I wrote the following article for a Christmas newsletter for homeschool students participating in Torrey Academy, the program I teach in. Though it was written with the yuletide season in mind and for the particular plight of homeschoolers, I think any reader will find its themes universally applicable!
Perhaps one of the most impossible tasks presenting itself to an enterprising homeschooled teenager is to love home. There is an old proverb—accurate as a statement of reality, poor as a piece of advice—that runs, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” What, I may ask, is more familiar than family? Yes, it is quite natural for young men and women to feel as if they live in a crowded subway with people perpetually pressing in around them. The 16 year-old, who has been homeschooled for 10 years, might even feel as if the literal walls of the house were closing in about them, imperceptibly but inevitably.
The danger of this feeling is that we might become like the pessimist described by G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy, who chastises his home not out of love, but for the sake of chastisement. The pessimist takes grim pleasure in pointing out the flaws in his environment, which is a slippery slope; he soon finds himself looking for flaws to feast on in gnawing dissatisfaction. This path leads to cold disillusionment.
Neither, however, can we take the path of the blind optimist, who has no basis for his optimism. He may be a better companion than the pessimist—he may not breed contempt so quickly—but the way he ignores reality makes him obnoxious. He is the middle-aged son still living in the basement and still working for Starbucks. The jolly G.K. discovered of the modern optimism, “All the optimism of the age had been false and disheartening for this reason: that it had always been trying to prove that we fit in to the world.” Of course, we do not belong to the world. Of course, teenagers do not quite belong to their homes: their wings are growing and spreading, getting ready for flight into the wide world. The nest becomes cramped when the bird can almost soar.
The middle way between the cynicism of the pessimist and the blindness of the optimist, according to Chesterton, is the way of the “practical romantic.” He knows he will always be the son of his father and mother. Even if he comes from a family with less than desirable traits, he knows he must not despise it, but love it and turn it into something beautiful through his virtuous life. It was for our own good God commanded that we honor our fathers and mothers.
In short, we need to love the world; and before the world, we must love our homes. In the last few years you have at home, an adventure is set before you, holding two wild, competing feelings in your hearts at once: you must dearly love your family because they are yours, and you must dearly desire to “go forth into all the nations” and “subdue and dominate” in the name of your family because that is what you have been at home for. You must defeat pessimism by reveling in the fact you have a nest to fly from in the first place; you get to enjoy the safety and structure of the home and thus fly higher and more freely when the time is right to leave. You can only get your head into the heavens if you have got your feet securely planted on the ground. If at once you can stay properly rooted in your family tree, you will find your branches stretching out over new horizons.