By Contributing Writer, Tyanne
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Ephesians 6:1-3
At 17 years old, I loved Jesus with all of my heart. It had been three years since I came to faith, and with youthful arrogance I had come to believe that I was living quite righteously before the Lord. I was leading Bible studies for peers, attending church, sharing my testimony at youth ministry events, and sharing the Gospel with friends and even high school teachers.
Publicly I was a model youth group member who voluntarily served coffee to senior adults on Sunday mornings. In the privacy of my home with my family of unbelievers I was a typical American teenager who spoke to her mother in a hateful tone and defied her parents commands on a daily basis. I showed no gratitude for their provision but instead looked down on them for their shortcomings and lack of Christian faith.
I was blatantly sinning against God and my parents during this time, but I did not acknowledge my sin or recognize its toxic presence in my life. And then one day, in the midst of a particularly ugly moment between my mother and I, she said something that cut through my heart like a sword.
Looking sternly into my mocking expression she said, “You might have everyone around you believing you are a ’good Christian,’ but that Bible you’re carrying around also commands that you honor your mother and father, and I know the truth about you.”
She was right, and I knew it.
The Truth About Honoring Our Parents
The conviction I felt in that moment and the days following began a lifelong challenge to honor and respect my parents. God used Scripture in the mouth of an unbeliever to humble my arrogant heart and confront me with the sin I was harboring in my relationship with my mother. I did not realize at the time the temptation to disrespect and dishonor my mother and father would last far beyond my time in their household.
While most of you reading this today are no longer under the authority of your parent’s household, we are not off the hook in our call to honor our mothers and fathers in every stage of life. Whether we are working our way through college or a career, starting families, parenting teenagers of our own, or trying to help our parents into their older years, we need to consider how we can best treat our parents with the honor and respect they are entitled to under God’s design.
Unfortunately, relationships between parents and their adult children are often the most conflict-ridden, confusing, and bitter relationships we maintain as Christians. It is also a relationship that our culture has come to embrace as dysfunctional. We are living in a world that encourages us to place blame, complain, and hold grudges quite liberally, and secular psychology has done an excellent job convincing us that no one is more deserving of our accusations and bitterness than our parents—the supposed source of every adult’s emotional problems.
In contrast to our world’s standards, we need to be Christians who fight to live in right relationship with our parents even when the world tells us we have every right to remain bitter and angry for a lifetime.
A Variety of Complications
By the grace of God, some of you are blessed with excellent relationships with your parents. I suspect that the majority of you, however, have matured into adulthood and struggled to honor God in your relationship with your mother, father, or both. It is, without a doubt, a relationship that is complicated by more years of life, trials, and experiences than any other relationship.
Sometimes the strain in our relationships with our parents is heavily rooted in our own sinful pasts:
- We developed a comfortable habit of disrespect in our teen years that has proved difficult to break.
- We failed to obey our parents in big and small ways that have caused them long-term hurt or embarrassment, and we have not sought forgiveness or reconciliation.
- We fear proclaiming Christ and defending our Christian life in front of our parents for fear they may bring up our past failures and accuse us of hypocrisy.
- We simply struggle to live life as a “new creation” in the context of our past selves.
In addition to these examples, we may also experience strain as we hold on to memories of our parent’s failures and perceived faults, some of which continue to cause conflict in our lives. Examples may be:
- Our parents are not Christians and disagree with Biblical truth.
- They mistreated us or neglected our needs as children, in some cases quite severely.
- They made decisions in their parenting with which we fully disagree, and we are determined to parent our children differently.
- They ARE professing Christians, but we struggle to see evidence of fruit in their lives and experience worry over their salvation or feelings of judgment toward their sin.
- They ARE professing Christians, but they hold significantly different views in how they interpret some major themes in Scripture.
The two lists above are just some of the many sources of strain you may be experiencing in your relationship with one or both of your parents. Please do not misunderstand me by thinking that these are all things that simply need to be ignored in order to have a blissful relationship with your parents. Some, if not all of them, are significant issues that are in need of attention in most circumstances.
Even so, I urge you to reject the belief that any of the above complications (or any of your own unique circumstances) provide you with adequate reason to harbor anger or bitterness towards your mother and father. I urge you to reject the idea that you are allowed to speak disrespectfully in conversations with your parents because they truly are wrong in their words or actions. I urge you to reject the lie that you are too estranged from your parents for Christ to work a miracle in your relationship.
Encouragement for Reconciliation
“He who grows in grace remembers that he is but dust, and he therefore does not expect his fellow Christians to be anything more. He overlooks ten thousand of their faults, because he knows his God overlooks twenty thousand in his own case. He does not expect perfection in the creature, and, therefore, he is not disappointed when he does not find it.” – Charles Spurgeon
Many of us will never experience perfect harmony in our relationships with our mothers or fathers, but God has provided us with a spirit of love and peace and given us everything necessary to do our part in honoring them in spite of the hurt and strain. As vessels of the Holy Spirit and ministers of the Gospel of grace, we are equipped to meet our parents—wherever they may be in life and in spite of anything they have done or continue to do—with Christ-like love, unending mercy and grace, and the honor we are commanded to give to them.
If you are struggling to treat a parent with Christ-like love, I am writing to you. If you are experiencing feelings of guilt and embarrassment over the sins of your childhood, I am writing to you. If you are overwhelmed with anger towards a parent or believe you can not forgive them for their offenses, I am writing to you.
If you are simply failing to speak to your mother or father with a respectful tone and attitude, I am most definitely writing to you. I am writing to all of you because you were born into a relationship that is riddled with temptation and opportunity to sin against God and others, and we need to be Christians that desire to flee from of our sins. We need to be Christians that seek to honor God in every relationship, even in the midst of private phone calls we share with our mothers or fathers over difficult topics.
Though the challenges we face in our relationships with our parents may vary greatly, we are given wisdom in Scripture that speaks truth over it all. As we consider working towards reconciliation in our relationships with our parents, keep in mind:
- Christ died for us while we were STILL sinners. (Romans 5:8) By His strength, we must always fight to love others while they remain lost & engulfed in sin.
- We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. (Col. 3:13, Eph. 4:32, Matt. 6:14)
- We are, at all times, Christ’s ambassadors bringing a message of peace and reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:20)
- We are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). At times, this includes our own parents.
- If you have sinned against your mother and father in the past, as most of us have, it is important to confess your sin before them and ask for their forgiveness. (See Matt. 5:23-24 & James 5:16)
- It is possible & necessary to defend and uphold Biblical truth while embodying the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) & setting aside pride, anger, and hostility.
- This is a spiritual battle that must be fought with the full armor of God. (See Ephesians 6:10-18)
I am writing you about this topic as someone who continually battles with the temptation to disobey God in my relationship with my parents. I understand the tension that exists as a young adult who is choosing to live my life and parent much differently than my parents did. A short phone call can be a powerful temptation to well up with pride, self-righteousness, judgment, or anger.
I also know how difficult it can be to truly forgive a parent of the hurt they have caused, and likewise how scary it can be to seek my parent’s forgiveness after years of unrepentant sin against them. At times, I have selfishly evaluated the past in ways that excuse my sin and unfairly criticize my parent’s efforts, and this mindset can creep back in at times.
As difficult as it may seem, God calls us to obedience, and He grants us every opportunity to obey by the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Here are some ways that have helped me continue to honor God in my relationships with my parents:
- I pray for my parents every day, and I let them know I pray for them.
- I focus on the qualities I love about them and the ways I am blessed by my parents, and I specifically thank God for those things.
- I am careful to speak respectfully about my parents to others, expressing my love and honoring them even when they are not present.
- When feelings of anger spike within me during an interaction with a parent, I remain silent if possible and ask to continue the discussion at a later time. This allows time for me to calm down, pray, and prepare myself to speak lovingly if it is necessary to continue the conversation.
- When tension arises and must be immediately addressed, I look first at my own fault or responsibility in the matter and repent of any sin that I have committed—no matter how small it may seem. For example: It may be true that the other person was wrong to say what they said to me, but I need to be quick to repent of my own sin in the matter if I responded quickly in anger or reacted in any way that did not honor God or the other person.
- I am careful to explain our biblical convictions or parenting decisions without pointing the finger at what is “wrong” with the alternatives. For example, I do not explain our desire to home school by listing criticisms of public or private school, but instead share ways our family is well-suited for the home schooling approach and the benefits it offers.
- I make patience, kindness, and gentleness a priority, especially when I do not feel like being patient, kind, or gentle.
The Blessings of Obedience
As Ephesians 6:2 tells us, the commandment to honor your mother and father is the first to come with a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.“ In my experience this promise has proved abundantly true. I have learned that the benefits of maintaining an honorable relationship with my parents are far worth the spiritual battles I have gone through to experience it.
Beyond the simple peace that we all experience when conflict is resolved, my steps of obedience to this commandment have helped maintain peace in very trying times for my family. I have been blessed to experience changes within my own heart in how I approach family issues, and I have also seen changes in the hearts of other family members in their willingness to hear about Christ and consider God’s role in our lives.
By repenting of my sin and relying on God to take steps of obedience in this area, I have been able to live out and communicate the Gospel to my family more purely and accurately than I could have done in the past.
If you are struggling to step out in obedience in your relationship with a parent, I want to encourage you to see the reward beyond the challenges. Though God might not change anything about your mother or father in the process and the relationship may continue to be strained throughout your life, you will experience God-honoring growth and change in your own heart that will positively impact the future of your relationship and the opportunities you have to share Christ with your family.
A Closing Challenge
I do not know what unique circumstances are causing your relationship with your mother or father to be challenging, but I do know that God desires us to worship Him with pure hearts that are no longer enslaved to sin. Search your heart today as you consider your relationships with your mother and father, and pray that God would begin working in you to repent of any sin and seek reconciliation by whatever steps necessary. It may be an area of sin in your life that you have excused in the past, and today may be the start of your journey towards God-honoring obedience.