Young People Ask . . .
What If My Parent Falls Short?
“My father has been a Christian for ten years. Now he is inactive. He doesn’t study the Bible, and he doesn’t attend the meetings regularly. He is constantly criticizing his Christian brothers in the congregation. He has worldly views on race and many, many other subjects. I think of him as having many shortcomings.” —A teenage girl.
NO PARENT is perfect. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says the Bible. (Romans 3:23) But it is another thing entirely when one’s mother or father plays the role of a model Christian in public and goes through an ugly transformation in private. “Around others, my father is nice,” says one young girl. “But he’s a different person behind closed doors—he’s mean! He’s critical of everything I do, and he makes everyone in my family feel bad. I’m at the point where I can’t find any joy in life. All I feel for him is hatred.”
Anger and resentment may be particularly intense among youths who are secretly suffering forms of abuse. A woman named Mary thus writes of the “violence, profanity, and abuse of all kinds” that she suffered at the hands of her father—a closet alcoholic. “People would come up to us children and tell us what a wonderful father we had and how fortunate we were,” she bitterly recalls.
The Bible condemns all forms of hypocrisy. (James 3:17) It warns us that even among true worshipers of God, there would be some who “hide what they are.” (Psalm 26:4; compare Jude 4.) Knowing this may not make things any easier, though, when the one practicing hypocrisy is your own parent—someone you are supposed to love and respect. Some youths are overwhelmed by the conflicting emotions that arise. “I need help,” laments one young girl. “The Bible says to ‘honor thy father,’ but I can’t.”
What Honoring Them Really Means
It is true that the Bible’s command to honor one’s parents contains no ‘escape clause’ for youths who feel their parents are undeserving. (Ephesians 6:1, 2) However, honoring a parent does not necessarily mean that you approve of his life-style or that you are happy with the way he treats you.a In the Bible, “honor” can simply mean recognizing duly constituted authority.
For instance, the apostle Peter wrote that Christians should “have honor for the king.” (1 Peter 2:17) Peter knew firsthand that kings were often unsavory characters. King Herod Agrippa I, for example, was an extravagant and reckless man. After being appointed king of Palestine by Rome, he launched a persecution against Christians. He “did away with James the brother of John by the sword. As he saw it was pleasing to the Jews, he went on to arrest Peter also.” (Acts 12:1-3) Yet, Peter did not encourage rebellion. Rather, he promoted obedience to kings. And with good reason. Obedience to secular rulers is Jehovah’s will. And in Peter’s day some kings had absolute power and authority. Solomon said: “All that he delights to do he will do, because the word of the king is the power of control; and who may say to him: ‘What are you doing?’”—Ecclesiastes 8:3, 4.
In a similar way, your parent—whatever his shortcomings—is still in charge and has considerable power over your life. It simply isn’t a wise move, then, to rebel or to treat him with disdain. Not only might doing so make life more difficult for you but it also could cause you to lose favor with God. (Compare Proverbs 30:17; Ecclesiastes 10:4.) On the other hand, cooperating as best you can may help you to maintain at least some semblance of peace and calm in your relationship with your parent.—Colossians 3:20.
Dealing With Anger and Resentment
How, though, can you deal respectfully with someone who has hurt and disappointed you? This is not easy. But constantly dwelling on his errors and shortcomings will only nurture your resentment. Could it be that you need to think more positively of your parent, giving him due credit for any good qualities he may possess?
Note what Proverbs 19:11 says: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger.” Trying to understand your parent may give you a fresh perspective on things. Is he truly behaving wickedly? Or could it simply be that he is weak, discouraged, and in need of help? Could his behavior be a result of illness, depression, loneliness, or job stress? If so, understanding these problems may help you feel more compassion toward your parent and perhaps less anger.
Whatever the case, it helps to talk about your feelings with someone. (Proverbs 12:25) “My Dad used to drink,” recalls one girl. “I couldn’t tell my parents how I felt, so I kept it all inside of me.” You do not have to suffer alone, however. While not replacing parents, mature ones in the Christian congregation can do much to offset any lack of care at home. (Compare Mark 10:30.) Proverbs 17:17 says: “Friends always show their love. What are brothers for if not to share trouble?”—Today’s English Version.
‘I Can Change Him’
Some youths suffer emotionally because of a misguided sense of responsibility. Recalls Mary of herself and her siblings: “We lived in terror that someone would find out about my father’s drinking problem.” Others exhaust themselves by making futile attempts to change their delinquent parent.
As much as you may love and care for your parent, you are simply not to blame for his shortcomings. He ‘carries his own load’ of responsibility before God. (Compare Galatians 6:5; James 5:14.) It is not your responsibility to monitor or control your parent’s conduct. Constantly nagging or berating your parent will only upset him.
This does not mean there is nothing you can do. At the very least, you can “pray incessantly” that your parent undergo a change of heart. (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Regularly expressing your love for him and offering sincere commendation, where appropriate, may also help soften his attitude. Beyond this, you may have little choice but to endure the situation as best you can.b
Of course, if you and your parent are Christians and he is engaging in serious wrongdoing, such as alcohol abuse or fits of anger, you will naturally feel obliged to make sure matters are discussed with the congregation elders. (James 5:14) This would not be an act of disloyalty but would be a loving attempt to see that your parent gets the help he so sorely needs. Granted, some parents have angrily denied any wrongdoing and meted out retribution secretly, but youths who “suffer for the sake of righteousness” in this regard can be assured that Jehovah approves of their courageous course and that in his due time, he will bring the truth to light.—1 Peter 3:14; 1 Timothy 5:24, 25.
Working Out Your Own Salvation
Solomon said: “Mere oppression may make a wise one act crazy.” (Ecclesiastes 7:7) Sad to say, some youths have become embittered by their parent’s poor example and have themselves begun misbehaving. Some have even become enraged against God and have left the Christian way! (Proverbs 19:3) The Bible warns: “Take care that rage does not allure you into spiteful [actions]. Be on your guard that you do not turn to what is hurtful.”—Job 36:18-21.
Rather than worrying excessively about your parent’s standing with God, you need to “keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) In ancient times, a young prince named Hezekiah did so under similar circumstances. His father, King Ahaz, claimed to be a worshiper of Jehovah. (Isaiah 7:10-12) He was really a worshiper of pagan deities, even offering up one of his own sons as a human sacrifice! (2 Kings 16:1-4) Imagine how distressing this prevailing apostasy must have been to young Hezekiah! Psalm 119:28, which some believe was penned by this young prince, says: “My soul has been sleepless from grief. Raise me up according to your word.”
Jehovah did just that! As Hezekiah applied himself to prayer and the study of God’s Word, his own spirituality grew despite his surroundings. (Psalm 119:97) He also carefully guarded his associations. (Psalm 119:63) The result? In spite of the sad example set by his hypocritical father, Hezekiah himself “kept sticking to Jehovah.” (2 Kings 18:6) So can you! Maybe your parent is behaving hypocritically, but there is no need for you to follow suit. Keep sticking to Jehovah, and perhaps your quiet example of faithfulness will one day move your parent to change.
a For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to parents in the male gender.
b This does not mean that a youth must tolerate physical or sexual abuse. A youth in such a situation should seek help, even if that means going outside of the family to get it.
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You do not have to fall short because your parent does