Praise & Gratitude: the Antidote to Spiritual Cynicism
“Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.” – C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:20-22)
A Lesson from Narnia
In his beloved children’s series, The Chronicles of Narnia, Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis insightfully illustrated the development of the disillusioned skeptic. If you have read the series, you will know that Narnian dwarfs are already prone to suspicion. In Prince Caspian, Trumpkin doubts the existence of the great lion, Aslan, and the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, even when evidence suggests otherwise. His friend Nikabrik is beyond skepticism; his cynical attitude is that even if the “old stories” are true, the characters in them aren’t all they are cracked up to be. The Dufflepuds that the crew of the Dawn Treader discover on their voyage to the world’s end were originally dwarfs too, and they also seem to have the same lack of trust in anyone other than themselves. Even an elderly Trumpkin in The Silver Chair seems well known for his lack of faith and is likely to doubt the feasibility of Aslan-blessed missions to rescue lost princes.
But by the time readers reach The Last Battle, dwarfish skepticism reaches a new height. The dwarfs of the last days of Narnia are tragically manipulated into cruel slavery by fellow Narnians in league with an outside enemy. The tool of manipulation? A false Aslan who commands his subjects to perform dreadful acts. The Narnians, including the dwarfs, feel compelled to obey, even though the commands are wildly inconsistent with all that they have been told about Aslan. They must obey, for as the old sacrosanct adage states: “He’s not a tame lion.” By the time the true king of Narnia has come to their rescue, the dwarfs have had enough of Aslan, and of kings for that matter. “We’re going to look after ourselves from now on and touch our caps to nobody. See?” vows their leader.
It matters not that the Aslan they had experienced was an “imitation” of the real Aslan; they reject him and his followers in total. Sadly, not only do the dwarfs end up inflicting mortal damage on the true believers in Aslan, they also wind up imprisoned in a “reality” of their own imagination. Aslan himself cannot free them, for “they have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and are so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”
We’ve All Been Taken In
Do not judge those Narnian dwarfs too severely. Lewis had experienced their plight, but in real life. Raised in a Christian home, Lewis experienced trauma early in his life when his mother died. His father was distant. He was abused at boarding school. And finally, he saw unimaginable horrors on the battlefields of World War I. He had become a confirmed atheist— he had no room in his experience for God, or so he thought. Obviously, Lewis was eventually freed from his spiritual prison and consequently, looked back at his experiences from a much different perspective after his conversion to Christianity.
To one degree or another, we all have experienced what the dwarfs experienced. Somewhere along the line, we all find out that we have been “taken in.” Something we were told as children turns out to be a silly story. A person we looked to for love and care neglects, or worse yet, exploits us instead. Places we expected to be outlets of integrity and stability turn out to be covers for deceit and doubt. Teaching we had accepted to be true turns out to be false. In response, we are at risk of viewing our experience through a lens of calloused cynicism: “we won’t be taken in again. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!” And we wind up rejecting everything about the experience in its entirety.
The Revolt of the Christian Homeschoolers 1
This dwarfish spirit has recently been on display in the Christian homeschooling community. Some homeschool graduates have publicly decried their upbringing (or at least parts of it). They join an even wider chorus of “deconstructed” evangelical Christians who no longer believe in Christ or in Christians. Some graduates of Wellspring are among their number. I am familiar with parts of their stories; some of the characters and the ideas that were promulgated in their Christian homeschooling circles were part of my upbringing too. I understand, and in some cases, agree with their criticisms, and in others, I empathize with their anger at having been presented with an “imitation” Christianity.
But I’m not a dwarf, though I may have nearly been one. When certain influencers in the conservative Christian homeschooling community became disgraced and their teachings discredited, I might have joined the dwarfish archers in shooting bitter arrows at these former leaders and their dwindling followers. After all, hypocrisy brings out the strongest feelings of betrayal and disillusionment.
1 Recently, a national newspaper ran a human-interest story, entitled “The Revolt of the Christian Homeschoolers” about a couple (one of whom was a WCFS graduate) who have chosen to enroll their children in public school.
So why didn’t I join them? Because God had already been working in my life at such a deeply personal level that when those circumstances occurred, I could readily see the difference between the imitation and the real thing. That allowed me to process my upbringing, not through the lens of a disgruntled, deconstructed dwarf, but from a grateful heart as a follower of the true King.
Treasuring the Diamonds
My parents chose to homeschool my siblings and I primarily because they wanted to give us a Biblical foundation in how we looked at life. They chose a variety of means in how to implement that vision, and those means included resources both inside and outside our home.2 My homeschooling experience was filled with treasures, both spiritual and academic. Are there particular perspectives or figures from my childhood homeschooling community that I now disagree with? Yes. And much good can come from thoughtfully revisiting ideas or teachings from our pasts to consider if they are actually true from a Biblical perspective; we have a responsibility to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 1:3). But we are also admonished to do so with humility, gentleness, and compassion (II Tim. 2:24-26; Jude 1:22).
Any negatives from my upbringing don’t mean I consider my homeschooling experience an empty mine shaft, populated by only worthless lumps of coal. If I did, I would be as foolish as the dwarfs were at the end of The Last Battle, mistaking a magnificent meal for stable scraps because of their cynicism. No, by God’s grace I have been able to discern the diamonds from the coal and treasure the inestimable value of the heritage I have been given.
That’s why it pains me to hear some homeschool graduates from my generation present their homeschooling experience as something that “stunted” their intellectual growth and educational opportunities. Perhaps this is true for some homeschool graduates, but it isn’t the case for me or for the vast majority of homeschool alumni I know (and having worked in the global homeschooling community for almost a decade, I’ve met a few!). Like the Apostle Paul, I could “boast myself a little” (2 Cor. 11:16), about what the Lord has allowed me to do and accomplish since my graduation from homeschool high school. Academically, I have a bachelor’s, a Juris Doctor, and have nearly finished earning my PhD. In my professional life I have worked in elder care, social media, agriculture, retail, research, legal writing and advocacy, business administration, and education. I am married to Mikaela, another homeschool graduate who has taught private music lessons for over 15 years, and together we have five children, three of whom we are homeschooling. Our lives have been rich, filled with amazing experiences and opportunities, many of which came about directly because we were homeschooled.
But none of those things are particularly important compared to the fact that I cannot recall a time when I did not know about God, Jesus, or the Gospel. I was immersed in a home that spoke of the Lord from morning till evening. The Bible was deeply embedded in my mind and heart. The result was that I accepted Christ as my Savior very early and have been following Him ever since. It was my parents’ sincerest desire to help us come to know Christ
2 I participated in local sports activities (with almost exclusively public school students) and took music lessons with local teachers, including my violin teacher who taught at a public middle school.
and to be firmly rooted in His Word, and homeschooling largely allowed them to see that desire implemented.
That’s also why Mikaela and I have chosen to homeschool our own children—not because we think alternatives are wrong (we know many parents who use other options who also have a heart to pass their faith to their children, and are doing it well!), but because we believe it to be our best option to accomplish that objective.
The Antidote to Spiritual Dwarfism
I’ve hinted at it already, but I believe that the primary reason that I have not become a Christian homeschooling “dwarf” is because the Lord provided me with a special antidote from His Word, found in Romans 1:21: giving God glory and thanks! It is impossible to become a cynic when your heart is filled with gratitude; it is difficult to be a skeptic when you are giving glory to the providential hand of your Heavenly Father.
When I consider my upbringing, I am so thankful to God for the goodness, joy, and peace with which it was filled. I give Him glory for how He has used my homeschool experience to equip me for the good work He had (and has) for me to do (Eph. 2:10). He has kept my heart from becoming darkened by bitterness or resentment at those things that may have caused me difficulty. He has allowed me, through that heart of thankfulness, to place the errors in my upbringing in proper perspective, to discern the good from the bad, to treasure the diamonds and not to simply trample upon the coal.
One of my heroes, Frederick Douglass, had every reason to be a “dwarf.” He was born in slavery, suffered horrific abuses at the hands of pious “Christians,” and even as a free man and famed abolitionist, was castigated and condemned by one group or another. And yet, at the end of his life, Douglass noted that “although it has at times been dark and stormy, and I have met with hardships from which other men have been exempted, yet my life has in many respects been remarkably full of sunshine and joy.”3 He had learned the power of a thankful heart to prevent the bitter analysis of his past.
Because we live in a fallen, broken world, we are all at risk of being overtaken by the dwarfish spirit. It is easy to find fault, when fault is in ample supply in the people and culture all around us. But we must be on our guard not to fall prey to Satan’s trap of condemnation, both of ourselves and of others. We must regularly take the medicine of praise and gratitude, lest the root of bitterness springs up in our hearts (Heb. 12:15).
And if we do, we won’t find ourselves going through life haughtily chanting “the Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!” but instead excitedly cheering, “Further up, and further in!”
3 The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. p. 453. (Dover Publications: 2003)