How To Honor Your Parents (Even When You Don’t Want To)
It’s the first commandment with a promise, “Children, honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you,” Exodus 20:12. This is such an emotionally charged statement, whether you chose to lord it over your children, have painful memories of your own childhood, or are rolling your eyes in contempt over how your parents messed you up in one way or another. Or perhaps you are caught in between obeying your parents, and following God’s teaching. Either way, this verse contains vital information for how we are to live our lives, and it is worth slowing down and figuring out how best to apply it in our walk.
Why is it important?
First and foremost, honoring your parents is important, because the Bible says so. Notice that the text doesn’t say to follow your parents only if they are perfect; the commandment isn’t conditional. Nor, however, does it say to blindly follow your parents off of a cliff. This instruction, like any other passage, has to be considered within the entirety of the Bible. If your parents are telling you to do something that goes against God’s character, such as doing harm to someone, or being dishonest, then you do not have to submit to evil. However, all authority in our life has been placed there by God. That is why:
We honor our parents because of their position, not because of their perfection.
Different ways to show honor.
Since we are all fallen creatures, we have the ability and capacity to do some pretty awful things to our fellow human beings – including our children. From divorce, abuse, neglect, abandonment, dishonesty and so many other things, we’ve all grown up a little bit damaged, if not entirely broken from day one. I for one felt like I had to start over when I turned 18, reconstructing my worldview of who I was and how an adult was supposed to function and relate to other people. When I read about honoring your parents, I assumed that was for the ideal family, and since mine didn’t apply, neither did that verse. Upon further study, however, I’ve learned that there are many different ways to honor your parents. Starting with forgiveness.
Sometimes the best way to honor your parents is to forgive them. Even when they’ve been dishonorable.
And then you have to keep forgiving them. Every time that bitterness creeps up, or you find another way that your parents’ divorce, your step-father’s abuse, your mother’s neglect altered your perception in an unhealthy way, turn to scripture. Take those thoughts and feelings captive, identify them, and make the conscience choice to forgive, because you have been forgiven. You honor your parents by rising above the cycle they started, and choosing to live a better life than they provided for you.
Another way to honor your parents is to not speak ill of them. It’s ok to heal, and to share how God is working in your life, but these things easily turn into complaints and placing blame. If forgiveness is out of reach for you right now, maybe a good first step is to stop gossiping about them.
For those less traumatized by their childhood, you can honor your parents by asking for their wise counsel. You are under no obligation to obey, if you are an adult yourself, but you are showing them that their voice still matters in your life.
Perhaps the greatest way we can honor our parents, is to raise up children in the way of the Lord.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
– Proverbs 22:6