Freedom to Grow in an Environment of Grace
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By Mark Hamby
If it were
not for my adventurous imagination, school would have been like solitary
confinement in a maximum security prison. In elementary school my high
grades reflected only my ability to memorize facts; my level of reasoning
and comprehension remained below average. In high school, where a higher
level of reasoning was required, my grades tumbled and with it, motivation
to apply myself to study. “Why would anyone “give their all”
when there are so few rewards and so much failure?” I reasoned.
a child for inattentiveness or hyperactivity had been prevalent during
my childhood, I certainly would have been a candidate for ADD, ADHD, BDHD,
ZDDD! I was “a handful” with an indefatigable spirit. For me,
school was imprisonment. Looking back, I attribute this distaste for school
to four factors:
pressures and stress
underdeveloped reasoning capabilities, is a common problem especially
in the early years of growth. Every child’s mental capabilities grow
at different rates, and children of the same chronological age are often
at different developmental stages. Children are neither meant to nor able
to grasp the same content that the teacher or parent presents. Forcing
or pressuring a child to learn beyond his/her capabilities will only frustrate
and, in the end, lower his level of reasoning. Children subject to this
approach rarely reach their potential as fear suppresses the ability to
believe, is the single greatest factor that impedes a child’s ability
to learn. When the level of fear is high, the level of reasoning is
low. Lower the level of fear and you will see the level of reasoning
and risk-taking increase. Risk-taking is essential in the learning process.
Without risk, children will persevere to unlock those “mental blocks”
in order to achieve mastery. For example, a fearful, insecure child learning
division for the first time will be easily frustrated and more apt to
give up before this challenging concept is understood and applied through
repetition, trial and error. The greater the fear, the lower the level
of risk-taking and reasoning. Some children are born with an inquisitive
nature and actually enjoy facing obstacles. They enjoy the process of
discovery and remain motivated until the answers are found. These children
do not succumb to fear easily. Their mental abilities are strong enough
to carry them through most learning environments.
strive to lower the level of fear in order to raise the level of reasoning.
The first and most significant fear factor is found at home. The stronger
the relationship between mom and dad, the more security a child possesses,
enabling him to tackle life’s challenges. When a child fears that
the relationship that holds his life together is breaking down, feelings
of insecurity and worry are often insurmountable, resulting in an inability
to concentrate. Other fear factors that contribute to a child’s learning
difficulties include the fear of failing, fear of an angry parent, teacher,
or principal, fear of peers, fear of the death of a loved one and more
recently, the fear of terrorism. Though this list is not exhaustive, it
does represent some of the destructive fears a child faces today. In light
of war and terrorist threats, the threshold of fear for children has significantly
So how do
we address these external fears that paralyze our children? If relationships
at home are healthy, then a child’s ability to cope with external
fears comes from their internal value system. Let me explain. The reason
a child is devastated when conflicts arise between parents is because
a child’s parents are one of their most valued treasures. Children
place a priceless value upon a mom and dad who love each other. When there
are unresolved conflicts or divorce, a child’s greatest value has
been threatened or destroyed, thus suppressing their motivation.
who have an undeveloped level of reasoning but an overdeveloped imagination,
there is only one alternative while being held captive in school, and
that is to escape! Yes indeed, while listening to the lectures of well-intended
teachers, children like me appear to be listening, but we’ve really
been transported to some distant land. For example, when the history teacher
begins to lecture on Marco Polo, children like me are riding in the caravan
as we are about to meet Ghengis Khan. Unfortunately, by the time our imagination
is brought back to the teacher’s presentation, we are so far behind
that we are lost, grappling for someone to help us. We look over to our
neighbor only to view their extensive notes compared to our empty page.
Next, we are asked to pay attention only to feel embarrassed. Fear settles
in, the defenses go up, and off we go to another distant land.
test scores and inability to comprehend what we read are poor indicators
of our true abilities. If you could interview my high school teachers
and ask if Mark Hamby would be a likely candidate for three master’s
degrees and a Ph.D., they would politely smile and then laugh. They would
ask if this is the same Mark Hamby who hated to read, scored poorly on
tests, was easily distracted, and would be remembered more as the class
comedian than a scholar. How did such a disdain for reading and learning
turn into an insatiable desire to grow in knowledge, instruction, and
wisdom? This is not to suggest that I’ve arrived, but oh, I do desire
to learn. Before we answer the question of “how,” let’s
first look at the reasons behind the lack of motivation to learn:
- that which we treasure the most.
are driven by what we value. When a child’s values have been threatened
or destroyed, he will build up walls behind which to hide, thereby protecting
himself. There is just no room for confidence and self-worth. His most
treasured values have just been shattered, and he is not going to be hurt
again! These children are often misjudged and devalued by well
to illustrate. As I was writing this article I was aboard an airliner.
Seated in the front row, I was struggling to come up with a synonym for
the word “determined.” So, being the shy introvert that I am,
I asked the flight attendant seated a few feet in front of me for her
help. She smiled and said, “How about the word ‘driven’?”
“Perfect,” I said. “That will work.” A few minutes
later she asked if she could hear how it sounded in the sentence I had
written. This evoked a conversation on values and motivation. I explained
how I believe peace at home is an essential component to self-worth which
is governed by our motivations, which are driven by what we value, thus
laying the foundation of our character.
who live in fear possess weak character because their self-worth and motivations
are based on what I call “descending values.” Descending values
are self-centered rather than God-centered, and character that is developed
in an environment of fear is “self-centered”. Children who have
been hurt and are afraid of more attacks will insulate themselves as much
as possible. The more they protect and isolate themselves, the more they
“descend” and fall away from the only true source of love and
protection-God Himself. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us,
but this doesn’t guarantee a life without pain. It does mean that
we can trust Him no matter how difficult life may become. When we value
God and His promises, we quickly learn that He is a God who can be trusted.
Unfortunately, those who live in fear often trust their self-prescribed
protection more than the God of infinite love and resources. The tightly-clung-to
values of self-preservation soon decay as a myriad of other protective
devices replace the old descending ones.
attendant then did something that surprised me. She removed her seat belt
and stood beside me. She began to tell me how her parents divorced when
she was in fifth grade. She described the fighting, yelling, and physical
abuse that molded her childhood. Then she said something that added further
conformation to my thesis. She said that she could remember her report
card in fourth grade. Her school graded by letters such as “N”
for “needs improvement” or “G” for “good work”
etc. She said she could remember receiving all N’s. But one in particular
stuck in her mind. It was an “N” for show and tell. Because
she had refused to stand in front of the class to show and tell anything,
the teacher interpreted this as disobedience, and evaluated her as an
uncooperative child. I see this as a child who was afraid of rejection
and hurt, resulting in low self-worth, low risk, and a longing for somebody
to protect and love her!
God open our eyes. Our children need our unconditional love and protection.
They need to know, experientially, that they are fully loved, fully known,
without any fear of rejection. Children who know they are unconditionally
loved in spite of what others know about them, will be more willing by
God’s grace to admit their weaknesses/sins and ask for help. They
will be more willing to remove the mask of safety and tear down the walls
of protection if they sense that we have their best interest in mind.
Children who sense that they are loved in this way, will possess a lower
level of fear, which in itself is a powerful motivating factor toward
“ascending” values and character development. Allow me to explain.
Fear, according to John in his first Epistle involves punishment. But
perfect love casts out fear. In the context of John’s discourse
on fear and love, he is referring to eternal judgment. But John wants
his readers to know that those who know God, or are known by Him, do not
need to fear punishment because God has already demonstrated His great
love toward them through the life and death of His Son. Because of this
great love, we are presented with life’s highest possible value;
a value of such worth that once found, one would be willing to give anything
to possess it.
and His Son as our highest value, we are motivated unto love and good
works because we know how much He gave on our behalf. It’s quite
simple. When someone does something for you that is sacrificial and loving,
it motivates you to reciprocate in some way to show your appreciation
for their love and sacrifice. Because you have been greatly valued, you
in turn are motivated to love and sacrifice for others. For the believer,
new motivations are driven by a new sense of value-God and His lavish
love. It is amazing what happens when we place a high value on others.
Children and adults become motivated to please because they appreciate
being valued, and value reciprocates value; it ascends. God valued us,
and we in turn value Him and others.
the depth of God’s unfathomable love (and if unfathomable, we can
never truly comprehend its depths) is the single greatest reason why a
Christian would possess a low self-worth. When one realizes how much they
are fully loved (valued), having no fear of rejection, their level of
fear decreases and their level of reasoning and risk-taking increases.
This, too, is ascending. The higher one feels valued, the more a child
is motivated to learn regardless of failed attempts. In fact, they begin
to see failure as one step closer to success. I believe that it was Theodore
Roosevelt who once said, “Success if failure upon failure, with great
children truly experience the freedom to grow in an environment of grace
this summer. Surround them with heroes and heroines who model persevering
character and noble deeds. May Summer truly be a time for GROWTH in your
- Boys ages
12 and up:
Sir Knight of the Splendid Way; Titus: A Comrade of the Cross; Stick
to the Raft; The Highland Chairman; The Captive; Stephen: A Soldier
of the Cross; The Archives of Anthropos; The Pillar of Fire; Boys of
Grit Who Changed the World; Boys of Grit who Became Men of Honor;. Joel:
A Boy of Galilee.
- Boys ages
Button; The Bird’s Nest; Christies Old Organ; Christie the King’s
Servant; The Lost Ruby; Tom Watkin’s Mistake; The Stolen Child;
The Golden Thread; Clean Your Boots, Sir?; The Inheritance; The Hedge
of Thorns; Tales of the Kingdom Trilogy.
ages 12 and up:
Sir Knight of the Splendid Way; Rosa of Linden Castle; The Wide Wide
World; Titus: A Comrade of the Cross; The Pillar of Fire; The Three
Weavers; Always in His Keeping; The Hedge of Thorns; What is Her Name.
ages 8 - 12
Sons; The Little Lamb; Nobody Loves Me; The White Dove; The Birds Nest;
Jessica’s First Prayer; Melody; Tales of the Kingdom Trilogy; Christies
- 7 years old:
Princess; The Beggars Blessing; The Hedge of Thorns Illustrated; Bible
Stories for Little Ears (audio drama); Patch the Pirate (audio - fun
filled character lessons with Patch and his crew.)
of a Child from the Wisdom of Fenelon; Let Go by Fenelon; Sir Knight
of the Splendid Way; Desiring God by John Piper; Age of Opportunity
by Paul Tripp; The Mystery of Marriage by Mason; The Pressures Off by
Crabb; Tell Me the Promises by Joni Eareckson.
my King by serving you, Mark Hamby, President of Cornerstone Family Ministries
& Lamplighter Publishing. The Lamplighter Rare Collector’s
catalog and newsletter are available on request at www.lamplighterpublishing.com.
Books mentioned in this article are available from Lamplighter
© 2003 Mark Hamby. This article was reprinted by permission.
Copyright © 2003 Eclectic Homeschool Association