By CHRISTINA CRIBB
We all know the command. “Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you,” (Exodus 20:12). It must be important since it is one of the Ten Commandments, right? Have you ever wondered HOW to honor your parents, especially when you are not really “feeling it,” or if you do not think they deserve it?
As a therapist, I see clients who frequently exhibit issues that we can trace back to their childhood and experiences with their parents. As a result of this exploration, I often hear, “How am I supposed to be a Christian and ‘honor my father and mother,’ when I am feeling hurt by and angry with them?” That got me to wonder if we really understood the meaning of this verse in Exodus and what it means to give honor.
I would say most of us read “honor your father and mother,” and think that means we have to do everything our parents say without question, endure their abuse, and to put them first in our lives. First, let me say that abuse is NEVER okay, and if that has been your reality, I am so sorry. Your parents are supposed to be the ones who love, affirm, and protect you, and the fact that they have not wounds beyond words. As a survivor of any type of abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, neglect), the only way you may be able to honor your parents is from a distance—both emotionally and physically.
After doing a Google search of the word “honor,” I found that Merriam-Webster defines honor in several different ways, my favorite being “to show a courteous regard for; to revere.” What honor is not, is worship. Putting your parents before anyone or anything else is just that; it is worship. The first commandment tells us that we should have no other gods before Him. There is no one else we should esteem or worship above God, not even our parents.
Honoring does not mean we have to, or to continue to, seek our parents’ approval. It does not mean to make oneself vulnerable to unacceptable and hurtful behavior. It does not mean the past did not happen or is not important. However, the command also does not say, “honor your perfect parents.” All parents are fallen and sinful and could use a helping of grace. As Christians on this side of heaven, we are all a mixture of bad and good, fallen and redeemed, ashes and beauty. It seems and feels like such a dichotomy! What also appears to be a dichotomy is to love your parents with boundaries of time, communication, etc. This is where Christian counseling and community is such a beautiful thing. One of my favorite and most memorable quotes from graduate school is, “We are broken in relationship, and we are healed in relationship.” God can take that relationship that has broken you, and through relationship with another person, heal you through that corrective emotional experience.
Is it really honoring when we let our parents steamroll us, all the while cursing them in our heads, or maybe out loud, and harboring such bitterness and resentment towards them? Or is honor to forgive them as Jesus forgave us and to set healthy boundaries, knowing where they end and we begin, learning how to protect ourselves, and having realistic expectations of them? I would have to say though harder, the second option fulfills our charge to honor our parents, while loving God and ourselves, as well.
For more information on healthy boundaries, I recommend Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend’s book, Boundaries.
Christina Cribb, MAMFT, LPC, is a therapist at Summit Counseling of First Baptist Church Jackson. She provides counseling for individuals, couples, families and children in the areas of depression, anxiety, sexual abuse, parenting issues and other areas. To contact her, please call 601.949.1949 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.