How does one honor a dishonorable parent? Or perhaps to phrase it differently, how can they honor Christ in a way that is healthy and safe?
I’ve encountered numerous women who’ve been deeply wounded, by the very ones who were supposed to keep them safe. And now they’re struggling with confusion, especially in relation to God’s command in Ephesians 6:1-3 which states, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother—which is the first commandment with a promise—so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on earth.”
First, for those who wince from the sting of past hurts when you hear those words, I want to say, I’m sorry. To those who’ve experienced physical, sexual, or emotional trauma, know that God did not intend nor will He ever condone abuse. He saw you in your pain then, and He sees you in your pain now.
His heart is for you, always. Ephesians 1, which we’ve already read, says, in Christ, you’re chosen, redeemed, and lavished with love and grace. When past hurts rise up and create confusion, we must start there. We must remember Who’s leading us—our loving and faithful Father who gave us His precious Son so that we might live. That’s His heart for us, always, that we might live. Really live.
For those raised by loving parents, I want to say, praise God. Literally, do that—praise God. That’s a precious gift not everyone enjoys. So cherish them, see the good in them, and find ways to let them know how precious they are, even in their imperfections, because we all know we all need Jesus, am I right?
Make sure to show some grace to your brothers and sisters who didn’t have what you did. Understand they’ll wrestle with this Ephesians passage, and give them space to do that. God’s big enough to speak to their hurts and confusion and to lead them closer to Him, to healing, and freedom. That’s one way you can honor them as the deeply loved children of God they are–by giving them space to heal.
Second, let’s unpack this passage a bit. We’re to honor and obey our parents “in the Lord.” This means our actions are in obedience to Him and out of love for Him first and foremost. If our parents ask us to do something that doesn’t align with God’s will, then we choose Christ, each time. If He asks us to set healthy boundaries, to go to counseling, to have hard conversations—we obey. But even then, we’re to love. Like Jesus, we’re to love those who are lovable and those who aren’t.
Love is a choice, not an emotion. It’s a choice to choose kindness and gentleness and self-control. To speak words that build up rather than tear down. But love also must always coexist with truth, which means when the relationship isn’t healthy, we don’t pretend that it is. But even then, even when it's hard to say the right things, we do so in love.
And we’re to honor all people—parents, neighbors, friends, bosses. But honoring doesn’t mean accepting abuse or abandoning healthy boundaries. We know that can’t be because Christ calls us to peace, and biblical peace speaks of wholeness, of “rightness” and health. So, how can we honor dishonorable parents in a way that is healthy?
The Greek word our Bible translates as honor means recognizing one’s value, and we know that all humans were created by God, in His image, which means all life has value. We show honor when we view and treat others as someone created in the image of God.
I don’t know how God will call you to walk that out. You may show honor from a distance or up close. God might lead you to seek healing and restoration or to step away. Sometimes that can be the most God-honoring action to take. But He’ll show you the healthiest and most honoring response for every situation, so seek Him first. Seek His comfort when you’re hurting and His guidance when you're confused. And most importantly, trust His heart as you learn to live wholly loved.