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Honor Parents Even in Difficult Relationships

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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 @ 12:47 PM Honor Parents Even in Difficult Relationships Jordan Chamblee Stand Writer MORE

The fifth commandment states, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you" (Exodus 20:12). This is one of the Ten Commandments - a direct instruction from God that still applies today. But what does it mean to "honor" our parents? And how can we apply this in difficult family situations?

What does "honor" mean?

The concept of honoring parents has two primary aspects. First, it refers to young children's relationship with their parents while living under their care and authority. As Ephesians 6:1-3 states,

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth.

The word “obey” in this passage generally means “to listen attentively.” Paul is telling children, “These people were chosen by God to guide and protect you. Listen closely to them if you wish to do well in your life!”

Parents are given a sacred trust to nurture, train, and guide their children in the ways of the Lord. As such, their children should humbly pay attention to their parents' instruction and guidance while in their household.

However, the call to "honor" parents is not just for minor children living at home. It also refers to the ongoing care, respect, and consideration that adult children should show to their parents, especially as the parents grow older. The Bible is abundantly clear that God expects and even demands that children provide practical help and financial support for their aging parents who can no longer fully care for themselves.

First Timothy 5:4 instructs,

but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God.

Caring for one's parents in their latter years is portrayed in Scripture as not just a good idea but a spiritual obligation that demonstrates true godliness. It is the proper way to "repay" and honor those who cared for us in our childhood years of dependence.

What this demands of children

Honoring our parents is not always easy, especially if the relationships have been strained or complicated. However, God's command still stands. Obeying this precept requires:

  1. Humility - Yes, your parents are imperfect human beings who have inevitably made mistakes in how they raised you. They may have even deeply hurt or wronged you in grievous ways in the past through abusive behavior, neglect, or selfish choices that scarred you emotionally or even physically. The wounds from a broken relationship with a parent can go incredibly deep. Honoring your parents may require handing over your pain to God, as real and justified as it is, and humbly submitting to God's wisdom.
  2. Forgiveness - Going beyond humility, you must be ready to forgive your parents for their failures and shortcomings against you. Harboring resentment poisons your soul. True forgiveness may require initiating or accepting difficult conversations to resolve painful issues. Colossians 3:13 instructs, "...bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." Just as God has forgiven your mountain of sin against Him through Christ, you must forgive your parents - not minimizing wrongs but choosing the path of love.
  3. Grace - Even if you take the often difficult step of forgiving your parents, that does not necessarily mean the relationship will suddenly be healed and restored. Deep hurts tend to linger. You must be prepared to extend continual grace and patience to your parents, not holding onto bitterness when they inevitably continue to exhibit human frailty and flaws. Forgiveness and grace are an ongoing process, not just a one-time event. Repairing a severely damaged relationship may take a long time.

While a healed relationship is a desirable goal, there may be times when that is impossible. But forgiveness and grace from a hurt child to their parent doesn’t mean pretending everything is alright, especially if the parent is ambivalent or continues in their hurtful patterns. Boundaries may be necessary. Despite this, forgiveness and grace should be given freely in imitation of Jesus Christ.

What this demands of parents

The call to honor parents is not a one-sided blank check for parents to demand obedience, good behavior, and respect from their children regardless of how they themselves act and behave. It is a two-way street with responsibilities and expectations on both sides:

  1. Conformity to Jesus - Parents cannot simply browbeat their children into honoring them through demands and control. At most, this will only result in fear disguised as honor, which can turn into resentment and bitterness. Respect, like love, cannot be gained through demands. Parents must model honorable, upright, loving conduct worthy of honor and respect. They must exemplify the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Exhibiting a consistent Christ-like character provides a solid foundation for genuine honor.
  2. Humility - Children do not belong to their parents as if they were their possessions or property. They are individuals who have been entrusted to parents for teaching and care until they reach adulthood. As the psalmist declares in Psalm 127:3, "Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward." Parents must have the humility to recognize that their children ultimately belong to God, not themselves. Their role is one of humble service in lovingly nurturing these little ones on loan from their Heavenly Father.
  3. Seeking reconciliation - When relationships with children (even adult children with children of their own) become strained or broken, parents must take the initiative to resolve conflicts and restore fellowship. They must be willing to initiate difficult conversations, listen to and seek to understand their children's perspectives and grievances, admit faults, and work toward mutual understanding and restoration of the relationship.

When functioning as God intended, the parent-child relationship serves as an earthly picture of God's own loving relationship with His people. Parents are called to selflessly nurture and guide their children, reflecting how the heavenly Father trains His children. Adult children, in turn, are to honor their parents by caring for them sacrificially in old age, modeling the reverence we owe to the One who sustains us with grace. Even when this relationship falls short through brokenness, requiring forgiveness and extending undeserved kindness, it mirrors how God pursues us despite our sins. Honoring imperfect earthly parents humbles us before our perfect heavenly Father and incorporates our lives into a greater earthly portrait of His unconditional love.

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