“Honor your parents.”

I don’t know about you, but this is one of those commandments that most kids, no matter how old they are, try to skip over. My story isn’t an exception.

I was eight when my parents separated. I lived with my mom on weekdays, and saw my dad on weekends. Some questions that would always resurface included: Why did my parents have to separate? Why couldn’t they just work it out? And because I felt the presence of my mom more than my dad’s, I eventually resented my dad and put the blame on him.

Things started to change when I was 19, my cousin shared to me about God’s love. I was so excited about it that I started reading books about Him. But it wasn’t long until my heart sank as I read one particular chapter.

The chapter was on forgiveness. The book challenged me to think of those I needed to release forgiveness to and ask forgiveness from. I immediately thought of my dad. Is this necessary, God? Is there any other way for me to move forward with You? This is just too difficult for me.

Reading that chapter, I felt God convict and encourage me to reconcile with my dad as an act of honoring him.

It’s difficult to honor our parents when we think they have done the unforgivable and are therefore not honorable or deserving of respect.

It doesn’t make sense to honor our parents when they are too strict, narrow-minded, or unreasonable. Or when they demand too much from us—convenience, preferences, dreams, time, and plans. And in honoring those demands, we felt like we just had to suck it up and simply obey.

Because it hurts our pride and it feels unjust to honor our parents if they have hurt us. Or if one of them had been our abuser. Or if they are the cause of a lot of the issues we have today.

Honoring your parents is one of the hardest commandments to follow, yet it is also one that cannot simply be ignored. The original meaning of “honor” in Greek means weighty or burdensome. With this, to honor our parents means that we put weight on who they are in our lives, as burdensome as it may be at times.

As hard as it was, I personally tried my best to honor my parents, especially my dad, growing up. In fact, I attempted using different motivations as I honored them. Sadly, these were difficult and impossible to sustain:

  • I honored my parents because they provide for my needs. If this was the only reason we honor them, what would happen to us once they fail to provide? Their resources are limited—whether it be financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical. More so, what would happen to the relationship when they are old and we have to provide and care for them instead?
  • I honored my parents because I get along with them. Few people are blessed with parents they can call their best friend. For those who don’t fall under this category, a simple clash in opinion or difference in values is enough to set off our switch. It is so easy to love your parents when they share the same values as you. But it is also so easy to harbor negative feelings towards your parents when they disagree with you.
  • I honored my parents because they are honorable people. Being a parent doesn’t automatically translate to living an honorable lifestyle. There are parents who are addicts, abusive, absent, or apathetic. To the handful who have experienced a toxic and abusive environment growing up, my sincerest prayers go out to you. There are church communities and medical practitioners who are ready to listen and process this with you. But to those who don’t fall under this extreme, the truth remains that in at least one point in your life, your parents will make mistakes and commit sins, too. Some of these will surprise you. Some may even hurt you. But no one is exempt from this, including you.

So what should be our motivation in honoring our parents?

The answer is found in the commandment itself.

“Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”
Exodus 20:12

Simply put, we honor our parents because God said so. It is a command, not an option. “Because God said so” is most likely a phrase you’ve also been told before in church or by adults, but to actually understand what this implies is a totally different thing.

First, every word of God has His will wrapped around it. I don’t know why God chose to make you, and not anyone else, the child of your parents and vice versa. But what I do know is that God is never careless, half-hearted, or random when He creates people for relationships. He is, after all, the author of all relationships.

Second, every word of God has His blessing and favor stamped upon it. God made obeying this command easier by attaching a promise and blessing to it. And while our heavenly Father wants to bless us with good gifts (James 1:17), the blessing of this promise is not just personal but also societal. Notice that this verse is placed in the middle of the commandments between loving God and loving people. The reason for this verse’s placement, as scholars would say, is because society is founded on families.

Think of this truth in light of your relationship with your parents at home. Imagine what society would be like if we allowed the judgment, unforgiveness, and bitterness we feel towards them have a seat in our hearts once we are launched into the world. On the contrary, imagine what society would be like if we started honoring, loving, and serving the people at home.

Changing the world doesn’t happen once you’ve graduated, landed a job, and contributed to society. It begins at home, with the people God has willed to be your family.

The command to honor our parents remains even if it isn’t reciprocated by them. Our parents, like us, are broken and imperfect people, and it is only the love of God that can change us.

Going back to the story about my dad. After reading that particular chapter on forgiveness, God began to gently urge me that week to take the first step. My dad was set to go out of the country that weekend, and I left him a letter to read on the plane.

As I wrote the last word of that letter, I was trying to catch my breath from all the tears that I shed. The sharp release of pain that I’ve been caging and nursing inside me had finally been released. So this was what forgiveness felt like. I don’t remember everything that I wrote in that letter, but I do remember this one part:

“Dad, let me tell you why I love you.
I don’t love you because we are similar.
I don’t love you because we are biologically related.
I don’t love you because you support me financially.
I love you because I believe in God’s plan, and that He had a good reason why He made you my father, and me, your daughter.
I love you, dad.”

This all took place on Father’s Day of that year. I knew that I couldn’t bring myself to write or even send out the letter on my own. I knew that, left to myself, the letter would only be written out of anger and bitterness. But it was the love of my Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ that gave me the courage and strength to take those first steps of reconciliation with my earthly dad.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:7

Sending that letter to my dad was one of the riskiest things I have ever done in my life. I was uncertain if it would really be enough to resurrect our relationship. The only thing I was sure of was that God told me to honor my dad, and so I reached out to him.

There were some things that haven’t changed since I wrote my dad that letter. We still only get to see each other on weekends. We still disagree on a lot of things and get into arguments. He never said sorry for the things I was mad at him for in the past.

But there were also some things that tangibly shifted. We try our best to see each other whenever we can. I have released the anger I was holding onto for so long. I have learned (and I’m still learning to this day) to honor him, with or without an apology from him.

What produced this change was God’s love and forgiveness. In receiving and securing the perfect love that only my Heavenly Father could give me, I was given the freedom to honor, love, and forgive my parents.

 

Photo credits: Aliko Sunawang

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