Recently my daughter came to visit from college…only this time she was accompanied by her fiancé. When exactly did my “baby” become this beautiful, 21 year-old, young woman? Sarah’s unbalanced toddle has been replaced by a determined, self-directed gait. Her moments of uncertainty and hesitation have long yielded to a spirited confidence and an independent mind. And her ready compliance to her father’s authority now struggles, resists, and even rebels, as she tries to work out who she is and where she is headed.
I love her energy, zest, and spirit for life. I am grateful for her poise. But I would be less than truthful if I said I didn’t miss the soft, submissive two-year-old who held tightly to my finger as we walked down the street; who called for me when she was unsure; who trusted every word I spoke as truth and brilliance; and who believed Daddy could do anything!
So many times we played together in the bay behind our house as she freely explored the water, fish and hermit crabs? Hundreds of times she stood on the pier and shouted, “Catch me Daddy” as she jumped into the water, supported and protected by my waiting arms. I am proud to report that I never dropped her, not even once! She was fearless because I was there, overseeing her every move. I was vigilant in my watch for anything that would harm her, and she knew she was safe in my care.
Today, as a burgeoning adult, Sarah is nearing the end of her college career and the beginning of married life. As she has grown, she has become confident in her own care and is convinced that my abilities have been previously overrated! It’s a struggle watching my baby grow up…painful really. Sometimes it is especially difficult when I know she needs me, but refuses to call.
As a young adult her signals are harder to read. Instead of asking permission, she asks for forgiveness; instead of seeking my approval, she demands my agreement; and rather than holding tight she is pulling free. But in the midst of all the turmoil and confusion, if I listen really hard, I can still hear her cry: “Catch me Daddy.”
I can relate to Sarah’s difficulty with human development. It isn’t easy growing up, being responsible, and balancing what she has been taught against the impulses that drive her toward self-proclaimed autonomy. In the end I pray that I allow her enough room to be tested; enough space to make errors; and enough time to correct her missteps. She has a solid foundation of parental dependency, trust, love, and biblical truth. It’s all in there just waiting for some supernatural assimilation, as her human development works to merge with her Christian development.
That is the challenge of the Christian home: promoting godly dependence while supporting human self-sufficiency. But striking that balance between release and protection is the fight of the ages. In truth, so much begins with the structure and foundation we provide in the earlier years. The Bible is clear that the ground floor determines the strength of future construction:
Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it (Prov 22:6).
The Hebrew phrase train up also means to dedicate. To train our children is to dedicate them to the Lord so that His work, His will, and His plan for their lives may be realized. As parents we often fail to separate from our children due to our fears and lack of submission to God. If we dedicate our children to His care, while teaching them His Word and methods, then we must act with trust that our Heavenly Father can complete everything He ordained. Paul wrote of God’s faithfulness to the Philippian Church:
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).
If we as parents have been faithful to lay a foundation that is dedicated to God, wouldn’t God be faithful to finish what now is beyond our capability? While we are entrusted with our children for a season, and while we are called to raise them in the truth, they do not ultimately belong to us. Only our Heavenly Father can deposit, through His Spirit, the character and learning necessary to perfect (complete) the growth of our little ones.
This doesn’t mean that at a certain age we claim our job is finished and the rest is “up to God!” Even as Sarah moves deliberately forward, she still needs the reassurance of a strong voice, a consistent hand, and an unwavering love. She still needs her Daddy, even if she doesn’t ask in the same way, or yield with the same enthusiasm.
No matter her age, she will always rely upon my presence and the foundation laid in those earliest of times together. Clearly there remain opportunities for boundary, discipline, affection, and instruction. But increasingly, there is the necessity to wait, observe, and allow her to find and develop her own relationship with, and response to, the Holy Spirit. We are tasked with building a godly foundation, but we cannot ultimately control the choices, rebellion, or yielding of our children that inevitably will come as they work out their Christian walk.
It is hard to imagine, but my daughter will probably make some good choices and some bad ones. She will sometimes submit and sometimes go to battle with the God of the Universe. She might challenge her faith, question the truth, and wrestle with the world. Hopefully, she will waiver very little from the structure and guide she has been provided. In the end my influence will lessen but God’s voice will endure.
Gratefully, the Lord knows our frailty and struggle. Like any good parent, He promises to wait on the edge of our demise, ready to pull us close in our time of need; even when we have created the mess ourselves. Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, assures us:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (Jn 10:27-29).
As a born-again, child of God, Sarah will never have to question the security of her eternity. But even in this life she has the promise of an ever-present, ever-loving Father who is perfect and strong where her earthly father is human and weak. Once she saw me as infallible and invincible; but that curtain of truth has long been lifted. Already she knows my strengths and my vulnerabilities; and she knows that ultimately her security comes from above.
But as much as Sarah can count on the “grip” of Jesus, so can the Christian parent. We can take great comfort in knowing that where the strength of our hand falls short, the potency of the Lord’s is absolute. In the dedication of our child, in the determination to train them in the “way they should go,” we find the capacity to release them into His secure and mighty hand, knowing that no one can ever “snatch” them away. To a parent watching a child grow taller and more distant, this is a great source of peace.
Sarah will soon graduate college and answer her call to children’s ministry. God has placed her with Sean, a godly young man headed to seminary. I pray that she never strays from the truth she has been taught. I pray that her life will be one of service and obedience to the Kingdom of God. I pray that one day she brings home a bunch of grandbabies! And I pray that I have been a good man, a godly father, and a consistent, trusted, protector and teacher.
But as much as I have trained her up, I pray now for strength to confirm her dedication to the Lord, allowing Him to work as only He can. It can be a great joy to watch as God takes His raw material and creates in Sarah His intended purpose for her life, forged at the foundation of the world.
Growth is a good thing. We have to grow as human beings and we can’t stand still as Christians. But true Christian growth produces confidence in the Father, not in ourselves. It is His hand that is strong, His wisdom that is true, and His love that is perfect. Thankfully Sarah is His and he will “catch” her every time.