Are You Wearing Fig Leaves? Helping Our Children See the Effects of the Fall

Historian David Brooks, when asked about NBC News anchor Brian Williams’ fall from grace, said:

“It speaks to a couple of truths. The one is that no amount of public success is satisfying. You can have all the accolades in the world, be where Brian Williams was, at the tippy-top. Public fame is still empty and it still leaves you hungry, and you still want to brag a little more, on the hope that you will get what you want, which is some sort of adulation which will satisfy you.

But that never happens. That never comes. And so it just leaves you hungrier and hungrier. And I think that’s what we saw with Brian Williams, somebody who just wanted to be seen a little cooler and so made up some stuff.”

We are “hungry” for the “sort of adulation that will satisfy.” If you did not know Brooks was talking about Brian Williams, you would think he was talking about teenagers.   As our children leave childhood, everything changes for them. School changes, their friend group changes, their bodies change, their self-perception even changes. Those changes can bring about a period of real insecurity. Teens have a hunger for affirmation and significance, and so can go from fig leaf to fig leaf: the right clothes, the right body, the right teams, the right friend groups, the right grades, the right number of “likes” – and they think this will make them feel significant.  As their parents, we need to really appreciate the depth of the unease and insecurity our children can feel.

David Brooks’ diagnosis applies to everyone. The hunger Brooks refers to has its roots in Genesis 2 and 3. Linger on Genesis 2:25 RSV: “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”  Imagine having nothing to hide and no need to make ourselves look better, inside or out.

In chapter 3, obedience gave way to rebellion: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” (Genesis 3:7 RSV)

What a contrast. First they were naked and unashamed; now they are naked and ashamed. Feeling inadequate and insecure, Adam and Eve had an overwhelming desire to cover themselves. With disobedience came the need to control what others see, to create an illusion- a need for fig leaves.

As Christians, we know that nothing on this earth that we chase after can quiet our souls or satisfy the hunger in our hearts. That’s is one of the things that Genesis 3 teaches us. Even if we make it to the top like Brian Williams, that will never be enough. Success, like cotton candy, is sweet for a moment, and then it is gone, leaving us hungry for more. Saint Augustine famously said, “Lord, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” God is the only one who can fill the hunger in our souls.

And then they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9 RSV)

“Where are you” is a question designed to help us see our need to lay down our fig leaves and turn to God. “Where are you” is also the call of grace of our pursuing God. It is not man who runs after God but God who runs after man. Our God goes after what was lost – the Father who runs off the porch to embrace His prodigal son, the Shepherd who goes in search of His lost sheep. God could have let what was lost stay lost, but instead He emptied Himself, and taking the form of a servant was born in the likeness of men in order to come after us. In His love and grace for us we find true rest for our restless hearts, manna each day for our hungry souls.

I wish someone had come alongside to explain this to me when I was young. I wish someone had told me what went wrong in the fall and why I had this deep hunger in my soul. I wish I had known that everybody else, no matter what they looked like on the outside, had that same deep hunger which they tried to fill in all sorts of destructive ways. That would have helped me make sense of what was going on within me and around me as a teenager. As parents, we need to seize opportunities to have this conversation with our children.  But not by pointing out the fig leaves they are wearing!  Begin by sharing your own struggle with fig leaves or share a story like Brian Williams’.  Let the Holy Spirit do the work of connecting the dots so they can see their own!

Jane Menendez is married to Don Menendez and they have 4 children and 6 grandchildren. Don and Jane have led small groups for couples with young children for many years. They live in Birmingham, Alabama and are members of The Cathedral Church of the Advent.

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