Recently several people have spoken with me concerning their aging parents and how to “honor” them even though the parents have abused them in the past or continue to do so now. The abuse may or may not be physical, but it may also include emotional as well as verbal abuse. The relationship may be one that is characterized as being manipulative. All of these situations are very difficult to deal with as an adult child of an aging parent. I thank God that I do not have to deal with these negative emotions or relationships with my parents or my in-laws. I am learning about the aspect of how to relate with my parents as they age and their needs are changing. At the present time, my parents and my in-laws are relatively healthy and independent. I pray that they continue to be such for several more years. But, I digress from the purpose of my writing today.
(Again, let me state that I have not experienced the emotions of being abused by my parents in any way. So, please do not think I am trying to tell you how to feel.)
As I have been thinking about this particular subject, several things have come to my mind. The primary thought that I have had is one of unconditional obedience to God. God gives us several directives in scripture dealing with different types of relationships. Each one does not come with a condition that would allow us not to obey it. One such directive is to forgive others so the Father in Heaven can forgive us.(Matt. 6:14-15) God does not tell us to forgive if they ask for forgiveness, but to forgive. He doesn’t tell us to forgive if they are repentant, but just forgive.
The second that comes to my mind is Wives submit and respect your husband, while husbands are commanded to love and understand your wife. (Eph. 5:21-33; I Pet. 3:1-7) No where in these passages does it mention if your spouse is being lovable or respectable or even if you are getting along together. It is a command without conditions that requires unconditional obedience to God. There are several other commands from God such as love your neighbor among others.
Now thinking about your parents, whether they were good parents or not, we need to consider the command that God gave us in the Ten Commandments and that Paul repeated in a couple of his letters to churches.
The command reads, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12 ESV)
Now Paul tells children to obey their parents as another form of this commandment in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3. As adult children, we are not considered children and therefore the command to obey our parents does not apply to us after we move out of our parents’ house. So we need to realize that God does not expect us to obey our parents, when we have our own family.
There is a difference between honoring and obeying. The Greek word for obey is hupakouo which means to listen and follow the rules and guidelines. The Greek word for honor is timao which means to value or to prefer.
Now let me share some of my thoughts concerning how we can honor our parents even in times when they are not honorable.
- We live our lives in a way that brings honor to our parents. In other words, we live according to what we believe God wants for us. When we are obedient to God, we will bring honor to our parents. Sometimes our parents won’t see that, but the fact remains the same: When we live for God, we bring honor to our parents.
- We make sure the needs of our parents are met. This statement does not mean that we have to meet our parents’ needs. We need to make sure the needs are met. Many of us do not live in the same town as our parents and cannot be around them all the time. Therefore we need to pay attention to what is being said by our parents and how they are getting along.
- We keep lines of communication open with our parents. This step might be very difficult when our parents are verbally abusive or manipulative, but we need to work on making sure communication is there. Let me say here that proper boundaries need to be in place so that you do not put yourself in a position to abused or manipulated. You need to communicate the boundaries that you intend to put into place, so that you give your parents an opportunity to follow them. You need to share with them the consequences of crossing the boundaries as well.
- Finally, which probably should have been written first on the list, we need to pray for our parents and the relationship with them. When we pray for someone, we begin to see that person as God sees him/her. If we are praying for our parents, God will give us insight on how to honor them.
Let me reiterate, I do not have an issue with either my parents or my in-laws when it comes honoring them. God has blessed me with parents in my life that live for Him and have taught me the same. My wife’s parents are the same, with very similar values. This writing comes from watching many people struggle in this area as well as learning from what God is teaching me as I help others. I pray that this might help you.
I invite your comments and if you have questions, please ask.