March can be a tough month. Winter seems to drag on, colds and sniffles drag on, and my kids get cabin fever. For most of the year, I have a strong enthusiasm for homeschooling. But during the winter months, that enthusiasm sometimes dwindles. And there are days I just want to quit.
On such days, I remind myself of St. Ignatius of Loyola, who wrote 14 Rules for the Discernment of Spirits. St. Ignatius was once a soldier. He knew that in order to defeat the enemy, one had to understand the enemy’s plans. He applied this knowledge to the spiritual life and made some very astute observations. He perceived that sometimes we are in a state of consolation — a time when we feel happy and at peace. We sense God’s closeness and feel moved by the Holy Spirit to make resolutions and decisions in accordance with God’s plans. Other times, however, we are in a state of desolation — a time when we feel discouraged, anxious, or moody. We feel as if God is distant or as if He has abandoned us. It is during these times that we are tempted to abandon the decisions we have made during times of consolation.
Whenever I want to quit homeschooling, I know I’m in a state of desolation. I’m fed-up, discouraged, and worn out. But I know I need to stay the course.
In the fifth rule, St. Ignatius writes:
In time of desolation never to make a change; but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation or in the determination in which he was in the preceding consolation.
When we’re angry, afraid, frustrated, or despairing, we should never make drastic decisions. Why? Because the angry and fearful thoughts that come to mind during moments of desolation are almost always from the devil. St. Ignatius explains:
Because, as in consolation it is rather the good spirit who guides and counsels us, so in desolation it is the bad, with whose counsels we cannot take a course to decide rightly.
We must not take the counsels of the bad spirit, who is a liar and an accuser. The bad spirit will whisper: You are not cut out for this. You are not smart enough, not organized enough, not disciplined enough, not patient enough. It’s not worth it. Just give up.
They’re lies. All lies.
The truth is this: I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me. (Phillipians 4:13)
If you’re in a state of desolation and you want to give up homeschooling, consider St. Ignatius’ wise advice and stay the course. Pay no heed to the temptation to quit.
The time to decide whether or not to continue homeschooling (or any endeavor, for that matter) is during a time of consolation… and that time will eventually come.
Experience has taught me that sometimes all it takes to banish desolation is a good nap.
But sometimes spiritual desolation lingers. And when it does, consider St. Ignatius’ other rules:
The sixth: Although in desolation we ought not to change our first resolutions, it is very helpful intensely to change ourselves against the same desolation, as by insisting more on prayer, meditation, on much examination, and by giving ourselves more scope in some suitable way of doing penance.
Usually when we’re in desolation, we want to give up praying. We distract ourselves with our iPhones or other pre-occupations. However, prayer and penance must be our first line of offense against sadness and temptation. The more desolate we feel, the more we must pray. As for penance, moms don’t need to wear sack cloth and ashes; just turning that frown upside-down is enough of a sacrifice!
The eighth: Let him who is in desolation labor to be in patience, which is contrary to the vexations which come to him: and let him think that he will soon be consoled, employing against the desolation the devices, as is said in the sixth Rule.
During times of desolation, the devil also pushes us to act quickly on his temptations. Give up homeschooling now. Today. This week. Call the school ASAP. Or maybe it’s not homeschooling, but a math program, our plans to exercise, or anything else that we feel like giving up on. He makes us so agitated that we want to change things now. He knows the time of desolation will pass, and he wants us to fall while we are weak and impulsive. Instead, we need to remember that the desolation will pass, especially if we employ prayer and penance. Meanwhile, we need to labor to be in patience.
In essence, during times of desolation, we must do what the exact opposite of what we are tempted to do:
We want to quit homeschooling. Persevere.
We want to stop praying. Pray more. Pray harder. Pray longer.
We want to indulge ourselves. Do penance.
We want to make a drastic change now. Make no changes. Wait.
“Therefore, my beloved brethren,” writes St. Paul, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58
Why does Our Lord allow desolations? What causes them? What more can we do to fight desolation? Read all Fourteen Rules. Better yet, read Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s The Discernment of Spirits, or listen to his podcast. If you are discerning homeschooling or quitting, it helps to understand the movements of the Holy Spirit and the tactics of the devil.
There is a time for re-thinking whether or not to home school. It should be at the end of the period you committed to ( for example, at the end of a semester or a year). It should be at time when you are in spiritual consolation and your heart is at peace. It should be when you have a clear vision of the goals for your family and what a Catholic education should entail. It should be after you have prayed over the pros and cons (another Ignatian idea). Finally, it should be after you have asked the Holy Spirit to guide you as you prayerfully weigh all your options.
But if it’s the middle of the semester and you’re having a bad day or week, your kids are driving you crazy, and you just want to quit… take St. Ignatius’ advice: wait and pray.
Finally, remember Christopher Columbus. My son just memorized this poem, and I think it speaks well of this topic. Much of Columbus’ trip was filled with anxiety and discouragement. His terrified sailors pressured him to turn back. But, he never gave up:
- BEHIND him lay the gray Azores,
- Behind the Gates of Hercules;
- Before him not the ghost of shores,
- Before him only shoreless seas.
- The good mate said: “Now we must pray,
- For lo! the very stars are gone.
- Brave Admiral, speak, what shall I say?”
- “Why, say, ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ “
- “My men grow mutinous day by day;
- My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
- The stout mate thought of home; a spray
- Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
- “What shall I say, brave Admiral, say,
- If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
- “Why, you shall say at break of day,
- ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ “
- They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
- Until at last the blanched mate said:
- “Why, now not even God would know
- Should I and all my men fall dead.
- These very winds forget their way,
- For God from these dead seas is gone.
- Now speak, brave Admiral, speak and say” —
- He said, “Sail on! sail on! and on!”
- They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
- “This mad sea shows his teeth tonight.
- He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
- With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
- Brave Admiral, say but one good word:
- What shall we do when hope is gone?”
- The words leapt like a leaping sword:
- “Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”
- Then pale and worn, he kept his deck,
- And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
- Of all dark nights! And then a speck —
- A light! a light! at last a light!
- It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
- It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
- He gained a world; he gave that world
- Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”
- Joaquin Miller