Why Should I ‘Honor My Father and My Mother’?
“HONOR your father and your mother.” To many youths these words sound like something out of the Dark Ages.
Young Veda declared open rebellion against her father by dating a boy who abused drugs and alcohol. Defiantly, she would also go out dancing till the early morning hours. “I felt that he was too strict,” Veda explains. “I was 18 years old, and I thought I knew it all. I felt my father was mean and just didn’t want me to have a good time, so I went out and did what I wanted to do.”
Most youths would probably disapprove of Veda’s actions. Yet, if their parents ordered them to clean their room, do their homework, or be in by a certain hour, many would seethe with resentment or, worse yet, would openly defy their parents! How a youth views his parents, though, can ultimately mean not only the difference between war and peace at home but also his very life. For the command to ‘honor your parents’ comes from God, and he attaches the following incentive to heeding this commandment: “That it may go well with you and you may endure a long time on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:2, 3) The stakes are high. Let us, therefore, take a fresh look at what honoring your father and your mother really means.
What ‘Honoring’ Them Means
“Honor” involves recognizing duly constituted authority. For instance, Christians are commanded to “have honor for the king.” (1 Peter 2:17) While you may not always agree with a national ruler, his position or office is still to be respected. Similarly, God has vested parents with certain authority in the family. This means that you must recognize their God-given right to make rules for you. True, other parents may be more lenient than yours are. Your parents, though, have the job of deciding what is best for you—and different families may have different standards.
It is also true that even the best of parents can occasionally be arbitrary—even unfair. But at Proverbs 7:1, 2 one wise parent said: “My son [or daughter], . . . keep my commandments and continue living.” Likewise, your parents’ rules, or “commandments,” are usually intended for your good and are an expression of their genuine love and concern.
John, for example, had repeatedly been told by his mother that he should always use the walkway over the six-lane highway near their home. One day, two girls from school dared him to take the shortcut across the road itself. Ignoring their taunts of “chicken!” John took the walkway. Partway across, John heard the sound of screeching tires. Looking down, he watched in horror as the two girls were hit by a car and hurled into the air! Granted, obeying your parents is seldom a matter of life and death. Nevertheless, obedience usually benefits you.
‘Honoring your parents’ also means accepting correction, not sulking or throwing tantrums when it is administered. Only a fool “disrespects the discipline of his father,” says Proverbs 15:5.
Finally, showing honor means more than just rendering formal respect or begrudging obedience. The original Greek verb rendered “honor” in the Bible basically means to consider someone as of great value. Parents should thus be viewed as precious, highly esteemed, and dear to you. This involves having warm, appreciative feelings for them. However, some youths have anything but warm feelings toward their parents.
Problem Parents—Worthy of Honor?
A youth named Gina wrote: “My dad drank so much, and I couldn’t sleep because my parents would argue and shout a lot. I would lie on the bed and just cry. I could not tell them how I felt about it because my mom would probably hit me. The Bible says ‘honor thy father,’ but I can’t.”
Parents who are hot-tempered or immoral, who are drunkards, or who bicker with each other—are they really worthy of honor? Yes, for the Bible condemns holding any parent “in derision.” (Proverbs 30:17) Proverbs 23:22 further reminds us that your parents have “caused your birth.” This alone is reason to honor them. Gregory, who at one time was very disrespectful, now says: “I thank Jehovah God that [my mother] didn’t abort me or dump me in a garbage can as a baby. She is a single parent, and there were six of us. I know it was tough on her.”
Though they are less than perfect, your parents have also made many sacrifices for you. “One time all we had left to eat was a can of corn and some grits,” continues Gregory. “My mom fixed it for us kids, but she didn’t eat. I went to bed full, but I kept wondering why Mom didn’t eat. Now that I have my own family, I realize she was sacrificing for us.” (One research study puts the cost of raising a child to age 18 at $66,400.)
Realize, too, that just because a parent’s example is not the best, this does not mean that everything he or she tells you is wrong. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders were corrupt. Yet, Jesus told the people: “All the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds.” (Matthew 23:1-3, 25, 26) Could not this principle be applied to some parents?
Dealing With Feelings of Resentment
What if you feel that a parent is seriously abusing his or her authority?* Stay calm. Rebelling accomplishes nothing, neither does hateful, spiteful behavior. (Ecclesiastes 8:3, 4; compare Ecclesiastes 10:4.) One 17-year-old girl came to resent her parents because they were preoccupied with their own squabbles and seemed indifferent toward her. Resentment toward them was then directed toward the Bible principles her parents had tried to teach her. Out of sheer spite, she ventured into sexual immorality and drug abuse. “I felt I owed my parents one,” was her bitter explanation. But by being spiteful, she only hurt herself.
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) Realize that parents are responsible before Jehovah for their conduct and will answer for any serious injustices.—Colossians 3:25.
Proverbs 19:11 says: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.” At times it is best to try to forgive and forget a parent’s hurtful actions. Rather than dwell on his faults, focus on his good qualities. Dody, for example, had an insensitive mom and an alcoholic stepdad. Notice how her insight into their shortcomings stifled bitterness. She says: “Perhaps my mom never showed us love because, as an abused child, she was never taught how. My stepfather showed an interest in our activities when he was sober, but that wasn’t very often. Yet, my sister and I always had a roof over our heads and food in the refrigerator.”
Fortunately, wayward or neglectful parents are a minority. More than likely your parents take an interest in you and try to set a good example. Even so, you may feel some resentment toward them at times. “Sometimes when I was discussing a problem with Mom and she couldn’t see my point,” admits a young man named Roger, “I’d get mad and say something out of spite just to hurt her. It was my way of getting back at her. But when I walked away, I felt so bad, and I knew she didn’t feel good either.”
Thoughtless words may ‘stab’ and ‘cause pain,’ but they will not solve your problems. “The tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Proverbs 12:18; 15:1) “Though it was hard, I would go back and apologize,” explains Roger. “I could then discuss the problem more calmly, and we could get it solved.”
‘What My Dad Said Was Right’
Interestingly, some youths wear themselves and their parents out resisting parental instructions, only to find out later that their parents were right all along. Consider Veda (mentioned at the outset), for example. She went out riding with her boyfriend one day. He was high on marijuana and beer. The car went out of control and struck a lamppost at 60 miles per hour [100 km/hr]. Veda survived—with a deep gash on her forehead. The boyfriend fled the scene, never even showing up at the hospital to help her.
“When my parents arrived at the hospital,” confessed Veda, “I told them that everything my dad had said was right and that I should have listened a long time ago. . . . I had made a big mistake, and it almost cost my life.” After that, Veda made some big changes in her attitude toward her parents.
Perhaps some changes would be appropriate on your part too. ‘Honoring your parents’ may indeed seem to be an old-fashioned idea. But not only is it the smart thing to do it is also the right thing to do in the eyes of God. What, though, if you want to show your parents respect but feel misunderstood or perhaps hemmed in by restrictions? Let’s examine how you can improve your lot in such situations.
We are not referring here to cases of physical or sexual abuse in which a youth may need to seek professional help from outside the home.
Questions for Discussion
□ What does it mean to honor one’s parents?
□ Why do parents make so many rules? Can those rules benefit you?
□ Do you have to honor your parents if their conduct is reproachful? Why?
□ What are some productive ways of dealing with the resentment you might occasionally feel toward your parents? What are some foolish ways?
[Blurb on page 16]
“I felt my father was mean and just didn’t want me to have a good time, so I went out and did what I wanted to do”
[Picture on page 12]
How should you view your parents’ rules?
[Picture on page 14]
Must you honor parents whose conduct is reproachful?