Voices July 09, 2019
Following God like learning to read: simple, not easy
I love summer vacation. Instead of waking up and immediately thinking ahead to the organizing of six kids’ syllabi, we get to quietly start the day and just do whatever.
This year, Thomas finished kindergarten. It’s really weird to think, that, most likely, I will never teach kindergarten again. Thomas’ will be the last homemade Bible story book made in our family.
I will never again teach Rain by Robert Louis Stevenson, discuss the colours in Miro’s Woman, Bird and Star, or make up rhymes to teach numbers: eight, eight, two fat plates, nine, nine, a bubble on a line.
And lastly, I most likely will never teach another child to read.
Fourteen years ago, I bought Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons from a used bookstore downtown. It’s the recommended text for our homeschooling curriculum, and it has served me well. So well, in fact, that its cover is missing and the pictures within have sacrificed themselves to weird stickers, strategically placed by funny five-year-olds. There are frog faces covering what used to be cute little girls, and puppies inside rocket ships landing on beach shores.
Thomas still has about 20 lessons to finish this summer, and each time we sit down together to review his sounds and read a random story about fish in the rain, I remember I may never go through this process again. It’s sad, but also exciting to see the new stage ahead.
Teaching a child to read feels like a vocation. Besides the skill itself, it involves the practice of so many different virtues, by both of us. If you’ve ever seen the ridiculous movie Almost Heroes, you already know what it’s like. There is a scene with Chris Farley, exasperated and slapping his own cross-eyed face as Matthew Perry attempts to teach him the letter A. It is simply too much for Farley, and he storms out of the tent in a manic rage, pulling his hair out, “Do you want my head to explode!! ENOUGH FOR TODAY!” That clip pretty much sums up some days of reading lessons in our home.
Some days a child will simply not be able to remember the sound he had mastered only hours ago. My patient efforts to encourage are met with scorn and tears, and then my attempts become not quite as patient. We sit there together, and my son looks at me from the corner of his eye, like I am a plotting enemy. How dare I trick him into trying to differentiate between a B and a D, again!
But other days are sweet. There are no distractions, and Tommy sits on my lap, excited with every success he makes. We high-five and laugh at the funny things that happen in the story he reads. He looks like he has conquered death, and bounces down from my lap to go about his business.
Throughout the day, I hear him sounding out words that he finds in hidden places around the house, under his breath, for his own satisfaction. At those moments I think about the years ahead, and all that these lessons together will bring about.
How long from now will he pick up The Lord of the Rings, or Tom Playfair? How long before he can’t wait for a free 10 minutes to sit on the couch and finish another chapter of a favourite book?
Something we take so very much for granted, learning to read, will hopefully bring about a day when he will be stretched and inspired to greatness by the words of a saint, or a Psalm, or a prophetic novel.
When I was thinking about all of this, I thought about the words Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Spe Salvi: “Man was created for greatness – for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched …”
What amazing words! We are created for greatness, destined to be filled by God! But the simple fact remains that our hearts are not yet ready; they must do their part: the painful, daily stretching of our hearts towards greatness.
Saint Therese wrote in her Little Way, “Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.” I don’t know if I would say it’s simple to do God’s will. Maybe simple in the way that learning to read is simple. The directions are there, and we just have to do our part.
But to become great, to become holy and filled with God, our part is making a daily commitment of stretching ourselves for the sake of God, while acknowledging that the power to stretch comes from God himself.
That’s simple, but not easy. Holiness and true greatness becomes possible for the littlest of us all, from small but heroic acts of love. And from what I’ve experienced, that’s about as frustrating, amazing, beautiful, and simple as ABC.
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