The title of the book struck a responsive chord in my soul. Growing Strong Daughters, it said on the cover, and then there was this subtitle: Encouraging Girls to Become All They’re Meant to Be [Grand Rapids, MI; Baker, 2000]. The book, which was written by Lisa Graham McMinn, is intended to help mothers and fathers raise young women who are strong in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
To clarify her purpose, McMinn quotes a student from one of her classes at Wheaton College, who said she wanted to become “a gracious, non-bitter Christian woman who is empowered to interact intelligently, compassionately, and justly with the world around her” [McMinn, p. 11]. This is exactly what I desire for my daughters, that they will become hard-working, clear-minded, warm-hearted women who glorify God in everything they do. Based on God’s promise that the children of the righteous “will be mighty in the land” (Ps. 112:5), I pray that God will make them strong.
There are many reasons why parents need to grow their daughters strong. There are still too many situations where women are placed at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to work and sex. Then there is all the stress that comes from living in a culture obsessed with body image, where each year women spend $20 billion on cosmetics and more than $30 billion on their diets [Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth, New York: Anchor, 1991, p. 17]. The social pressures are so overwhelming that many young women end up harming themselves through drug abuse, eating disorders, and destructive relationships.
For Christians there is an additional reason for growing strong daughters. We raise our daughters to follow Jesus Christ. But to follow Christ is to walk in the way of the cross, which means suffering and sometimes death. If we want our daughters to be good disciples, we need to grow them strong.
Perhaps I should emphasize that I don’t claim to have any special gift for raising strong daughters. I’ve only been raising daughters at all for seven years, and it’s too early to tell how I’m doing. The only thing I know is that growing daughters is different from growing sons. Girls are more complex, at least to me. I never find myself wondering what my boys are thinking or feeling. Whatever they’re going through, I’ve been there. And we don’t need to talk it about much, either. We always know right where we stand.
Girls are different. I learned this early on. When Kirsten was about two, I felt like I wasn’t making quite the connection with her that I wanted and needed to make. So I began to say to her, “I have a deep, deep love for you in my heart.” This was something I had never said to Joshua—not in quite those words. I told him I loved him, of course, but Kirsten needed me to communicate my love more expressively. I think it had something to do with the fact that she’s a girl. She approaches relationships in a different way. It’s not enough for us just to do things together; we need to talk. And as we talk, one of the things I want to tell her is to be strong.
What else can mothers and fathers do to grow strong daughters? First, teach your daughter to find her true identity in Christ. As she grows up, she will face constant pressure to be something other than the woman God has called her to be. So what she needs to hear again and again is what God says about who she is. She needs to know that she is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and that by faith she is being recreated in the image of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:10). She needs to know that she has an equal share in all God’s blessings (Gal. 3:27-29). She needs to know that God is her perfect Father (Gal. 4:6), and that Jesus Christ is the true husband of her soul (Eph. 5:25-27). These are the truths that establish her true identity, and thus give her confidence to face the world.
Second, cultivate the inward life of your daughter’s soul, which is the true beauty of a godly woman. Our culture is obsessed with outward appearance. Movie director Joel Schumacher, who has worked with famous actresses like Demi Moore and Julia Roberts, claims that he has “never worked with a beautiful young woman who thought she was beautiful or thin enough” [as quoted in McMinn, p. 124]. The problem is not that the standards are too high; the whole definition of beauty is wrong to begin with. God’s way of making women beautiful starts from the inside out. The Bible tells women, “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Pet. 3:4 ESV). This perspective is so contrary to our culture that almost the only way for girls to get it is to be raised on it.
Third, give your daughters healthy models of both marriage and singleness. Too many parents hold out marriage as the only positive alternative for their daughters, rather than preparing and educating them to live with purpose if and when they are single. Lisa McMinn expresses it well in her book: “Allow for a future that includes the possibility of singleness” [p. 100]. Not only will this help our daughters embrace the calling God has for them, but it will also break down some of the barriers that divide communities of women in the church.
Finally, teach your daughters to make good choices. This partly comes from experience. I am forever saying to my daughter, “That was good judgment” (or, somewhat more frequently at this stage, “That was bad judgment”). But making good choices mainly comes from having a mind that is informed by the truth of God’s Word. Our daughters need to be good theologians. Only then can they reason their way to good decisions, especially when it comes to making moral choices.
Obviously, these suggestions are only a start. My primary purpose is to get you thinking about what young women need, and how you can help them grow. We want to say to our daughters what David said to the daughters (and sons) of Israel: “Be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Ps. 31:24 ESV).
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org