By Maria Liu Wong
Last Sunday, on the way to church, my 4-year-old daughter, Immy, and I stopped by a bodega by the subway station. An older African-American woman standing by the door saw Immy and said, “She’s gorgeous! You’d better lock her up when she turns 16!” I smiled in response and said she’d be taking self-defense lessons, starting early. We bantered on a bit more, and then I headed downstairs to the subway with Immy.
As we rode the subway to church, I thought about the conversation and the woman’s advice to protect and hide my daughter away because of what she looks like. Of course, every mother thinks her daughter is beautiful (inside and out) and tries to protect and raise her child to be wise and discerning. What bothered me most was the broken, sinful reality of the world we were referring to in our exchange.
Why should a young girl be afraid to be seen if she is considered attractive in the eyes of the world? What puts her in danger of being or becoming who she is, and showing it to the world? If God has made her “beloved” in His eyes — known and cared for, then she should be confident to become whoever she was meant to be, taking the risk to be true to herself. As a parent, I should not fear, nor raise her to fear, the world she is growing up in. We have the opportunity to be part of God’s plan to redeem our broken world.
As Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Growing up as a Chinese American girl in New York City means my daughter will see and encounter people who will judge her by her appearance and what she does. Whether they approve of her looks or make assumptions about her because of her actions, she will have to negotiate how she responds and what she will take away from these experiences. In the midst of this, she will have to take the risk to trust how we have raised her to interact with others when she encounters uncertainty or discomfort, and also lean into how God is and has been speaking into her life and reminding her of who she is.
Fear is the cause of so much pain and resistance to what God calls us to do and to be. Living out the Gospel as a parent and as a young person growing up in this world are no easy things. But we can have the confidence that taking this risk, to be the “light” in our communities, to trust in the One who overcomes all fears, is worth becoming who we were meant to be — “beloved” in God’s eyes.
Maria Liu Wong serves as Dean of City Seminary of New York in Harlem, NYC. She leads a women’s fellowship group and a newcomers’ Beta group with her husband Tony, and volunteers in the children’s ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church Downtown. Her research focuses on urban theological education, women and leadership, immigrant youth, diversity, and action research. She lives in the Lower East Side with her husband and three energetic little New Yorkers, and enjoys creating ways to make time and space for students, faculty (and herself!) to learn from and with each other.