Parenting After the Fall

Parenting After the Fall

The front-and-center project that’s consuming time and thought these days is a parenting workshop that my husband and I will be teaching in March. Preparation includes reviewing everything we’ve read about parenting in the past couple of years, remembering everything we’ve stumbled upon in the past two decades in the trenches of parenting, discussing all our shared memories of what worked and what-most-certainly-did-not-work, and then trying to wrestle it all into an outline that will carry the content toward a substantive conclusion in a mere 45 minutes.

Without sounding too negative, it has occurred to me more than once in this process that parenting keeps circling back around to the topic of sin management — the parents’ first of all, and then the child’s. Because of the Gospel, we are enabled to “put to death” our own selfishness, laziness, willfulness, impatience, and complacency long enough to assist our delightful offspring in stamping out the same qualities, all with a goal of following together our yearning for obedience to the law of God which has been written on our hearts.

What About Original Sin?

In the providence of words that arrive at just the right time,I found G.K. Chesterton’s theological ponderings on original sin in my reading of Orthodoxy, . Although he and his wife Frances were never able to have children of their own, I hear a latent understanding of kid-nature in this thought:

“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”  (27)

Certainly, plenty of evidence has been amassed here in the Morin compound to prove the doctrine of original sin, and in conversations with other parents, I’ve finally realized that we aren’t the only ones with dented sheet rock from illegal indoor-baseball-throwing escapades and memorial corners where naughty chairs were placed on a daily basis.

Whether it’s the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon at work, or whether there’s been an ongoing conversation about original sin, and I’ve just finally tripped over it accidentally, I’m thankful for the moorings in orthodoxy that Chesterton’s writing provides. He laments a “fastidious spirituality” among his contemporaries who “admit divine sinlessness, which they [could] not see even in their dreams. But they essentially den[ied] human sin, which they [could] see in the street.”

For my money, Chesterton’s strongest argument for humanity’s fallenness has more to do with virtue than with vice:

“The vices are, indeed, let lose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity . . .is often untruthful.” (49)

The Tyranny of Wandering Virtues

Parents of adult children, beware the tyranny of free-wheeling virtues when your children begin to make poor choices. We are a generation of parents who will change our ethics to avoid offending our adult children, thinking that this enables us to empathize more fully with their moral floundering. When we value our relationship with our children over our children’s relationship with God, we circumvent the convicting work of the Spirit in their hearts.

And since our politics will follow our ethics, in an article in World Magazine called “Political Pelagianism,” Marvin Olasky references the optimism of policy makers on both sides of the aisle with Democrats assuming only the best of motives and intentions in those who benefit from government programs and Republicans tending to “glamorize the noble CEO.” With no allowances made for selfishness, greed, or opportunistic impulses, can we really view the world (and make laws?) with wisdom?

The Plight of Sinners Parenting Sinners

Tracing this topic back to its origin on a bad day in a certain garden, it’s not difficult to diagnose my most pressing parenting dilemmas. The challenge to live with a submitted will and to accept God’s “hands off” when He puts boundaries around something that “looks perfectly good to me” was the root of the first sin and all subsequent sins. Making an idol of my freedom and control mirrors the very same manifestation of original sin that I confront in my grandson when I refuse to honor his temper tantrums.

Sally Lloyd-Jones takes me back to the garden in plain speech with her description of God’s motive behind the Garden’s one rule:  “If you eat the fruit, you’ll think you know everything. You’ll stop trusting me.” And, of course, God was accurate in His prediction, for humanity has spent every spare moment since then trying to “make ourselves happy without Him.”

Chesterton frames the idolatry behind original sin along with our misdirected quest for happiness:

” How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it . . .” (36)

And this:

“. . . if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small.”

Yes, and amen. And this would seem to be a worthy goal of missional parenting — and of living our days in this following life.

Parenting After the Fall

Some of you have said that you’re laughing out loud at certain Chesterton-isms, and everyone confesses to the challenge of his writing. I hope you’ll share in the comments below some of the quotes you’re especially amused or flummoxed by, and if you happen to have a blog post bubble to the surface as a result of your reading, feel free to share a link to it in the comments. It will be fun to continue this conversation over at your place.

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49 thoughts on “Parenting After the Fall”

  1. Whooo… This is a post I feel I’ll need to return to so I can fully absorb all its goodness. But, oh, how I would love to be in that parenting seminar to hear your wisdom in person! Heaven know this sinner needs it to parent her little sinners! Blessings!


  2. I’m only up to the end of Chapter II, Michele, but I loved his take on insanity. He turned things upside down when he said people who believe in themselves are crazy. It made me laugh and think at the same time and that is a very good thing. Of course, he is right. I haven’t read further for a couple of weeks and now you’ve motivated me to continue the book.


    1. It occurred to me when I read that section that it’s the kind of thing that would never see daylight in today’s publishing world because he rambles and circles back on himself, all the while making his more “broadminded” critics seem kind of silly. I can see why he was a popular speaker in his day.
      Glad that you’re going to hang in there with Orthodoxy. I’ve taken this week off, but need to get back into it again.


      1. Yes, his ability to show ‘broadmindedness’ in a new light is delightful to me, as I am usually on guard when someone declares him or herself as open minded, when in reality wedded to a particular political view or ‘side.’ And totally against any kind of ‘organized religion.’ I will hang in there! Good luck with your parenting workshop. I’m sure it will be terrific.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Michele … this is powerful. The part about the “The Tyranny of Wandering Virtues” is spot on, and oh so sobering. As parents, we do have a heavy job these days, don’t we? Trying to teach our children to die to self and live for God is no small task. I hope the parenting workshop goes well. (And I’m secretly hoping some of the content makes its way into a blog post or two … hint, hint.) 🙂


  4. So, you’ll be video-taping this and posting it here afterward, right? 🙂 — Isn’t it so true that the “smaller” we are in our lives, the happier we are? And, speaking of parenting, it’s such a great thing to model to our children, as well. — I rely on prayer more than anything else in parenting. I’m so glad we’re not in this alone, but that God goes where we can’t. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh wow! That project seems daunting! But I know it will be helpful for the parents listening.

    I remember, even with knowing that we were all sinners and expecting to deal with that in my children, I was so surprised to discover just how firmly entrenched it was. I don’t know how anyone with children can dispute original sin. And I was also surprised at how much my own sin nature was exposed while trying to teach them about theirs.

    But I don’t see how anyone honestly looking at themselves can deny original sin as well – unless they explain it away or look at it differently (“She’s stubborn but I’m determined.”)

    I was wondering what you meant by wandering virtues, but it makes sense after reading what you said. And I love Sally’s succinct summation of God’s rule in the garden.

    One Chesterton quote that I have referred to again and again is “Feminism is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Chesterton could certainly express irony in a humorous way. And I’ve been reading a bit out of The Jesus Storybook Bible since before Christmas. It’s good to get the “stories” in simple form but with such beautiful re-telling.
      It’s always so good to hear from you, Barbara. Trusting that all is well with you and your family.


  6. “…if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small”. If we would only just hear! Just think how much worry and distress would fall away from our lives if we’d just take God’s counsel and humble ourselves before Him. God help us!

    Thanks for sharing, Michele. And all the best with the conference. Blessings to you.


    1. Sad, but true. We’ve bought into the lie that we can fill our world up with ourselves and find contentment. May we find grace to accept the Truth of our smallness and God’s sovereignty.


  7. I would take your parenting class in a heartbeat.

    When kids are baptized, our pastor always the parents “have you seen evidence that your children are sinners, and have been since birth”? Some moms pause and shake their heads no a some laugh a raise a hallelujah hand in the air. It’s funny how we see our kids in each stage of life…and how we see ourselves in relation to our sin.


    1. Oh . . . I’ve had some conversations with those mums who insist that their little darlings would never do anything wrong — and especially would never lie to them. They are so deceived.
      One of the most helpful sources of support for me in this parenting journey is the mum-talks that I’ve had with other sinners who are parenting their little sinners. It’s so good to realize that we are not in the battle alone.


  8. Parenting is HARD!!! I question myself on the daily. It is something that has definitely required me to lean on God’s wisdom and strength- not my own. What makes it more complex is that each child is different, and needs different instruction, affection, discipline, etc. Why can’t it be a one-size-fits-all??
    I’m excited to hear how your study goes! Hooray for you!


    1. I always appreciate it when I hear from people who can verify my thinking. (So easy to speak out and then be my own “amen!”) I was fascinated with Chesterton’s treatment of virtues gone wrong, a symptom of our own efforts at self-salvation.
      Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts.


  9. Parenting adult children is just as difficult as parenting toddlers ;). I find that my impulses to instruct and redirect have to be checked all the time–not because I want to keep the peace with my adult children, but because I want to give them the opportunity to work out their own salvation. But it’s difficult. I’m slowly learning how to keep my mouth shut and ask if they want advice rather than just give it to them (they do, 99% of the time).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, more challenging in a different way. They might not eat Drano or put a fork into an outlet, but they might go out a buy more truck than they can afford. (Whoops, did I say that out loud?)
      And, yes, it’s very gratifying when they call asking for advice or counsel on a decision. I just have to remember that this is a gift, not an entitlement.


  10. Honestly, I’ve never read a book by G.K. Chesterton, Michele, but I love his humorous and straight-forward way of looking at our problem as parents who sin, all the while we’re raising our sinner children not to sin! How ironic is that? That’s why I’m so grateful for God’s work in and through my parenting! And what a great opportunity awaits you–to teach a parenting workshop! I’ll be praying for you and your hubby as you prepare, and I’m sure it will bless the parents who attend!


    1. I’ve been reading quotes from Chesterton for ages, and decided it was time to go to the source. So far, I’m really enjoying the challenge (and it IS a challenge), and am hoping to be able to pass along some of his wisdom in bite sized pieces for my readers. I didn’t anticipate this bonus of finding material to help me along in my preparation for that class!


  11. Michele,

    This post was compelling. I would love to sit in on your seminar. Parenting this side of Heaven will always be marked by brokenness and a broken people.

    Currently, I am leading a group of parents through a study of Spiritual Parenting by Michelle Anthony. I’ve also participated in a study by Paul Tripp – Shepherding a Child’s Heart. What I’ve come to believe is that as parents it’s easy for us to become distracted by the behavior and then neglect our child’s heart. My hope is to help and guide them to understanding their true identity in Christ. In the meantime I want to come alongside what the Holy Spirit is doing with their heart.



  12. You always leave me thinking after reading your words. I like how you expand my knowledge of authors and I know how much you like G. K. Chesterton. I am intrigued by the quote about virtue and vice. After reading it I agree that it is virtue that gets us into more trouble. “The modern world is full of old Christian virtues gone mad.” I believe he described our world today perfectly. Blessings, friend!


    1. Chesterton is certainly good at expressing (with humor) some of the things we struggle with that seem to have stayed with us since his time. So glad to have you reading here and sharing your good thoughts, Mary.


  13. I’ll be pondering “the tyranny of wandering virtues” for a long time. So much truth in that one small phrase! And the challenge of sinners seeking to raise other sinners is a huge one. Like marriage, parenting is certainly one of God’s greatest tools for progressive sanctification in both generations. Mike and I are getting ready to do a marriage conference. We have a little more time than you do: 2 hours on Friday night and 4 on Saturday. But we find ourselves faced with the same problem … so much that could and probably should be said and relatively little time. Blessings as you prepare and speak at your seminar!


    1. Thanks, Donna, and same to you. We’re both speaking on the same topic: relationships on a fallen planet. Our friend Elisabeth Elliot said it with gusto: we marry sinners because there’s no one else to marry!


  14. The first quote in this post had me laughing out loud, Michele! I’ve been reading apologetics lately, which, of course, are beneficial. But, they do tend to take a long and scenic route to arrive at what Chesterton said in a sentence. Cracks me up. There’s a place for both.

    This quote of yours: “When we value our relationship with our children over our children’s relationship with God, we circumvent the convicting work of the Spirit in their hearts.” That summarizes so much of current culture as I’m familiar with it. Will be remembering this point, even substituting “children” with other valued relationships as well.

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that quote, too, and it’s so ironic to me whenever I overhear conversations about the validity of original sin. All I can say is that they must have a much less-odious set of sin-tendencies than I have, and WAAAAY better behaved children.


  15. Parenting – the best and the worst of me! It is the area of my life where God most brings me to my knees and reminds me of my need of Him. And also an area where simply a moment with one of my children remind me of the impossibility of there not being a God. I haven’t been followng along in this book, but I would so enjoy the opportunity to soak in your teaching during class. Thank you, Michele, for your insight and hope!
    Blessings and smiles,


    1. I have found the same thing to be true, Lori. Parenting has shown me my need of a Savior in a thousand different ways, and it’s been both glorious and humbling. Thanks for your good thoughts on this. Wouldn’t it be fun if bloggers could really get together more often in real life at one another’s classes and events?


  16. […] Chesterton is laugh-out-loud creative and stop-you-in-your-tracks sobering on the topic of original sin. He maintains that it’s “the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,” and I’ve certainly done my part in providing evidence for humanity’s fallen condition. As a parent who is in the middle of preparing (with fear and trembling) to teach a parenting workshop here in Maine, I was thankful to spend some time pondering the plight of sinners parenting sinners. […]


  17. I had to read this one, the title was like booya! I am wrestling with so many things right now, and this put into words some of it. Namely, the rope of tension it feels like we get pulled back and forth on from grace and understanding to standing firm and truth-telling. So many things are separate…all or nothing, one versus the other… when they were never meant to be apart. Whew, big topic and there’s a lot here I could quote. Love them all. I had never heard of this writer so it’s good to learn of new ones offering such insights that make me think.


    1. I hear the tension: firmness and kindness; strength vs. weakness; power vs. vulnerability. Andy Crouch has written a book (Strong and Weak–unforgettable cover with an elephant and a little yellow bird) that refers to this as the Paradox of Flourishing.
      And yes, Chesterton is quite the thinker and writer. I’m working on my post for the next chunk, and just really struggling to know what to focus on because there’s so much!
      Always encouraged by you Meg–not only your kind words, but also by your vulnerable sharing from the heart.


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