The Ten Commandments – Part Four – Honoring Parents (Exodus 20)

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

Some of us were raised with ideal parents or stepparents.  This type of parent makes this commandment easy to follow, as we learn over time to show them honor and respect. Most of us gave our parents a hard time at one point or another, but if our parents showed us love, they are relatively easy to treat well in return (or at least to tolerate their idiosyncrasies).

Many people had a different kind of experience growing up.  Perhaps we had parents or stepparents who were more difficult to love.  Some parents were unloving, filled with anger, rage or even violence, having outbursts at unpredictable times.  Perhaps they were hostile, cruel and belittling of us, inflicting pain, insecurity or fear, creating a living hell for their own children, the very ones they should have been building up and protecting.  Perhaps our parents were sometimes loving and kind to us, and other times were hostile and abusive.  

Some parents or stepparents abandoned us, no longer being there to demonstrate the love, attention and kindness that we so desperately needed. 

Most parents were a blend of generosity and kindness mixed with imperfections and ignorance in their speech or actions towards us.  Even the less harmful types can leave their children with scars of low self-worth and self-doubt.

Whatever the circumstances, difficult or not, God wants us to honor our parents.  In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul highlights the beneficial promise that goes along with obedience to this command.

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.” Ephesians 6:1-3 ESV

We can all agree that the act of raising children is extremely difficult, demanding and tiring.  Babies are helpless and needy on a twenty-four-hour basis.  Toddlers always need watching, and the chores of feeding and cleaning for children of all ages are never-ending.  All these tasks also need to be juggled with other simultaneous demands, such as earning a living or getting sufficient sleep.

From the moment of a child’s birth, a parent’s attention needs to be focused on the well-being of their child.  For many parents, this focus is present throughout each day, whether the child is physically present or not, through all stages of life.  This is by the design of God, who watches over each of us every moment, whether we are awake or sleeping.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. Psalm 121:5 ESV

A keeper never rests and is always focused on our wellbeing.  When the sun bears down on us in the heat of the day, the keeper is there to provide shade and protection.  When we are hungry, the keeper provides nourishment.  God understands and lives out the role of a loving parent each moment of our lives.

Because we are human, there will always be flaws and imperfections in our parenting skills.  In addition, there is often a strain between parent and child, even under the best of circumstances.  Part of this is a natural consequence of a child maturing and moving over time from a state of total dependence on their parent to one of independence.  In some cases, deep divisions between parent and child form during this separation process.  How can these be resolved?

If we seek to honor God by honoring our parents, despite our circumstances, God will intervene.  With a healing touch, He will often step in to mend, repair or at least pacify torn parental relationships.  No matter the nature of those relationship, if we turn to Him, God will bring us a peace.

A friend once said, “Maybe I was not the daughter I could have been, and he was not the stepparent he could have been, but God has healed our relationship.  Now I do the shopping for him when he cannot go out.” 

What if we are currently separated from our parent, be it through geography, alienation or even death?  Some have written letters of reconciliation to separated parents.  If a parent is deceased, some have gone to grave sites or some other symbolic location to read a letter to them there, offering love, forgiveness and healing.  God honors us as we seek to honor Him and his word by honoring our parents.  He brings healing and peace in even the most difficult of circumstances, and is able to transcend limitations of the physical world.

What if we despise someone or hold a deeply rooted resentment against them?  How is forgiveness and honor even remotely possible in such circumstances?

It has been said that in order to forgive someone that we despise or hate, we must first find something about that person that we can admire or respect.  This simple step is a starting point along the path of willingness to forgive.  If we take that step of willingness, God’s power often allows us to move forward towards true forgiveness and, as a result, our own freedom, healing and peace.  We begin to receive healing as we forgive and pray for our enemies, even if those enemies were our own parents.

May the Lord bring you peace and healing today.

Reflection

What attributes of a good parent are the most difficult for us to live out?

What can we do today to honor our parents, be they nearby, far away or even deceased? 

If currently alienated from a parent (or child), how can we start the process of healing to begin the process of mending that broken relationship?  Often it begins with prayer.  It is never too late in God’s world to seek His healing and to begin honoring our parents as we honor God and his Ten Commandments.

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