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Character Matters
January 1, 2010
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Character Trait – Discernment:
Check It Out. – What Does It Matter? – How Does it Count?
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Discernment – When Division is a Good Thing
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As homeschoolers we often stress cooperation and unity. We teach our children to avoid strife and to try to live peaceably with others to the extent possible (Romans 12:18). We teach them that division is generally not healthy. I dare say that most 4th and 5th graders who are tackling the division facts would agree!

But there is at least one case when division is not only healthy, it's life-sustaining. Discernment. The word discern is a compound word. The prefix dis- means apart and the root cernere means to separate. It literally means to see distinctly and to separate from surrounding objects.

Discernment is a vital element of introspection and reflection, which is the theme for this month's newsletter and quote. Discernment helps us decide what is important and what is not. It enables us to determine what is necessary, what is good, and what is worthy of our time.

The literal definition shows us that discernment requires a standard by which we judge what is worthy and useful. It draws upon our ability to recognize similarities and differences; we want to spend our time on those things that are similar to our goals and objectives, and not waste time on things that don't help us fulfill those goals.

Discernment enables us to focus on those things that are eternal, rather than expending energy and resources on things that have no lasting impact. When it comes to homeschooling, we can keep our family occupied doing a lot of things, especially academic “busywork.” It's important that we take a break from time to time to examine where we are at in our homeschooling and ensure that we are rightly dividing our time.

Discernment functions much like the pause button on our computer or DVD player. It allows us time, even if for a brief moment only, to make sure we are in line with our goals and purposes.

Discernment is also an important component of critical thinking skills. We need to teach our children how to discern what they are reading and hearing. That is, separating what is true and right from the mass of communications they receive – be it a book, Internet site, television program, gossip and hearsay, or sermon. (For more information on critical thinking skills, see the review of “I Think, Therefore I Am: Critical Thinking Skills.”)

One practical way to incorporate discernment in our daily life is to follow James 1:19, 20. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”

The context of this passage is seeking wisdom when you don't know what to do next or when things don't seem to be going well. Yes, even homeschoolers encounter trials and temptations – as if we didn't already know that!

Come to think of it, that's a good principle for approaching learning in general. Be swift to hear – make every effort to pay attention and concentrate. Be slow to speak – make sure you understand all sides of an issue or skill before you act. Be slow to wrath – don't give up just because you don't get it the first time through.

Frustrations abound. Discernment lets us consider our response instead of reacting to the immediate pressures, emotions, and earthly circumstances. Discernment comes when we train our flesh to stop and yield to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit within us. God's Spirit guides us in all truth, often using God's Word as a two-edged sword to separate what is useful and good from what is needless and wasteful.

Do you want to triumph over the pressures of everyday living and having to do it all, including homeschooling? Then use this simple military strategy: divide and conquer – with discernment.
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