By Beth Ann Baus, Crosswalk.com
We’re all familiar with Ephesians 6: 1-3, “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.”
When we’re living under our parents' roof it is right to obey them, but as an adult, out from under the direct authority of our parents, we can struggle to understand what it means to honor them.
Honoring our parents can be challenging for many reasons. Perhaps you are a faithful follower of Christ, but your parents are not. Perhaps one or both of your parents struggle with an illness that affects their mind or alters their personality.
If one or both of your parents were abusive or neglectful, the thought of honoring them can seem both illogical and undeserved. And let's face it, even if we had loving, godly parents we can still struggle to understand what it means to honor them as life gets in the way.
So, what does it mean to honor our parents? In my own wrestling match with this question, someone reminded me that obeying our parents when we were children had to do with action but honoring our parents as adults has to do with our attitude.
Regardless of the relationship you have with your parents, honoring them starts in your heart. I pray the following ideas will help you foster a more loving relationship with your parents and that they will recognize your outpouring of love as honor.Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/bowdenimages
1. Be Thankful for Them
Scripture tells us that God is sovereign (1 Tim 6:15) and He does not make mistakes (Num 23:19). So, even if you have parents that are less than desirable, you can know that God gave you those parents on purpose and for a purpose.
While you may never fully understand that purpose, you can rest assured of God’s sovereignty and be thankful for the parents He gave you. 1 Thess 5:18 tells us to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Consider taking time to write down what you are grateful for about your parents. Write down your favorite meal they ever made for you, or think of a time that they really came through for you. Reminiscing on the kind acts from your childhood, however few and far between, can change you attitude towards your parents completely.
You can even keep a running list that you update regularly of kind thoughts about your parents as you thank God for them. Be vocal about your gratitude. There has never been a parent that doesn’t want to hear from their child that their love and sacrifice meant something significant.
2. Be Patient with Them
We’ve all seen the meme going around that says, “Be patient when I ask for help using my smartphone, after all, I taught you how to use a spoon.”
This is something we really need to take to heart. Just as our parents still see us as their small children, we often expect them to be as self-sufficient as they were in our youth. The reality is that our roles will likely reverse.
As our parents begin to slow down and have trouble keeping up with our fast-paced world and ever-changing technology, we need to slow down with them, be patient and not make them feel belittled, ignorant, or burdensome.
Ephesians 4:2 should be our mantra as we live this out, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Next time you are tempted to act out on impatience, remember that your parents aren’t purposefully trying to annoy you. It’s humbling to be in need of your children’s help, and I’m sure if they had it their way they would still be able to do everything themselves.
After all the times they changed your diaper, gave you medicine, comforted you when you fell off your bike, etc.—they deserve a patient response.
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3. Listen to Them
Proverbs 23:22 says, “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” Perhaps your parents aren’t the wisest people and they aren’t who you typically think to go to for advice.
That doesn’t mean you can’t give them opportunities to speak into your life. Let them tell you their stories, let them share memories, let them give you advice even if you don’t take it. They might have a better perspective on your life than you think; after all, they’ve watched you from the very beginning of it.
Our culture tends to treat older generations like they’re in the way and have nothing to contribute. But God’s Word tells us in Leviticus 19:32, “You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD.”
4. Encourage Them, Don’t Control Them
Because our roles tend to reverse as we get older, don’t forget that no matter how dependent your parents become in their old age, they are still your parents.
If you see them making poor decisions or not caring for themselves as they should, find a way to lovingly have these conversations with them rather than simply making changes for them that will likely cause division in your relationship.
It might be hard for them to hear it from you, absolutely, but a gentle conversation will be better both for them and your relationship in the long run. After all, they restrained themselves from completely controlling your life when you were younger.
Obviously, there are situations where interventions are necessary. This is especially true if a behavior is threatening their safety. But, when possible, guide them in their decision making, don’t force them.
Apply 1 Timothy 5:1: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father…”
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5. Care for Them
When your parents are elderly, caring for them will look different for different people. Some will bring their parents home to live with them, others will hire in-home care, others will put their parents under the care of an assisted living facility or nursing home.
But what about the years when our parents are still capable of caring for themselves? Stay connected. If you live near your parents, show them you care by simply being there. If distance is an issue, take advantage of our technology and make sure you stay in touch.
If your parents don’t like technology or are confused by it, then write letters. Send pictures. Talk on the phone rather than texting.
1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Remember that providing for your parents doesn't have to mean paying their bills or buying them groceries. If your parents can provide their own basic needs, then you can provide emotional support by simply staying connected. This means the world to them.
6. Pray for Them
Psalm 71:9 says, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.”
We can feel lonely at any age, but older generations do tend to feel more isolated and purposeless. Whether or not you had the kind of parents that prayed for you, you need to pray for them.
Pray that they would find purpose in their season of life. Pray they would come to know the Lord if they don’t already. Pray they will find opportunities to pour into the younger generations if they are able. Pray they will glorify God in their example to others on how to embrace aging in a culture that idolizes youth.
And don’t forget to let them know you’re praying for them; even if they don’t agree with your beliefs and don’t appreciate your prayers.
Whether your parents reject the Lord or walk in His light, we can all apply Colossians 1:9. “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”
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7. Forgive Them
When I talk to people who struggle with honoring one or both of their parents, it’s typically because they’re holding on to past hurt. They don’t feel their parents deserve honor and because they don’t feel honor for their parents, they don’t know how to display honor.
First, don’t minimize your hurt. If your parents were abusive or neglectful you are justified in saying your parents don’t deserve honor. However, we must remember that none of us deserve honor, because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
Because forgiving often means dying to yourself, I believe for many of us, this is part of our personal sanctification.
Forgiving our parents of past hurts is no small thing. It’s difficult. It’s painful. It’s letting go of something that many feel defined by.
Yet, Ephesians 4:32–5:2 tells us to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
We have been forgiven; therefore we must forgive.
Even as painful as this is, it is such a gift from God that he gives us the ability to. Forgiveness will open new doors to closeness with your parents and personal healing that you would have never thought possible.
8. Model Jesus to Them
If you were raised by parents who know the Lord, then what a blessing for them to see you walk in His ways! But don’t forget, no matter your parent’s age, they still have sin struggles. They still get discouraged.
Model Jesus to them as they have for you.
If you were raised by parents who don’t know the Lord, this can be especially difficult. I have friends who try to model Jesus to their parents and it often ends in heated arguments where hurtful words are spoken, and old wounds are opened and dug deeper.
If this describes you, don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Continue to model Jesus to them. What does that look like? A good place to start is living out the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23, even in the most frustrating situations. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
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A Prayer for Honoring your Parents
You are so merciful. You are so kind. While I may never know why you placed me under the care of my parents, I know you had a reason. I know your thoughts and ways are higher than my own and I know I can trust you.
As I see my parents getting older, I see our relationship changing. I ask that You would help me to fully understand what it means to honor my parents. I realize this might look different for different people, so Lord, help me to see how I should honor my parents. I want to bring You glory and honor You by honoring them. Help me to see how to best to this.
While I don’t always see eye to eye with my parents, I want to respect them. While they don’t always love me the way I want to be loved, I want to love them. While they don’t always deserve honor, I want to honor them as you have told me to do. Give me wisdom, humility, and a genuine desire to obey You by honoring my parents.
Remind me, Father, of my own sin and of my own shortcomings. Remind me of what I have been forgiven of so that I can more quickly more toward forgiving my parents. Remind me that they need You just as I do. Please allow Your Spirit to fill me and to let the fruit of the Spirit flow out of me as I strive to model Jesus to my parents.
Lord, first and foremost I want my life to glorify You. Help me not to be satisfied with glorifying You in some areas of my life, but not in all. I want every aspect of my life to show evidence of Your love and that I live my life in response to Your goodness. I want honoring my parents to be yet another area of my life that brings You glory. As in every aspect of my life, I need You. I need You every hour. And so do my parents.
Father God, allow me to love and honor my parents in a way that they will know my efforts are a direct overflow of my heart that is being filled by You.
In Jesus Name, Amen.
Beth Ann Baus is a wife and homeschooling mom of two boys. She is a freelance writer and author of the novel, Sister Sunday. In her writing, Beth often pulls from her own experiences of abuse, anxiety, depression and OCD. Beth has a heart for women’s ministry and is in the process of becoming a certified Biblical Counselor. She loves serving alongside her husband and pointing couples to the Word for strengthening their marriages and home life.You can find more from her at www.bethannbaus.com.
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