“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Mt 16:26)
Recently, I have been thinking much about this passage in the Scripture as it applies to our students. I remember reading Anthony Esolen’s book titled Ten Ways to Destroy the Imaginations of Your Child and how it has helped me to understand the spiritual dangers lurking around our children’s lives. My observation in my experience in education is that many times the line between gaining the world and gaining our children’s souls blurs easily. Unless we as parents have personally experienced the forfeiting our own soul or the soul of our children, it is difficult for us to understand what it means to forfeit the soul. Every child, unless prayerfully led and guided by adults, is surrounded by spiritual dangers that can destroy their soul.
A prominent figure who wrote about his childhood experiences of losing his soul is C. S. Lewis. He provides an analysis of how a faulty education can destroy a child’s soul in The Abolition of Man, but he describes his own childhood experience of “losing his soul” in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, and how he gained it. Here, I will summarize some of these childhood “seeds of pessimism” or “causes of doubt” that are commonly experienced by children, and how Veritas seeks to gain the souls of children.
1. Questions about Limitations of Ability—Lewis was born with a defect in one of his thumbs which made it difficult for him to grab things properly. This made him question the goodness of God. He was frustrated that many things he wanted to do, he cannot do, and even if he did it, it would not turn out the way he wanted it. Only later in life did Lewis come to realize that this limitation in one area helped him to develop in other areas, namely in reading and writing. At Veritas, we believe it is important to understand the way God has gifted each child and to maximize their potential. Setting realistic goals for each child each step of the way is just as critically important as it is to aim to develop the maximum potential of that child. This takes much collaborative effort from the parents, teachers, and the administrative staff. But Veritas is committed to the flourishing of each child’s gifts so that they come to praise God.
2. Lack of a Settled Sense of Happiness—Lewis wrote that with the death of his mother, all settled sense of happiness left him, and that even as an adult, he never quite recovered from his loss of a sense of security. Lewis found this happiness again in friends who sought after the truth in Christ. That included his brother Warren, his childhood friend Arthur Greeves and his family, a few college friends such as Neville Coghill and Hugo Dyson, and professor friend, J. R. R. Tolkien. Death of a mother is not common, but a loss of a settled sense of happiness at home is not uncommon among children. At Veritas, we aim to help each child to understand and experience genuine friendship in Christ. It is sometimes an arduous and slow process, but an intentional Christ-centered approach is critically important.
3. “Argument from Undesign”—Lewis says that the arguments from certain secular authors such as H. G. Wells and Sir Robert Ball led him to think of the universe as a vast cold space with man having no significant place. He allowed himself to be convinced by an argument from Lucretius: “Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see.” Without a wise Christian guide, secular perspective on the world can persuade our students to have a dark pessimistic view of the world. Lewis was able to overcome these pessimistic thoughts eventually when he was introduced to the biblical worldview of original design, sin, and redemption. At Veritas, students are challenged to think critically, to expose the underlying secular worldviews behind our culture, and to embrace the biblical worldview that leads them to experience a living hope.
4. Worldly Sophistication—During his years at Chartres school (age 13-15), Lewis effectively lost his faith, virtues, and simplicity. By “simplicity,” he means a good kind of simplicity, that of purity, of enjoying simple things in life. But he lost that when one of his “masters” introduced him to “sophistications” of his culture—of wearing fashionable clothes, introducing latest secular songs, language and fads. Lewis admits that he fell into the temptation of “desire for glitter, swagger, distinction, the desire to be in the know.” Lewis “gained his soul” in increments, but ultimately when he received Christ into his heart, and realized that he was harboring “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, and a nursery of fears.” At Veritas, we strive to not only provide a wholesome culture for our students (e.g. no phone use policy, culture of honor), but also to cultivate in our students an appetite for pure and simple things in life—such as enjoying nature or reading a book with family, wholesome conversations with friends, or appreciating a good piece of art, literature, or music. Many families at Veritas have and are reporting a change in their children and in their families in the direction of this simple heavenly pleasure.