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Honoring a Parent for Whom You Have Little Respect
Posted by Clare
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I have a close friend whose father was both distant and hard on him. The son could never please his father and apparently neither could the man’s wife, my friend’s mother. No physical abuse, just selfish, disrespectful behavior. On top of it, the man claimed to be a Christian – a pillar in his church.

“So Clare, when the Bible says, “Honor your father and your mother”, how does that work? I have no respect for the man at all! So, I can’t believe God expects me to honor and respect him.”

“Actually, God does,” I told him. “There are a lot of really lousy fathers in the Bible, and nowhere does God give their children a pass on honoring or respecting them. So, here’s how I think honoring a parent who doesn’t appear to deserve much honor, works in real life.”

Respecting or Honoring a Parent

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s use the terms honor and respect interchangeably. It’s helpful to think of respect in terms of R1 and R2. Outside of a divine healing of God, there is no way, by an act of your will, you can make yourself truly admire and have tender, warm feelings toward a parent who isn’t, kind or virtuous, or wasn’t good to you growing up. So don’t beat yourself up over that.

But, here’s what you can do by an act of your will, at a minimum; you can speak respectfully to your parent and speak respectfully about your parent to others, or say nothing at all. It’s what I call R1 respect.

So, this means when you’re around your parent, you are to treat them with respect, saying everything kind you can to them, pleasantly, with a smile on your face and thanking them for whatever they provided for you or taught you. This isn’t being phony; it’s simply looking for the good in them and honoring it. That’s being respectful and honoring.

It also means when you’re with your siblings or your own children, you ought to speak respectfully about your parent, or say nothing at all. An adult child should never speak disrespectfully of their parents publicly. (There may be some obvious exceptions when teaching, but even those require great prudence.) It’s also acceptable if the family needs to gather to discuss how they should handle the ongoing behavior of a bad parent. But, gossiping about your parents to anyone, but your spouse, just to vent, is unacceptable for a Christian. And, your children should not hear you speaking of disrespectfully of your parents, their grandparents. Honor your father and mother.

However, for you to truly respect and admire from the heart, a parent, or anyone for that matter, requires that they act honorably or virtuously. If they want that kind of admiration and respect, what I call R2, a person has to earn it. I don’t think God expects me to truly respect (R2) a mother or father who has been, or still is unkind, selfish, abusive, or controlling. There’s no act of your will power that can make that happen. It is what it is. Of course, the Holy Spirit can cause that to happen in any believer’s life and we ought to ask him to do that in yours, if this is a problem for you.

But, here’s my caution; if a child hardens their heart toward a parent, always mentally reminding themselves of dishonorable behaviors, past and current, that’s sin! A root of bitterness will prevent healing and recognizing the good in a parent. You, being spiritual have the obligation to repent of it whether your parents ever improve or ask your forgiveness. If not, we can actually “grieve the Holy Spirit” and make him sad.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Ephesians 4:29-31

Honoring your father and mother, at least at an R1 level is a command within your ability to keep. Do you believe that?

Question: What other ways have you tried to honor a “dishonorable” parent?

Following Jesus in Real Life


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Comments (8)
  1. Char said...

    I keep trying to find out how to honor my very critical Christian mother. I can see she’s suffered hurt through a divorce with my father when I was 8. She criticizes everyone but me more so. I point blank asked her and she said she has animosity towards me because I rebelled on her at 8 on the day we stood in a bus stop leaving my father.

    Myself being saved 4 1/2 years ago, I keep trying to control my reactions towards her but then she’ll begin criticizing me again and often publicly to where people have asked why she’s so critical of me. And I try to shut it out but sometimes fail and snap and say something back. I just want us to have a good relationship. I have to say it has gotten better but when I do lash back from hurt during criticism I wonder how angry God is and what can I do about it. I’ve tried to control my emotions and yet have been under major massive stress for years now from outside sources and it’s harder than ever to remain calm when I stay tired and physically ill.

    • Clare said...

      Char, thank you for posting. I was so moved by your story of survival in the face of these accusations by your mother. I’m so sad for you.
      I won’t kid you. There are no simple answers. While God can and does occasionally heal these kinds of wounds miraculously, most often this requires some very good, Christ-centered counseling. When we’re small and our parents who are supposed to love us tell us a lie, and blame their problems on us, it never dawns on us to think our parents are lying. We believe them because we trust them and therefore blame our selves. Later in life when come to the intellectual realization that they were both wrong and cruel, emotionally we still believe the lie.
      It’s also been my experience that when parents are confronted with their lie, very few will admit it and ask forgiveness. They’ve told the lie to themselves for so many years, so they won’t feel guilty, that THEY actually believe it too. A good therapist will help you navigate your way to spiritual wholeness. This can almost never be done alone. There is a great book entitled, The Bondage Breaker, by Neil Anderson that may help you.
      Char, I’ll be praying for you as you consider your next steps and thanks again for writing. Bless you.

  2. Elizabeth said...

    I too have a strained relationship with my father, who is controlling, lacking in genuine empathy, and has no clue as to who I really am. He only knows who he believes that I am (and it never changes). My being female means that I am lessor and he learned this in church. My whole family is like this – they relate to me (I’m 52), as if I know nothing of the real world. The roles they try to keep me in are nothing short of completely humiliating. I currently do not spend time with any of them, including my father. It’s been over a year now.

    The 5th Commandment has always been a double-edged sword in my opinion. Children almost always honor their parents–either negatively or positively. Parents who have weak identities cannot impart healthy identities into their children. Thus, what plays out is often very toxic.

    This is what makes being born of the spirit so significant–we are born into a new family with a Perfect Father. And that relationship, which we fight with ourselves to maintain, is the game changer. A person can honor their parents by becoming whole beings, living authentically and truthfully, and being a person who brings honor to their parents by virtue of who they are. This is my endeavor.

    • Clare said...

      Elizabeth, I am so sad reading of your family dynamics. At your parents age, they’re not likely to change. I promise to pray for you.

  3. Cathy said...

    Dear Clare.
    I have been through memories of a abusive alcoholic dad. A mother who has only told me she loves me when I confronted her when I turned 35 years. I have remained strong and independent. I’m married to a wonderful husband of 16 years; but has been living in a compressed shell. My mother has two facades. I’m treated cruelly when I’m alone with her and sweet when my husband is around.I couldn’t explain why and what she says; for she’s so good at pretending. God has allowed my husband to witness her true behavior while he has been on two weeks of leave.
    He wants to move out now; for he is shocked for seeing her for what she is. We have a 10 year old son; and our marriage is blessed with love.
    I have been praying to the Lord to guide me. Do I stay and bear more unhappiness or move and rejoice in my perfect marriage.
    I feel guilt like I would be neglecting his parents.
    . She doesn’t speak to her son and I.

    • Clare said...

      Move. You do not have to live with an abuser, or an unkind mother or mother-in-law. Follow you husband’s lead in this and move out. Praise God for a good husband!
      That being said, you still have an obligation to speak respectfully to, and about your mother to other people, including your children. Also, you have a spiritual obligation to check in on her to make sure she’s okay. Also, if, and only if she behaves herself around your husband or in your home, it would be an act of grace to have her over for dinner and other family activities occasionally.
      I just prayed for great wisdom for you.

  4. Ellen Johns said...

    I recently reconciled with my mother(I reached out) who professes to be a christian after 2 years of no relationship after she refused my request to talk to me respectfully and allow me my privacy.Her reply was “I will say to you what I want, when I want and how I want”. I have honoured and respected and cared for her for all my 52 years and have”covered for her many times when she has been rude and impatient to others”.I hid it all but my friends at work heard her on the phone as I accidentally put it on speaker and they asked who that awful woman was? Errr.. I have recently moved away as she again has refused my request.She said it in front of my brother this time. He says I don’t handle her correctly and now he has stepped up.Neither have any contact with me since I moved. I have spoken with my pastor who has been so supportive. I felt very convicted reading your article as I haven’t always talked kindly of her. I pray daily that we can reconcile but I cannot be on the receipt if her harsh abusive onslaughts any longer. I have prayed for strength and guidance for our situation for many years.I am far from perfect but have always spoken nicely to her. I feared her as a child and still do. I know that with God nothing is impossible.It is sad right now but more than that I feel relieved and that I have some time to recover and heal even.
    I work with dear people with dementia and people ask me if it’s that with her.How I wish that was the reason..but she has always been as she is.I keep her in prayer and am blessed very understanding friends who have seen my struggles first hand and support me..I know I have enabled a lot of the problems in this situation and maybe should have set firmer boundaries but she us very strong and forceful.. the rest of my family lie to her about where they are and what they are doing but I haven’t lied and she therefore extracts the information she wants..sorry this is lengthy..I value your council.Thank you.

    • admin-3kr5M said...

      Ellen, I cannot imagine how frustrating it is to have a mother who apparently has no discernment, or sense of boundries. To begin with, I’d suggest you pick up a copy of the book, “Boundries” by Dr. Henry Cloud. It’s one of the best selling Christian books for situations just like yours.

      Second, on May 20, 2013 I posted a blog entitled, “Honoring a Parent for Whom You Have Little Respect.” You may find that helpful as well. I’ll begin praying for you. I’m sorry.

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