Every Father’s Day I attend church with my parents. During these services, the pastor always asks if anyone would like to stand and pay tribute to his or her father. One by one, people share their memories, and each year without fail, a frail little woman, looking weary from a hard life, stands.
Everyone patiently watches as she rises slowly and confesses in a tired trembling voice, “My daddy was a drinking man. He wasn’t there much, but when he wasn’t drinking, he was a good man … I loved my daddy.” The tears well up in her eyes as she makes her way back down to the pew.
She never says much; there isn’t much to say. But she faithfully and sincerely obeys the fifth commandment … even if her father didn’t deserve it.
Like this woman, you may have been abandoned or abused. Maybe you were verbally assaulted and forced to fearfully run and hide. Or perhaps there is a history of bitterness and grudges between you and a parent. In any case, when you hear the phrase “honor your parents,” your stomach turns just thinking about paying tribute to someone who has treated you with such contempt.
It’s not easy to honor someone who has hurt you so deeply. The natural tendency is to repay evil for evil and seek retribution.
Love for a hurtful parent
But the apostle Peter tells us Christians to live “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). The Bible challenges us regularly in this area: Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, turn the other cheek, and so on. In Matthew 5:44-47, Jesus asked if you only love the people that love you, then where is your reward? How are you any different than the heathens?
Love for a hurtful parent doesn’t come from our own abilities. It comes from the supernatural love of Jesus who died for us even while we were undeserving sinners (Romans 5:8). Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can choose to love those who we feel don’t deserve it.
You may feel that by honoring your parent, you are excusing his behavior. But remember that no evil will escape God’s eyes or go unpunished. Romans 12:19 says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
You need to honor your parents not because you think they deserve it, but because God asked you to. By doing so, you honor God by keeping His commandments.
Start praying now for supernatural strength to practice at least one of these 10 suggestions:
1. Forgive their transgressions.
When people commit a transgression, they essentially owe you a debt. In most cases, it’s a debt they cannot pay. Forgiveness means that you choose to wipe away the debt they owe.
In Matthew 18, Jesus told the story of a slave who owed his king a great deal of money. The slave begged for more time, and the king had compassion and forgave his debts. Later, the slave confronted a friend who owed him a little money. The friend begged for more time, but the slave had him thrown into prison. When the king discovered what happened, he had the slave tortured until he repaid all that he owed. Jesus said, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
2. Extend mercy.
Do you consider yourself to be a good person? If you said yes, then let me ask you a few of questions: Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even something seemingly insignificant? Have you ever lusted? If the answer to any of these is yes, you have broken the Ten Commandments. Were it not for God’s mercy to send His Son to die for your sins, you would be destined for eternity in hell. Aren’t you glad for mercy? The next time your parent says a hurtful word or offends you in some way, remember that God chose to have mercy on you. Instead of seething with anger, look at your parent with compassion, putting aside any bitterness that tries to form in your heart.
3. Share the gospel.
If you had the cure for cancer, wouldn’t you share it? Christians have the cure for a disease far more dangerous than cancer, the kind that destroys the soul. And the answer is Jesus Christ. Have you shared the gospel with your unbelieving parents?
I’ve heard evangelists say that the hardest people to witness to are family members. It’s intimidating. But Jesus said we are blessed when men persecute us for His sake (Matthew 5:11-12). Your parents may never have another chance to hear of salvation. Make it a priority to honor them by telling them about the cure they need.
4. Appreciate the good things.
Everyone on this earth has redeeming qualities. Try to think of as many as you can for your mother or father.
What positive physical attributes did this parent pass to you? What about personality traits? Instead of dwelling on bad memories or scars, consider how God has used this parent to make you the person you are today.
5. Do something as an act of kindness.
Send flowers for no special reason, or call the parent on the phone just to catch up. Use a special skill that you have to meet a need, such as, paint the bathroom, fix the car, or mow the lawn.
6. Choose to speak kindly of them.
Our words are powerful. James 3:5 says, “The tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” Words have the ability to bring death or life. Choose to use words about your parent that will bring life.
Remember the woman at the beginning of this article? She didn’t have much to say about her dad, but what she did say was kind. She could have gone on for hours about the ways he ruined her life, but instead she chose to stop blaming and honor her father, whether he deserved it or not.
7. Consider writing a tribute.
A tribute is essentially an essay written to honor a parent. For more information about writing a tribute, read the article “The Best Gift You Can Give Your Parents.” You can also see examples of tributes at the end of that article. If you don’t have many good things to say, then make it short. The message doesn’t have to be very long, but it can be a powerful time of honor and connection.
8. Teach your children to honor and extend mercy to their grandparents.
Just as you should honor your parents, your children should honor their grandparents. Instruct them to speak kindly of your parents, learn from their mistakes, and extend mercy. Remember that your children will one day be raising your grandchildren and exposing your mistakes. Teach them the same mercy that you would want extended to you.
9. Pray for the parent who mistreated you.
Jesus said to pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:28). How long has it been since you and your children prayed for your father or mother? Make it a priority this week to pray that God would change their hearts, that He would grant them the gift of salvation, and for healing and restoration in your relationships. As you pray, lift those burdens to the Lord and trust in His will. James 5:16 says, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
10. Keep your parents connected with your family.
When relationships are strained, it’s easy to become isolated. Unfortunately, isolation prevents healing and often creates even more awkwardness. Don’t leave your parents out of your life, even if they are antagonistic toward you. Continue to send cards and pictures. Allow them to talk to the children on the phone, or if they are unfit to speak to children, keep communicating in other ways.
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