I want to care, but I just… don’t want to care!
More often than I want to, I feel this way about my family. Funny, it sounds similar to something Paul said when he addressed the tension between our rebellious human nature and our faith: “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom 7:15). This verse just about sums it up. I really want to love my parents! But sometimes … It. Is. Just. So. Hard!!! While I want to honour and respect my parents, there are days when it is the last thing I want to be bothered with. I ask myself: Is it really necessary? Is filial piety just an outdated Asian concept?
Ok. Let’s lay it down once and for all: What does the Bible say?
HONOUR THY PARENTS
The Bible is clear about it. In fact, honour in the family is so deeply valued by God that it is included in the Ten Commandments and is the only command with a promise attached to it (Exod 20:12). In the New Testament, Paul also reminds the early Christians to honour their parents (Eph 6:2–3).
There must be something so important about honouring our parents that the Bible places such emphasis on it. There are many types of families, each with unique dynamics. We all feel differently about our families. Yet, no matter what shape and size your family is and regardless of what you feel toward them, God’s kingdom’s culture will not change. Honouring our parents is a must if we are to walk in the ways of God.
Recently, my mother and I were in a ‘cold war’ of sorts. The tension soured the atmosphere at home, and it took us an entire night with lots of tears to make up and talk about what had happened. It was difficult for me. I was hurt by her words and she didn’t even want to talk things out with me at first! Every ounce of my being wanted to give up, walk away, and not care anymore. Yet, I knew I had to choose reconciliation. I had to choose to honour her.
CHOOSING TO COMMUNICATE
That cold war wasn’t the first we’ve had (and probably won’t be the last!). I’ve had many cold wars and arguments with my family. Through it all, one of the most important things I’ve learned to do is to stay open to communication. By communicating, I don’t mean trying to outshout or outsmart the other party in an argument. It is always tempting to win the argument, but there is no point to it if I lose something more precious in the process. Even if I win the argument and am proven to be right, all I walk away with is a puffed-up ego but all I am left with is a relationship in shambles.
EVERY OUNCE OF MY BEING WANTED TO GIVE UP, WALK AWAY, AND NOT CARE ANYMORE
What I mean by being open to communicating with your parents means putting down your pride, being open to sharing your emotions, thoughts, and perspectives with them, and allowing them to share theirs and respecting their views. In the most recent cold war with my mother, as I shared my perception of her words and then listened to what she really meant by them, I realised that we were coming from two different angles and it was merely miscommunication. It was from that open sharing that we got to understand how to better communicate with one another.
BUT THEY ARE IN THE WRONG
“But how do I honour my parents who are so unlike Christ?”
This is a real struggle. It’s normal to justify yourself by saying that they are not behaving rightly, so I get to shout back or rebel. Well, it shouldn’t surprise us when they don’t behave rightly; our parents are sinful too, and they, like all humankind, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23)! We may not be able to predict, control, or be responsible for how our parents act, but we are responsible for our own actions because we can choose how to respond.
The Bible is very clear on how we, as Christ followers, should live our lives. Ephesians 4:31 tells us to put aside anger, bitterness, and ill feeling. Instead, we are instructed as God’s chosen people to adopt a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, forgiving each other just as the Lord has forgiven us (Col 3:12–13). The bottom line is this: even when others are unlike Christ, we should still continue to be Christ-like, and this applies to our relationship with our parents as well.
Galatians 5:22–23 on the fruit of the Spirit is a good reference on what it means to practically honour our parents with the Spirit of God within us. Do our words stem from love or spite? Do we seek to make peace and reconciliation or war? Are we patient or do we get easily irritated? Do our actions reflect gentleness and kindness? Does slamming the door or throwing things across the room show self-control? Ultimately, honouring our parents is really about loving God more and becoming more like Christ.
GOD IS OUR FATHER
I remember having breakfast with my dad one day when he started sharing his memories of his own parents, especially his mother, whom he was very close to. It was the first time I ever saw my dad tear up. He shared about how, at 14, he came home after school to find his beloved mother’s lifeless body in the living room. Thinking about the trauma and grief any secondary-school child would feel in that situation makes my heart break, let alone when that child is my father.
ULTIMATELY, HONOURING OUR PARENTS IS REALLY ABOUT LOVING GOD MORE AND BECOMING MORE LIKE CHRIST
I realised on that day that he too is vulnerable, just like me, with his own share of pain and hurt. It was on that day that I sensed God whispering to me that just as I am a child of God, my own father is also a child of God. Just as I need God’s grace and love, so does my father. So, continue to pray for your parents, especially if they do not know God, for their hearts to be opened to the revelation of God, for them to find peace in and healing from Him. Continue to pray for yourself, to walk in step with the Spirit rather than give in to your emotions and be rude or impatient with your parents.
Honouring our parents may not be our first instinct. We may have every reason to justify not doing it. But my prayer for you and me is that we will submit to the authority of the Word of God and have a heart of compassion just like Christ, to see them the way He sees them.