Like most American families, we took our children to see Moana when it came out in theaters last year. I came to the theater with fairly low expectations, having not been drawn in by the trailers. However, I and my whole family were blown away by the movie. Visually, thematically, musically…it was amazing. I read an opinion in a review that Moana was the movie Disney has trying to make for 70 years. I totally agree with that statement.
There are a lot of reasons that I found Moana deeply moving, most of which revolve around the themes of identity that run throughout the movie. Moana and Maui, especially, take wonderful inner journeys that parallel their outward adventure. The biggest surprise to me, though, was the character to whom I related the most. It wasn’t Moana, the plucky heroine. It was her father, the chief.
As a Christian parent, I sympathized with and respected Chief Tui. After all, he raised his daughter with great care and intentionality. He viewed parenthood as a huge responsibility because he was raising Moana with purpose. And he was raising her not toward just any purpose—not toward some vague goal like “chase your dreams” or “be true to yourself”—but toward a purpose bigger than herself. He was raising her toward a purpose that would benefit their island kingdom and all the people on it. His love and purposes for his daughter were noble. They were diligently sought.
The chief’s purposes for his daughter were hindered by his own lack of discernment, his own lack of vision, his own lack of faith. In this movie—which I found so analagous to my own life—there is an overarching religion that is supposed to guide the islanders’ lives and add meaning to it. The chief had not turned his back on this religion, but his too-small view of it had drained it of its power. See, he thought he knew his daughter’s place in the world and so was closed off to the ways his own god was trying to guide her.
In this movie, the sea itself is representative of the islanders’ god (the name, Moana, is the Polynesian name for the god of the sea), and that god clearly points her past the reef. So does her grandmother, a wise and trusted mentor, along with many of her life circumstances. And lastly, the unceasing longings of her heart point in the direction of the water. All these streams of discernment—her mentor, her circumstances, her heart, and her god point her in one way. Her dad stands alone in pointing her in the other.
And why is that? What puts the chief, a loving father, at odds with Moana’s clear purposes? In a word, fear. He is afraid of the ocean and afraid of what might happen to his daughter if she journeys across it. He wants her to be safe. And perhaps even more, he wants her to fit into his mental version of her role. The only problem is that his mental version is wrong—and ironically, it is ultimately destructive to the very kingdom he is supposed to be serving.
I saw Chief Tui’s whole plight as a cautionary tale to the Christian parent, including to me personally. Like Moana’s father, I am raising my children very intentionally, with specific purposes in mind. This is not a half-hearted undertaking for me; I see parenthood as incredibly important, my biggest role. I strive to raise my children with love and discipline, but also toward a larger purpose. My goals for them are more than “whatever makes them happy,” not just because I see that as an unhelpful and potentially destructive goal, but because I believe that they were created for a larger, nobler purpose. I am raising them to take their place in the kingdom of God, and to serve that kingdom with their lives.
And yet, even with all my prayers for them, even as I try to discern the potential shapes of their kingdom lives, based on their gifts and their passions, I must be always aware that my mental picture of their future might be too small. I must be aware that ultimately, they must choose the direction of their lives, and when they choose that direction, they will need to weigh more than my wishes. Most importantly, they must seek what God wants for them, and He will use other factors—their circumstances, their other mentors, the passions of their hearts—to direct them, not just me and their father.
And that’s how it should be.
The temptation as a parent to keep our kids safe at all costs is so strong. We want to shield them from danger, and from the hatefulness of this world. And yet, when our protection gets in the way of our children’s true purposes, that can be so damaging to them. As a young adult, for example, I looked on with dismay as many of my Christian peers bravely and passionately resolved to go out into the world as missionaries—only to be bitterly opposed by their Christian parents! Try to fathom the irony: the American church has essentially lost a generation of young people, and the Christian parents who managed to not only keep their children in the faith, but to raise them with passion and courage for God were the very ones trying to squelch that passion and courage! My goodness, can you say Chief Tui? In holding back our children from living courageously and fearlessly for God, we are actually hurting the very kingdom we profess to serve!
Now, my kids are ages 9 and 10, so I still have a few years before they potentially break my heart by going off in a totally different path than I envisioned for them. And who knows? Maybe I’m correct in my tentative guesses for where they will end up in life. But whatever they choose, I hope that my message to them is always to follow where God leads them, whether or not I personally agree with that direction. I want to teach them discernment, yes, but also fearlessness. I want to teach them wisdom and courage. And I want to equip them to ultimately exist independently of me and my wishes—to exist dependent on God alone.
And I hope and pray that when that time comes–when and if they reveal plans that fill my parental heart with fear–that I will not be an obstacle in their path. Instead, I pray that I will be an encouragement, a source of inspiration. I hope that instead of trying to talk them out of their journey, I help them pack. And I pray that I have the faith to send them off with God–to accomplish His purposes in them, to expand His kingdom through them–and to trust them to His care.