The Most Important Paragraph On Parenting (Outside the Bible)

What follows are 10 sentences from C. S. Lewis’s book The Weight of Glory (HarperCollins, 1949), pages 45–46. These sentences are not written to parents, nor are they concerned specifically with the the fine art of parenting. And of course they have far-reaching implications for all of life. But for me the most frequent situations when these lines bubble up from my subconscious is when I’m thinking about my kids and parenting them well. So that’s where the title comes from. But enough of me.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously.

C. S. Lewis on “Little Cyclones” (Young Boys)

As the father of two spirited boys, aged 10 and 4, I chuckled at these excerpts from the letters of C. S. Lewis, writing as a 55-year-old “crusted old bachelor.” (There’s some fine parenting advice mixed in here, too.)

December 21, 1953 [Letters, 3:389–390]:

We have had an American lady staying in the house with her two sons aged 9 1/2 and 8. I now know what we celibates are shielded from. I will never laugh at parents again. Not that the boys weren’t a delight: but a delight like surf-bathing which leaves one breathless and aching. The energy, the tempo, is what kills.

I have now perceived (what I always suspected from memories of our childhood) that the way to a child’s heart is quite simple: treat them with seriousness and ordinary civility — they ask no more. What they can’t stand (quite rightly) is the common adult assumption that everything they say should be twisted into a kind of jocularity.

December 23, 1953 [Letters, 3:394]:

We have not much news here; the chief event has been that last week we entertained a lady from New York for four days, with her boys, aged nine and seven respectively. Can you imagine two crusted old bachelors in such a situation? It however went swimmingly, though it was very exhausting; the energy of the American small boy is astonishing.

This pair thought nothing of a four-mile hike across broken country as an incident in a day of ceaseless activity, and when we took them up Magdalen tower, they said as soon as they got back to the ground, ‘Let’s do it again!’ Without being in the least priggish, they stuck us as being amazingly adult by our standards and one could talk to them as one would to ‘grown-ups’ — though the next moment they would be wrestling like puppies on the sitting room floor. The highlights of England for them are open coal fires, especially if they can get hold of the billows and blow it up…

December 26, 1953 [Letters, 3:396]:

My brother and I have just had the experience of an American lady to stay with us accompanied by her two sons, aged 9 1/2 and 8. Whew! Lovely creatures — couldn’t meet nicer children — but the pace! I realize have never respected young married people enough and never dreamed of the Sabbath calm which descends on the house when the little cyclones have gone to bed and all the grown-ups fling themselves into chairs and the silence of exhaustion.

Fathering

In my reading the other day I came across 1 Thessalonians 2:11–12:

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

Here Paul is communicating with the church in Thessalonikē. It was a new church he had recently founded and a church he found himself quickly detached from. Here he writes to exhort, encourage, and charge the church toward godliness in the same way a father would care for each of his particular children. This passage is deeply personal and affectionate.

Paul is not primarily seeking here to instruct fathers, yet it seems to me there are implications for those of us who are fathers. Note the three paralleled participles:

  • Exhorted (παρακαλοῦντες). Writes one commentator, “In some contexts the verb may signify ‘to console’ or ‘to comfort’ (1 Thess. 3.7; 4.18; 2 Thess. 2.17), but in the context of moral instruction, such as here in v. 12, it conveys the meaning of ‘to exhort’ or ‘to urge’ a person to follow a certain mode of conduct” (Green 135).
  • Encouraged (παραμυθούμενοι). Or to “comfort” (NIV84). The first two verbs overlap. “Both verbs indicate the act of encouraging or cheering someone. The first word more frequently than the second carries the connotation of exhortation, yet both are also used in contexts of admonition. The combination in Paul seems to indicate a positive encouragement to Christian living” (Martin 84).
  • Charged (μαρτυρόμενοι). This is the most authoritative of the three verbs and it means to “implore” (HCSB) or to “urge” (NIV84) a matter of great importance. Paul uses the same term in Ephesians 4:17, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.”

In this passing paternal metaphor Paul gives us a brief picture of godly fathering that is tender, personal, hopeful, encouraging, and yet firmly uncompromising.