Every now and then I stumble across a movie that resonates with me and makes me see some issues in a new light. One such movie is King Richard, the true story of Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena, the all-time top-ranked women singles tennis players.
One of the things that impressed me was how he cast a vision for all of his daughters, but especially with Venus and Serena. He believed in them from birth and cast a vision of what they could become with hard work and sacrifice. While his vision was very specific, this role of a Dad who can see in a son or daughter what God has created within them and then declaring it with enthusiasm is a critical part of the power of being a father.
Proverbs 22:6 is often quoted as a promise that our children won’t stray from God if we start them right — “in the way he should go.” However, the Hebrew lacks the word “should” and could be easily translated: training up a child according to his way and when he is old he will not depart from it. Another author has suggested, “train up a child according to her bent.”
Mom and Dad are to be the experts regarding their children; the ones who see God’s design and the unique mixture of strengths and weaknesses, passions and giftedness.
When our daughter Hope was quite young, we noticed that she went out of her way to be kind to others and to offer words of encouragement. We began to declare to her, “You’ve got a lot of love in your little heart.” We told her about Joseph in Acts; a man whose tendencies were so strong that he earned the nickname, Barnabas (the Son of Encouragement). We watched her in action with younger children and whispered to her how gifted she was in this area. As she blossomed into her teen years and then adulthood, these strengths were powerfully demonstrated in her ministry to inner city children and during her brief teaching career where she was recognized as Teacher of the Year, despite being a Yankee in the South and very young.
Often at bedtime we spoke to our girls about the godly tendencies or “bents” that we saw in them. As a Dad, I would lay my hands on their little heads and pray for God to strengthen them and give them wisdom on how to use these traits. When we would be on hikes and one girl or the other would walk alongside me, I would ask questions about how they see these things building in their lives.
I was nowhere near as passionate and driven as Richard Williams, but I believed fiercely in what God had knit together as He fashioned them in the hidden place of Linda’s womb. (Psalm 139:13-16)
Our children are not accidents. They may never be world champions in a sport, but each of them have a God-ordained purpose. And they often first see this through a father’s eyes. As Dads, let’s step up and breathe life into our children.
One of the most meaningful scenes in the movie was when Venus lost her first professional match. She was crushed and sure she was a failure. Her father came alongside of her and spoke gently but passionately, putting the defeat into perspective. He reaffirmed his faith in her and in who she was. Together with her mother, they comforted her and then moved past the defeat together.
Her mother Oracene also played a huge role in shaping her daughter’s success. One key thing was to speak truth to Richard when he was dealing with issues that were holding Venus back. As I watched that scene, I was reminded of the many times Linda helped me to see more clearly what was going on with the daughters to help direct my passion in ways that built them up rather than tearing them down. Fathers, as important as our role is, parenting is a team sport.
Other important lessons from the film were the importance of hard work and incredible sacrifice to be successful, how one person can create one’s own opportunities in the face of discrimination and poverty, and the willingness to keep believing in one’s goals even after literally getting knocked down over and over.
The Bible tells us that children are a gift from the Lord. They have been placed in our hands for a short time. May God help us be faithful, trusting, and courageous. Your brother, Christopher