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.
R2 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