This series was first published in book format in 2007, with the 13th book coming out this month. According to Wikipedia, it is the 6th most selling book series of all time. The series follows the adventures of a middle school boy named Greg Heffley, especially his relationships with parents, siblings, and his best friend, Rowley.
My son read these books to me as he transitioned from picture books to chapter books, and we got through the first four together. He finished the series independently, purchasing them all with his own money finding a great deal at a church yard sale. I want to stress that my discussion only covers the first four books out of the thirteen, understanding that characters grow and change.
There are many topics to discuss as each book has a unique plot, adventure, and/or issue. However, I will focus on a theme I saw in the first four books, focusing on pride, jealousy, and judging others. I do find these books funny, and I really enjoyed reading them with my son. I don’t mean this as a criticism, just an interesting point – the Heffley family are not likable people. I have discussed this with other moms who have read these books. We don’t want our children to emulate the main characters in this series. While reading the books, my main goal was to see any sign they understood the basic concept of virtue. They were few and far between.
The main character, Greg, is very narcissistic. The main point in writing the diary is that people can read about him when he is famous. Much of the humor relies on his inability to notice his narcissism. To give you an example – one book is around the New Year, and Greg tries to think of a New Year’s Resolution. His conclusion is that there is nothing that he needs to change about himself, so his resolution is to let other’s know what they need to work on and change in their lives.
That is funny – but not virtuous.
One common theme that I found the most interesting was the relationship between Greg and his father and comparing it to the relationship between Greg and his best friend, Rowley. The father is around, dependable, and loves his children – a good family man. However, he often tries to encourage Greg to be something other than who he is, especially regarding hobbies and interests. The dad never encourages Greg in areas Greg wants to pursue but pushes Greg constantly to do things he thinks Greg should be doing.
Greg treats his best friend Rowley in the EXACT same way. Rowley is not “cool” in the way Greg thinks he should be, so Greg constantly tells him how to dress, talk, and determines how they “hang out” (and Rowley is not allowed to call it playing).
Greg’s dad sends this message to Greg that he needs to try and be someone else, and Greg sends that same message to Rowley. So while these two characters don’t judge others based on sin, morality, or virtue, they judge based on who they want the other person to be.
Mt 7:1-5 Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”
While this passage deals explicitly with the judgment of sin, I think it can apply here as well.
The dad’s thought process is, “How can Greg be a ‘better’ son?” instead of asking, “How can I be a ‘better’ dad?”
Greg’s thought process is, “How can Rowley be a ‘cooler’ friend to me?” instead of asking, “How can I be a ‘cooler’ friend to Rowley?”
Who determines “better” or “cooler”? We all eventually will be judged by God. That wouldn’t be scary if we lived our lives determined to “perceive the wooden beam in our own eye.” We have to judge our actions. Note: we don’t judge who we are as a person – we judge our actions. Who we are is a child of God, who is always loved by God, and God will always leave the 99 to pursue us.
We have to judge ourselves according to God’s standards. When I think about my own self-judgment, it is in terms of my own ideas. I can fall into pride. I ask:
How do I want to be good?
What type of relationship with God do I want?
What do I believe is righteous – and how do I live up to my own standard?
These are I statements. Then I judge myself according to the standards that I have created for myself.
The actual questions are:
How does God judge my actions?
Who does God want me to be?
What areas of my life does God want me to change?
God – judge me according to Your standards.
When I ask these questions, I can start to perceive the wooden beam in my own eye. Praying with scripture.
Psalm 7:6-8 O my God, you have appointed a judgment. Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high. The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.