Majoring in Life
Some practical suggestions on what honoring your parents should look like.
Scripture passages in this lesson are linked to this page for easy access.
Lesson 14: So Your Parents Aren't Perfect
(How to honor them anyway)
Text written and copyrighted © 2002 by Manfred Koehler. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
"Why do you even bother, Dad?"
"I always hold doors open for a lady. Just trying to be a gentleman."
“That is so ancestral.”
"You calling me old again? That kind of hurts."
"Sorry, Dad, but why can't you be like everyone else and just walk through the door?"
"Simply because I still need to do what I think is right. It makes me who I am."
"You ever think of changing who you are into something more respectable?"
"Wow. I'm not sure you understand the meaning of the word."
Two Verses That Carry a Big Stick
“‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:2-3)
I know this is bad, but I've always had trouble taking that passage at face value. It strikes me as a bit too simplistic, too all-encompassing. Does it mean that everyone who is nice to their mom and dad will live past one hundred? And what about the that-it-may-go-well-with-you part? Is God saying that if I'm respectful whenever my parents show up, life won't have any major problems?
Maybe. Maybe that's exactly what God means—or something close. This is God's Word we're considering here. No matter how much our finite minds wrestle with Scripture's real implications, we cannot dismiss it as not true (John 17:17).
It's easy to think of situations where a guy rejected everything his parents stood for, then suddenly died in a tangled mess or faded away with AIDS. That kind of story makes simple sense of the promise: "Honor ... that it may go well with you." It's clear that if you dishonor your parents, life will be rough and may be short.
But what about all those godly, parent-honoring teens who die a young death, their bodies destroyed by leukemia? It happens, and the reasons why aren't simple.
It may help to realize there are other verses equally as true as the words "that you may enjoy long life." Try this one on for size: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15). Occasionally it seems that heaven decides a parent-honoring teen should leave this cruel world and come home—where he and God can enjoy each other face-to-face. God is sovereign. God is neither mean nor selfish, but he can do what he wants.
One thing is for sure: This job of honoring Mom and Dad doesn't go away when they drop you off at the campus dorm. Nor are you exempt from this command because you've suddenly discovered that the dad you once thought was kind-of-quirky-but-mostly-cool is really far from perfect.
Don't get it wrong: This command is for you. And remember, we could be talking life or death here. This passage of Scripture has clout.
Convinced? Eager for a chance at long life? Hungry to be free of the struggles that come with a can't-stand-my-parents heart? Here are a few practical suggestions on what honoring your parents should look like.
Love them where they're at, not where you want them to be (1 Corinthians 13:1-8).
It's easy to find fault in your parents' lives. Any Bible-toting Pharisee can do that. True maturity loves people in spite of their faults. Your greatest test of maturity may lie in loving your parents for who they are, not holding out on them because they haven't reached your idealistic image of what they should be. Learn true love at the feet of Jesus. Then pass that love on to your parents.
Pray for them often (1 Timothy 2:1).
Your respect for your parents—or lack of it—is directly reflected in how much you pray for them. Pray little, respect less. Pray much, honor lots. Every time you sincerely bring them before God, seeking their best, something good in your heart grows.
Take an interest in their lives (Philippians 2:4).
Growing up, you probably never broke a sweat getting to know what makes your parents tick. If you're like I was, the main concern was to avoid ticking them off. That needs to change. You're an adult now. To whatever level they allow you, ask your folks penetrating questions in an effort to know them. Feel their heartbeat. Take an interest in them as people. Your respect for them—and theirs for you—will blossom.
Assume they've learned a few things about life (Proverbs 13:1).
Okay, so you've made the valid observation that your parents don't know everything. Good. But don't jump to the conclusion that they don't know squat. If they've raised you for eighteen years without bouncing off rubber walls, they've probably learned a thing or two. Glean from their insights. You don't have to buy everything they say, but at least give it fair consideration. God may actually want to tell you something through them. And if God's speaking, you don't want to miss it.
Don't just trash any conservative value they've tried to pass on to you (Proverbs 6:20).
If your parents consider themselves "frugal," making a dollar stretch three miles will be important to them. You may view them as outright tightwads. Hmmm. Show some restraint in your thinking. They may be a tad extreme—cutting coupons out of twelve newspapers—but you'd be most unwise to completely dismiss the value that hides behind the extreme. So don't scoff at a ten-dollars-off coupon. Use it. Capture the spirit of what your parents have sought to teach you, even if you can't carry it out to the letter.
Be careful that your attempt at advice doesn't become a curse (Proverbs 20:20).
Your well-intentioned efforts to "fix" your parents can easily be loaded with your own baggage. Moreover, your insights as a thinking young adult need tempering. Don't totally unleash yourself; otherwise you'll quickly cross the line into becoming your parents' judge, jury, and executioner. That kind of attitude is, well, counterproductive. If you absolutely must say something, go in humbly, prayerfully. Try not to make them choke; say it in a way they can swallow. Have their best interests at heart, not your own comfort zone.
Thank them for whatever they've done right (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
My parents were strict disciplinarians, so my rebellious hide took a lot of tannings. They were usually fair and never abusive. While in Bible college I went through a period when God himself lovingly corrected me. Trying to sort life out, I did a study on the subject of God's discipline in Hebrews 12:5-11. What I learned there made me thankful for every form of discipline I'd ever received, from both God and my parents. The next time I saw my folks, I told them, “Thanks for working with me and not giving up. I deserved and needed every whupping you ever gave me.”
Made their day.
Live in a way that makes them shine (Proverbs 10:1).
Every foolish act you've ever been guilty of reflects poorly on your parents—even if they still don't know about it. You've made them look bad. Conversely, every godly achievement in your life makes your parents look great—even if they can't fully appreciate the fact. So save your parents the heartache of having birthed a baby-gone-jerk into this world. Do what's right. Honor God. Make Mom and Dad proud.
For Those in Tough Situations
Some parents, unfortunately, can only be described as abusive. If this has been your experience, the charge to honor your parents presents a difficult challenge. There are no simple answers.
In some cases, the abuse is obvious—at least to those who've suffered it. In other situations, a parent's failure can be more subtle—but still undeniably painful. Whether it's the beatings of a drunken father who loves Jack Daniel's more than his family, or the heart stab of a mother who never said, "I love you," the cuts are real, and the scars run deep.
A parent's unrelenting criticism can cause real damage—much worse than the occasional undeserved "You're grounded for the weekend." A father who walks away from his family is far harder to respect than a dad with an occasional temper problem but who at least sticks around.
If you've grown up in an atmosphere of abuse, divorce, abandonment, or disillusionment, you've got some long-term healing ahead of you. Honoring parents in your situation may be best focused on one thought: Allow God to teach you to forgive and forbear.
Forgiving deals with past hurts.
Forgiveness boldly says, "My mom [dad] was totally wrong in doing [saying] ________ to me. But because God forgives me, I forgive her [him]." Recognizing that your parents were wrong in certain things is not dishonoring them. It's facing the truth head on, "and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
As valid as your observations concerning your parents' failures may be, you may never hear the words "I'm sorry" from their lips. Christ can give you the grace to forgive your parents anyway. Let this thought sink deep: Forgiveness benefits you even more than those you forgive. It uproots a poisonous weed you don't want growing in your heart: bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). Don't hold out on forgiveness, trying to punish your parents. You'll end up torturing yourself more.
Forbearing deals with ongoing faults.
Forbearance boldly says, "My dad [mom] may never acknowledge the areas I long to see change in. I will love him [her] anyway, forgiving as often as necessary." You may never hear either of your parents say, "I've been wrong in always doing [saying] this to you." Jesus can enable you to graciously bear your parents' faults anyway (Colossians 3:13). And that forbearance will free you to honor your parents in other ways.
The mountain is huge, I know. It can be climbed. I know that, too.
A Final Consideration
Thinking about those words, "that you may enjoy long life on the earth," it makes sense that God would give longevity to people who've learned to honor their parents. Such people are nice. They're not mean, disrespectful, vengeful, or hateful—or any of the things that come with a rebellious heart. This sorry world could sure use some more nice people; they're in short supply. God knows that.
Yep. Better keep that one around on earth for a while.