“Honor thy father and mother” isn’t just a passing reference in the Bible. It’s one of the Ten Commandments, as well as a recurring theme throughout scripture. As much as we might like to, we don’t grow out of it, and it isn’t conditional.
If you and your parents don’t always get along or you don’t feel like you had the ideal upbringing, this commandment can be harder for adults than it is for children. So, how do you honor your father and mother after a strained relationship?
“That Your Days May Be Long”
“Honor your father and mother” is the fifth commandment. It’s the first commandment that explains how we should interact with other people—the first four set out how we should interact with God. It’s also one of the only commandments that comes with an explanation:
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“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”Exodus 20:12
I update this language when I’m talking to the child in my life: “Your mother and I didn’t live this long by being fools.”
Your parents being older than you doesn’t mean that they have lived all of their lives in perfect wisdom. But, you can learn from their mistakes and still honor them.
Let’s look back to the first book of the Bible at one of the first patriarchs:
Noah and His Sons
Having gathered his family and built the ark that restarted the world after the great flood, Noah had a lot on his shoulders. When the waters receded,
“[Noah] became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent.”Genesis 9:21
Ham, one of Noah’s sons, finds Noah lying there.
Instead of caring for Noah, Ham goes out and tells everyone about Noah’s shameful condition. Noah’s other two sons take a garment and “[cover] the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away” (Genesis 9:23). When Noah wakes up, he blesses the two sons that cared for him while the third son gossiped.
The moral of the story isn’t that what Noah did was okay. It was certainly a shameful moment of weakness for one of the Bible’s great heroes. But it does mean that we can still care for our parents when they make mistakes.
The Noah Story and My Relationship With My Father
There’s still more that we can learn from this event in the life of Noah, namely that the patriarchs, like our own parents, made mistakes because they are human. You can argue that our parents deserve honor and respect just for “making it this long,” but that doesn’t mean they have it all figured out.
There were a few years that my father didn’t win any Father of the Year awards. It was easy for me to be resentful about our relationship, but I was being selfish. I wanted my father to be what I expected a father to be, but I didn’t see myself as just one part in a very long story. My father was dealing with his own upbringing.
His father, in addition to having potentially struggled with being a veteran, had lost his own father at an early age. My father was doing his best with what he had learned from my grandfather, who hadn’t really had a father to learn from at all.
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When I was old enough to see that, my relationship with my father improved. Our relationship isn’t perfect, and there are rough patches, but I also think of our relationship when I deal with the child in my life. I try to think of her needs and make sure that I am doing what is best for her but also taking care of my own health and wellness.
To Honor Is to Understand
Honoring your father and mother doesn’t mean giving them a pass on all of their mistakes. If their mistakes seem like too much, honoring them can simply mean understanding that they were living their own lives. Those lives had challenges, and raising you didn’t make them go away.
Even when it might not have felt like it, your parents were probably doing the best that they could, and they could use your support.