“Hey, Mum, a bunch of the kids are going to Moody’s for pie after rehearsal. Okay if I go?”
One prerogative of motherhood is to meet every question with more questions:
- Who’s going?
- Who’s driving?
- Are you going anywhere afterward?
- Can you remember to let me know if your location changes?
This has become a familiar routine by now, eased by the knowledge that (so far) this youngest son has chosen his friends wisely and well. They’re great kids, but I’ll keep on asking questions, not because I don’t trust this green-eyed boy, but because his life and my life are governed by eternal verities such as “Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good morals.”
The Permanent Ideals
Herein lies the challenge of parenting: The decisions and the forks in the road are always sprung on you like a pop quiz in algebra on a Monday morning. There’s no time for reading up on the topic or for preparing an outline or even to think deeply before responding. Parenting rooted in orthodoxy must rest upon the bedrock of sound theology which supports the more quotidian verities that shape the day-to-day decisions. For example, we could argue all day about how old a child should be when he’s allowed to carry his own cell phone, but it ultimately boils down to the more timeless issue of just exactly whom do you want having unfettered access to your child?
G.K. Chesterton expressed it in this way: “There must be something eternal if there is to be anything sudden.” (165) What he refers to as a “permanent ideal” sets policy “whether we wish the king’s orders to be promptly executed or whether we only wish the king to be promptly executed” — or whether we are willing to be consistent in enforcing curfews for our teen sons. A parent’s roots need to be sunk deeply into timeless truth in order to do the hard work of justifying family rules and standards.
Teaching Our Children to Work
In Chapter 7 of Orthodoxy, G.K.Chesterton flits from topic to topic, but lands with both feet in a discussion of freedom of thought and the failure of humanity to “imitate its ideal.” (162) He argues for a settled mind, and a thought process based upon the lessons learned from past failures. This implies that, as parents, we are wise to begin providing occasions for our children to learn the discipline of focused attention:
- What kind of preparation leads a third grader to start over when a project isn’t going well?
- How can we train a young piano student to work on one measure of a piece for twenty minutes if that’s what it takes for that piece of music to be recital-ready?
Chesterton takes the question further and deeper:
“How can we make a man always dissatisfied with his work, yet always satisfied with working?” (163)
Good is Always Good. Sin is Always Sin.
Chronological snobbery prevails, and it urges us to look with scorn upon the customs and conclusions of previous generations. Even so, historical precedent is also used as a justification for all kinds of evil. Chesterton writes this off as lazy thinking, arguing that “man may have had concubines as long as cows have had horns: still they are not a part of him if they are sinful. Men may have been under oppression ever since fish were under water; still they ought not to be, if oppression is sinful.”
It’s never too late to disengage from sinful patterns and to make a fresh start, but this kind of resolve is rooted in a commitment to truth that runs deeper than convenience. There is a time for apologies and starting over, for choosing to go forward based in timeless truth.
May we find grace to lean into the practical impact of our theological underpinnings even in the day-to-day decisions that govern the way our home functions and they way we shepherd our children’s hearts toward orthodoxy.
As usual, your insights on Chesterton’s writing are welcome in the comments below, and if you are also inspired to create your own blog post, be sure to share the link with us so we can continue the conversation over at your place.
Praying along with you for a deeply rooted orthodoxy that impacts the way our families live and work,
This post is part seven in a meandering journey through Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. If you’re just joining us, you can start here for the rationale behind this project. The journey through Orthodoxy has taken us into topics as diverse as parenting, the irony of free will, the humility of being right, and the miracle of God’s creative genius. In May, we examined Chesterton’s thoughts on patriotism just in time for Memorial Day, and in June we marveled at the “furious opposites” inherent in orthodoxy.
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