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Thanks, Gretchen 🙂
I really appreciated the link you made to Corrie Ten Boom’s life – a normal quiet childhood was enough to prepare and ground her for a rather remarkable adulthood.
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Hi Kirstie, that was something that inspired me when I first read the book. No one could have guessed at the turn her life would take. Thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂
I may never be on time for my comments 🙂 However…
Interesting the link you’ve mentioned between masterly inactivity and negligence. It would have been helpful maybe to have learned these principles earlier on in my parenting. To have children under authority but not legalism and not neglect. Confident that a foundation has been laid to be built upon, sans excess or unnecessary rules.
And the Lord Jesus definitely brings abundant life. There is comfort and freedom within the boundaries that have been set for us in His Word. Obedience brings blessings. So if we have that underpinning and understanding, it is easier to translate that to our parenting.
In terms of duty, again, as a later adult, I can see that fulfilling one’s duties actually can make for a fulfilling satisfying life, there is satisfaction in accomplishing one’s duties and not kicking against obligations. Also then doing a good job of what one should be doing can be its own reward. And then there is no need for guilt or angst because the duty has been fulfilled. That gives relief. And then freedom to pursue other activities knowing that duty neglected is not breathing down your neck.
This scripture about the Lord being an austere man came to my thinking.
Luke 19:12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
13And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.
14But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.
15And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
16Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.
17And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.
18And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.
19And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.
20And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:
21For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.
22And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:
23Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?
24And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.
25(And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)
26For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.
27But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
It was the attitude of the person towards his master which determined his behaviour. So he thought the Lord was an austere man. If his attitude had been more generous and dutiful, then he could have behaved accordingly and worked and invested his Lord’s money making increase. If our attitude towards God’s law and His loving guidance is not generous with an unwillingness to obey, then we will not work dutifully fulfulling our side obeying God’s word and not be blessed accordingly. We need not be either lax or legalistic and feel enslaved but enjoy the freedom and blessing of that life following the Lord Jesus brings. And our children should also have this blessing of not being micromanaged but growing up in loving balance, realising that the rules are for our benefit.
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Whenever is fine, Angie. I didn’t plan for a tight schedule!
I liked your link to the parable in Luke – the same sort of thing occurs with the older brother in the account of the prodigal son – and how you related it to duty.
‘And our children should also have this blessing of not being micromanaged but growing up in loving balance’…yes!
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