Honor your parents, even when you think you can't

An attractive businesswoman was conflicted by competing emotions. There was no way she could honor her father, she wailed. He had been a source of great pain in her life, and she could not sincerely obey the direct command of the Scriptures, "Honor your father and mother" in Deuteronomy 6:15. It would be hypocritical to pretend he was a loving, caring parent, when she knew him to be abusive. She had just come from his funeral, which made her feelings even more acute.

As I listened to her horrible childhood stories, I felt a sense of compassion, because I had always struggled with the idea of honoring my mother who seemed to be incapable of expressing love toward her children.

But from my own experience, I had to take this lady to the rest of that commandment, which reads: "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth." When Paul referenced this fifth of the Ten Commandments in Ephesians 6:1-3, he said this was "the first commandment with promise." There is a somewhat selfish component to obeying this commandment. If a person will obey it, regardless of their emotions or the nature of their relationship with their parents, their life will be better and longer. The benefit accrues to the one showing honor.

She admitted that her hatred for her father had spilled over into her relationships with other men, destroying three marriages and placing barriers with her own sons. Her sisters had experienced similar results.

The idea in Scripture of "honoring" someone means to place a value upon them, recognizing the positive contributions they made to our lives. We can do that in a healthy, honest way without being hypocritical or dishonest. For instance, I received the gift of song, a love for scholarship, and a desire for writing from my mother, a very talented woman. Instead of accentuating areas of her weakness because of her dysfunctional background, I made a deliberate choice to thank God for the positive contributions Mom made to my life.

Anyone upon whom we bestow honor, except God, will be someone who has obvious flaws. If we refuse to honor others because of their sins, we will never honor anyone. In the process, we will be the losers as our lives become calloused, hardened and all our other relationships suffer. That's how life gets harder.

When we "honor" others, particularly our parents, we are acknowledging the positive contribution they made to our lives. We are not self-made people but the result of the confluence of the tributaries God has allowed to flow into our lives. In this process, we are humbling ourselves and heaven loves to flow into the basin of humble lives. As we "honor" others, the blessedness of that humility spills over into our own life. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). They will receive in kind what they export. We cannot be gracious to others without some of that spilling back upon us.

Twice in Jesus' ministry, women honored him by anointing his feet and head with the most precious ointment they possessed (Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8). The unintended consequence of their sincere expression was that they left that encounter with the scent of the perfume on themselves. They were a beneficiary of their own action.

After leading this business executive through prayers of agonizing confession of the sins of her father, I urged her to also confess the contributions he had made. Profuse tears of relief accompanied deep, heartfelt prayer. With a smile through her ruined cosmetics, she left our encounter to go find her sisters so they might place some roses on her father's grave.

Nothing had changed his condition, because his story was finished. He would stand before the righteous judge of all. But his daughters were the winners, because their life had just begun by "honoring" him.