Un-Ironically Whole-Hearted (by James Witmer)


America’s current crop of bright young things, like every crop before them, seems sure they’ve invented some new ideas. Like smoking pipes, home-grown vegetables, and over-sized mustaches.

Of course they didn’t, but don’t get me wrong, I’m also a big fan of . . . well, some of those things.

They also seem to believe they’ve invented a new virtue. They call it “irony,” meaning the appreciation of things for reasons other than were intended.

Cheap beer is enjoyed not because it tastes good and is refreshing (since neither are usually true), but because of the blue-collar aesthetic that goes with it. Victorian-style beards are grown not because they look handsome, but because they clash with contemporary styles. Nothing is appreciated at face value—only things which have been subverted in some way are considered worthwhile.

In fully-developed cases, the ironic lifestyle progresses into what C.S. Lewis called “flippancy.”

“Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against [God] that I know.”
– the demon Screwtape

Now, as anyone over thirty can see, this is an age-old phenomenon in new (thrift-store) clothes. The sky is not falling, and I doubt that many who are enamored of the ironic lifestyle will come to lasting harm by it.

But I come at last to my point, a point especially for parents: Irony is foreign to children. For them, chocolate is simply wonderful. Naps are simply awful. Tantrums are to be thrown with the abandonment of a dervish. And when they are a little bit happy, they’re jumping-up-and-down happy. Because whatever they do, they’re naturally all-in. Whole-heartedly. And this is very good!

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. (Ecclesiastes 9:7, 9-10 ESV)

So if you, like me, sometimes find the un-ironic, undivided enthusiasm of your children a little uncool, and a LOT to handle, resist the urge to criticize. Remember that being whole-hearted, like a child, is a requirement for entering the Kingdom. And maybe, try jumping up and down with them. You might even like it! (Un-ironically.)

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:12-16 ESV)


  1. Loren Warnemuende

    And when you think about it, if we can join in the childlike, joyful abandonment our children display, we will be seen as pretty counter-cultural, and thus succeed with the current generations ideals…or not 🙂 .

    Really, though, this is great. I love watching my kids’ joy. I’ll try to remember this when they’re having temper tantrums.

  2. Alyssa Ramsey

    Great post, James. This non-irony one of my favorite things about my children. They are not the least bit self-conscious in their joy, anger, or sadness. They are so free.

  3. Cara Strickland

    I’ve been thinking a lot about loving God with all of my mind, heart, strength and soul lately.
    Naturally, I’m a very whole-hearted person, but I am being challenged to remember that my wholeheartedness has to first (and all) be directed toward God. Otherwise, if I throw myself into things with my whole heart that are not Him, I will not be satisfied, but only emptied, and my wholeness will become emptiness.
    Thank you for your thoughts here.
    I prefer irony in the original context: the opposite of wrinkly.

  4. James Witmer

    Thanks, everyone!

    Loren, Alyssa… I’m glad you enjoy your children’s freedom. I’m learning to love it, and to believe that it’s vitally good.

    As Cara says, the most important thing is to direct our whole energies toward God, and there is a critical difference between directing their whole-hearted energies properly, and making them tone it down a bit. The first is the source of life, the second just squashes it.

    In some ways, I’m learning from them

  5. Michael Hadley

    This is so true. I get quite tired of people of my generation acting glib. I’d rather be friends with someone who is genuine than someone who makes fun of everything. The sad thing is I see this even in the christian blogosphere. We call for honesty and openness and in the next moment we make a joke about someone else. Thanks for this post!

  6. Glenn

    Thanks, James. I agree – I’ve found that becoming a parent has been a refreshing re-introduction to the sincere, idealistic side of me which my 20’s drifted from. Side thought – the high schoolers I teach wield irony like a newly-discovered toy. Now that they have grasped the concept, they think it’s the coolest thing around. Just as Jason Gray said “fear is easy, love is hard,” I have found that irony is easy, sincerity is hard. To be ironically glib demands nothing from our spirit, but to be authentic is to walk a tightrope of self-confidence and boldness that can be terrifying in the right contexts.

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