This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Someday I hope to write a book on it. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” (NASB) I was raised to believe that this meant you should 1) obey your parents and 2) respect your parents. As a young adult I grappled with this concept. There are very clear lines of generational sin in my family and as I tried to break free from those, there was an underlying message that you were going against God if you found fault with your upbringing. In my own family, counseling was pretty taboo because, obviously, our family had no problems–at least not any bad enough to need counseling. The message I got was that going to see a therapist meant you were accusing your parents of wrongdoing and thus, not honoring them.
Frankly, I think this is one of the reasons we see so much generational sin (and/or children falling away from the faith) in the Church. Children aren’t encouraged to rethink the way their parents did things and so they make the same mistakes or they completely rebel and throw out all of their upbringing (both the bathwater and the baby).
What does it look like as a child, of any age, to honor your parents? I’ve found it so helpful to think through what I, as a Christian parent, hunger for my own children to have: a full life, not hampered by sin, where they’re 100% pursuing and surrendering to God. I think you see this goal supported throughout Scripture; God over and over tells parents to teach His truths to their children. Proverbs 22:6 says to “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” (NASB). The way he should go. Not the way I think my child should go. Not the way I should go. The way God made my child to go. It’s my job as a parent to help my child figure out how to follow God in line with who He made them to be and where He is calling them to go. My youngest daughter is almost completely opposite to me, personality-wise, and the way she follows God is going to look completely different. Her calling will be different. I hope her problems will be different from mine. I hope I don’t pass anything along the generational line.
Thus, in this model, to honor your parents means to do your best to follow God 100%. Obedience takes on a whole different spin because instead of only emphasizing the child’s job to obey, we also emphasize the parent’s job to parent well–to help your child go the way they should go. Since you’re a unique individual, different from your parents and anyone else, following God 100% won’t look exactly like your parents. For those of us who have challenging family backgrounds, this may go over like a bag of rocks with our own parents. But that doesn’t mean we’re not being faithful. We are. We are honoring our parents if we’re doing our best to live the reality of who God made us to be. He used our fathers and mothers to give us specific genetic material. He used them to give us specific worldviews and experiences. They are a huge part of who we are. So let’s celebrate that by pressing hard into living our selves and letting our children (if we have them) be themselves. Let’s celebrate by hanging onto the wonderful things our parents passed down and by working hard to move past the negative things our parents passed down (which every parent does because every parent is a sinful human being). Let’s rebuild the ruined cities–those broken places that have been passed down generation after generation. We don’t have to blindly accept everything our parents taught us in order to honor them.
Isaiah 61:4 (NASB)Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins,
They will raise up the former devastations;
And they will repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.