Review: You Can Do It! By Tony DungySuper-Bowl-winning coach and bestselling author, Tony Dungy, tries his hands at a children's book with You Can Do It!. Written and illustrated for children in probably 1-3 grade, Dungy tells a true story from his childhood. Linden, Tony Dungy's younger brother, didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up. He only knew he liked to make people smile. The Dungy's dad would regularly tell them, "Whatever it is that you want to do, you can do it. Trust God and dream big!" Tony knew he wanted to be a football player. His sister's knew what they wanted to do, be nurses or doctors. But Linden didn't know. His dad told him to pray that God would help Linden find his dream. The next day, while getting a filling at the dentist's office, his love of making people smile found its dream: Dentistry. The Dungy's dad told them to dream big and they did: Professional football and dentistry. And years later, both dreams came true.
Dungy writes in the afterword, "I'm glad I had parents that helped us to dream. I'm glad they taught us to pray about things that were on our mind. And I'm really glad that God answers our prayers...Our parents taught us to dream, but they also taught us something more important. Whatever we dreamed about, we should tell God because He is the one that can make those plans succeed."
It is good and right to teach children of a Christian household to pray to God, to tell Him what's on their mind, to ask him for things. God says in Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." My concern for this book lies in what is left unsaid and with how, without further guidance, God is made to look like His primary concern for us is to give us our dreams. God cares so much for His children that He died to save us from ours sins and reconcile us to himself (see 1 Peter 3:18). God is the greatest gift we could ever desire, and if you delight yourself in Him, He gives you Himself. But nowhere in the Bible does God promise to give us what we dream or everything we ask for (see James 4:3). The God of Dungy's You Can Do It! may give children the impression that God lives to make them dentists, professional football players, and nurses. It is true that the one who seeks to glorify God in everything (Colossians 3:23-24) will likely succeed, and the children should be taught to work hard and honor God in everything, even ask him for wisdom and guidance and blessing. However, the answer to these prayers is not always, "You can do it!" Sometimes, often it will be to say "no" to worldly success and the things that seem to matter here, and instead give trials. The message to a child who is being taught to honor God should be, "Seek first the Kingdom of God" (Luke 12:31) and then even in the face of losing everything, Jesus says to those who have trusted in Him, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
I am thankful that Dungy wants to encourage kids to dream big and try hard. I recognize that this book had a different aim than that I described in the paragraph above, and I suspect Dungy might even agree with my paragraph. He was emphasizing something different. Something I think that without qualification or explanation is dangerous or even wrong to emphasize. My fear is that much of Christianity today takes the statement "have faith" to mean little more than "have faith that God will bless you [in this world], and He will." Dungy makes many statements similar to this (For example, Dungy's dad when Linden was wondering if he would ever have a dream says, "Just keep having faith."). It is right to ask of God and have faith that He will do what's best. But if getting what we want is the focus of where we put our faith, we are missing everything of Christianity. Have faith in God to save you from your sins and give you Himself. Because of misplaced priorities and a high likelihood of communicating unbiblical and ungodly priorities, proceed with much caution; if it is to be read to a child, do so with much discernment and emphasis on what is missing from this picture of God.