This past fall we were up in the mountains with my family for a mini-vacation. While we were walking around in the adorable mountain town browsing the quaint little shops, my dad came across something he really liked. Now, my dad is the most amazing gift-giver I have ever met, but it is very hard to buy things for him. So when I had a chance, I snuck back to the shop to purchase the item for him. While there, I began chatting with the lady helping me, telling her how excited I was to find something for my dad I knew he would like. I then rambled a bit about how thoughtful he was and how appreciative I was of him. She was obviously somewhat taken aback by how openly I was praising my dad and expressed how sweet it was that I had such a good relationship with him, which she seemed quite touched by.
Throughout the rest of the afternoon I pondered my interaction with the woman in the shop. After a while it dawned on me just how unusual it is to hear an adult child speaking well of their parents. There seems to be an underlying thought even amongst many Christians that once you reach adulthood you’re not required to honor your parents anymore. There is so often the tone of resentment and criticism when people mention their mom or dad in conversation.
Sadly, we also live in a world where many parents greatly hurt their children during their childhood years, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally. So it is understandable why a great number of people justify bitterness and dishonor toward their parents — “getting them back” for the pain they experienced growing up. And ultimately, no matter how good or bad parents are, every single one is sinful and does wrong toward their children at some point or another. My son is not even two, and I have already had to repent many times of ways I have acted in a sinful, selfish way toward him.
Although each one of us can probably look at our parents and see things they could have done differently or think of things we disagree with them, we still have a decision to make. As Christ followers, we are called to follow all of God’s laws, one of which is clearly stated in Exodus 20:12 as well as a number of other places in the Bible: “Honor your father and your mother…” Jesus actually rebuked the Pharisees because they were justifying not following this command (Mat. 15:5-9). In Romans 1:30 Paul specifically mentions disobedience to parents coming as a result of people turning their back on God.
There is no age given where we are let off from following this command — in fact, it is quite clear this is something that is to be obeyed no matter how old we are. (See Proverbs 23:22.)
For some, this may not be a difficult command to obey. But for others, this may be very difficult to come to terms with. It may feel like honoring and respecting their parents is a dismissal or ignoring of past hurt, or is giving allowance for their parents to “control” their lives forever. This is not the case at all.
First of all, honoring our parents begins in our hearts. This means we must forgive anything we may be holding against our parents. (See Colossians 3:13.) If we refuse to give up bitterness toward them, we are hindering the healing work of the Holy Spirit and keeping Him from giving us God’s love for them. We also need to allow the Lord to show us ways in which we may need to seek forgiveness from them for any dishonor we have shown them. Often it is through our humility that the Lord will begin to work in the lives of others who have done wrong against us, even if we don’t see it outwardly right away — if ever.
Once our hearts are clear before God, we can then ask Him to guide us in what it looks like for us specifically to show honor to our parents. It could be holding our tongues in order to prevent an argument, even if we disagree with what is said. It might be going to them to seek their counsel, even if in the end we choose to do something differently. It might mean going out of our way to spend time with them, write them an email, or make a phone call just to show them we care about them being in our lives.
It’s also good to remind ourselves that our parents have lived longer than us, and so just by reason of age will have more experience and wisdom in certain areas than we have. So, even if your parents aren’t Christian, they probably still will have a wealth of knowledge in other practical areas of life. If you go to them in humility, asking their opinions and listening to what they have to say, it can go a long way in displaying respect for them.
However it looks for each one of us personally, the Lord will honor our obedience to Him. We can know that for sure, because of what is said in Ephesians 6:2-3: “‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’” God always keeps every one of His promises, and this is no exception.
The Lord will use this obedience for our good and His glory, just as He does in every area of our lives that is submitted to Him. It is absolutely amazing to see examples of children (adult children) who have chosen to take the Lord seriously in this area, and have seen incredibly things take place as a result. Where there was once a chasm of hurt, there is now a vast expanse of grace and forgiveness. Where there was once contention and strife, there is now joy and unconditional love.
I can testify of God’s incredible faithfulness in this area. Because of deliberate choices I made to listen to, respect, and honor my parents as I grew up, I now have a very precious relationship with them as an adult. I can go to them for counsel, and they relate to me not only as a daughter, but as a friend.
Dear sister, if you have been hurt or neglected by your parents in any way, the Lord longs for you to lay it in His hands. As you submit this area of your life to the refining work of Christ, you will not regret it! He can take even the most broken of relationships and use it to make you a testimony of His supernatural grace and love!