Some 200 years ago, Adoniram Judson was preparing to take the gospel of Christ to the people of India.  He also wanted to marry Ann Hasseltine.  When he contacted Ann’s father, John, to ask for his blessing and permission for the marriage, here’s what he wrote:

I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure for a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall resound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?

Now that is giving your daughter away! Knowing that walking her down the aisle might be the last time you would ever see her.  You would have to wonder if your daughter was fully committed to this man and to the life he had to offer, if you were entrusting your little girl into trustworthy hands.

When I heard someone read this letter, it got my attention because this summer I have the rare privilege of giving two of my three daughters away in marriage.

Ever since my girls were little, I knew that there would probably come a time when I would walk each one down the aisle during a wedding ceremony and present her to another man—one to whom I would pass my mantle of authority and protection over my precious girls. For both daughters, their future husbands came to ask for my permission and blessing on the union. The requests they made were heartfelt and honest, their assurances genuine.

I gave my blessing to both young men. And I took the opportunity to give some godly advice and share my experience from 30 years with my wife, Ellie. But for me, the transition of my daughters to a new home and new family won’t be all that earth shaking. I will still see them regularly. Their surroundings, their standard of living, their comforts will pretty well remain the same, and our relationship will continue.

As you raise your little girls through childhood to adulthood, you try to make sure that your daughters will be be safe and happy, and you do what you can to help them experience their fullest potential God designed for them. But what if you were in different shoes? What if the transition for you (or them) wasn’t easy? What if you were John Hasseltine?

The truth is, your daughter is never yours in the first place. She belongs to God. He has entrusted her to you for a short time to nurture, to protect, to instruct, to prepare, to launch into the world. At some point in her life, He brings you to a point of giving your daughter away to some other man who offers his love and protection, and a common mission.

Hopefully, as an earthly father you have taught your daughters through word and example about the heavenly Father who loves them far more than you ever could, protects them far better than you ever could, and has life plans far more exciting and fulfilling than any you could create for them. Hopefully she will choose a husband who knows the same heavenly Father and wants to embark on a life of adventure to know all that God wants to do for them and through them.

John Hasseltine only saw his daughter Ann for two weeks after the wedding. She and Adoniram ended up serving in Burma, where Ann lived 15 difficult years before dying of smallpox. But her legacy remains. She and her husband translated the Bible into Burmese. Ann’s letters back to America encouraged many stateside Christians to invest their lives and money into overseas missions.

I don’t know how John Hasseltine felt, but I would have been so pleased to have given my daughter away to Adoniram, and given her back to God.

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