How to Honor Your Father or Mother Who Wasn't There

I was four when mom and dad divorced, too early for me to recall. What I remember is dad winning custody and mom living an hour away. I visited her occasionally, never longer than a weekend, until she moved out of State when I was nine. Calls and cards became more sporadic until they ceased entirely in my early teens. Shortly after coming to faith, I wrote my mom a letter expressing good will. Her reply was brief, cordial, and the last I received. Twenty years have lapsed since hearing her voice. You could say she was an absent parent.

I believe the command, “honor your father and mother,” includes absent parents (Ex 20:12). What is harder to determine is how Christians fulfill it. Certainly, we are not obligated to obey, imitate, or admire our parents when they sin. The biblical term for honor is actually rooted in the idea of weightiness. Basically, honoring means thinking and acting under heavy, even reverential respect for the divinely-appointed position someone holds.

Here are six ways Christians honor absent parents.

1. FORGIVE THEM

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “forgive us... as we forgive those who sin against us” (Mt 6:12). Forgiving your absent parent does not merit your own forgiveness before God. What it does provide is essential evidence of your living faith and indwelling Spirit. Whoever has been forgiven much will love much (Lk 7:47). Certainly, every believer has sinned more against their heavenly Father than their earthly parent sin against them.

Despite the cliche, forgiveness does not always mean forgetting wrongs. Wisdom dictates that you note potential dangers to self and others, such as a history of abuse, before inviting them back into your life. Nevertheless, the Lord calls you to show forgiveness by continually letting go of ill-will and desiring God's blessing for those who wrong you.

2. PRAY FOR THEM

Children who were neglected sometimes struggle to receive God's fatherly love as well as the motherly nurture of the Church. Jesus’ warned, “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Lk 17:2). Unless reconciled to Christ, absent parents sit under heavier judgment for abandoning their posts. Honor your absent parent by praying earnestly for God to forgive their sins and transform their lives.

3. ADDRESS THEM HONORABLY

Unless requested otherwise, honor absent parents by addressing with the God-given titles of “father” or “mother”. If you have adoptive or step parents, it may be necessary to distinguish absent parents with a qualifier of some sort. In my case, I prefer to say “natural"—instead of “biological” or “real”—mother. In God's sight, the relationship parents have toward their offspring is never purely physical, but holistic, entailing spiritual responsibility. Second, describing my natural mother as “real,” in contrast to my stepmother, would devalues the equally real role the latter assumed.

It should go without saying, but Christians ought to shun hateful terms for absent parents. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Eph 4:1) Such language not only continues the cycle of abuse, but suggests inward contempt for God’s providential appointment. The Bible illustrates this in the story of King Saul entering a cave unaware of David hiding at his feet. David, sensing a chance to prove his harmless intent, cuts a piece of cloth from the King’s robe. Behind this apparently innocent act, however, was sin:

“Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” (1 Sam 24:5-6)

Saul may not have been a good king, but he was God’s chosen king and therefore entitled to a degree of respect. By cutting Saul's royal robe, David disgraced a symbol of divinely appointed authority. Similarly, addressing parents by hateful names, rather than their appointed titles, hacks at the honor God chooses to clothe them in. Vengeance belongs to the Lord.

4. BE THANKFUL FOR WHAT THEY DID (OR DID NOT) DO

Honor absent parents by appreciating whatever tokens of care they expressed during your childhood. Personally, I am grateful for the care and affection my mother showed during my infancy and pre-teen years. Without her early nurture, I'd be a different person. You might also consider any positive influence an absent parent had on you. For instance, my mom was an artist who worked for local gift shops. Most of our time together was spent watching her paint porcelain houses, or meticulously transcribe original poems onto greeting cards. During those hours, I learned to draw and write poems of my own. Whether or not she meant to, my mother shaped my deep appreciation of art and writing to this day.

5. WELCOME THEM

Supposing absent parents don't pose any serious danger, one way to show them honor is to maintain an open door for relationship. If you have contact information, call or write yearly. Say something like, “I'm just letting you know, I believe God brought us together and I regard you as family. You are welcome to call or join us for holidays.” Ask what you might pray for. Whether or not they reciprocate, you've done your part. 

6. PROVIDE SUPPORT IF NECESSARY

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for permitting adults to tithe that should have gone toward providing for temporal needs of their parents (Mk 7). Christ's logic is simple. When age, disease, or hardship prevent parents from providing for themselves, children ought to care for them, having received the same in youth. But what if your father or mother did not look after for you during childhood? Does failure to invest early disqualify parents from later drawing on God's family plan? Perhaps. I believe it is better for recipients of God's merciful love to ask, “what would be the gracious thing to do?” The Gospel doesn't stop at the letter of the law. 

CONCLUSION

Living by faith in a sin-broken world means looking beyond our broken human relationships to the faithfulness of God. Rejoice in the good news that God has proven his eternal commitment to his children. The Father sent his Son to redeem, and his Spirit to work out your adoption into the family. “Father, you loved them,” says Jesus, “even as you loved me” (Jn 17:23). The Lord is never absent.

I pray God grants you opportunities to minister to your parents. Pray for me likewise. If you have ideas of your own, please share them.

Gaining Wisdom to Counsel

For most of us, counseling is neither easy nor comfortable. Shattered lives have a way of slicing our confidence as advice-givers, exposing the triteness of our answers. Understandably, you might be tempted not to get involved. Leave counseling to the "experts".

God Uses the Weak

The miracle of ministry is that God uses ordinary people to dispense divine gifts of mercy and wisdom, not in spite of our weakness, but because of it:

"We have this treasure [the indwelling Spirit of Christ] in jars of clay [frail human nature], to show that the surpassing power [which he works in and through us] belongs to God and not to us." (2 Cor 4:7)

Far from being a liability, a sense of personal inability is a fundamental qualification of Christian faith and service. Weakness puts you on your knees so that you can look up to the Lord. Proper training is has its place, but as everyday Christians act in dependence on the Spirit and in accord with the Word, God's wisdom often manifests itself in surprising ways. 

Gaining Wisdom

All the same, wisdom is acquired through practice. It grows out of intentional habits: always seeking to make the best decision among multiple valid options; reflecting on past outcomes and future possibilities before making choices. Observing the same in others.

Remember the old alphabet paper of childhood, the kind with bright blue lines that we wrote the A-B-C's on repeatedly? The Bible is like that. Scripture provides certain guidelines we must stay between to have legible godliness. Wisdom, however, is more like penmanship. You gain wisdom over time by carefully, constantly tracing patterns drawn by others. Eventually, a kind of "muscle memory" develops which is able to account for different circumstances and produce crisp words of counsel. If the Ten Commandments provide the basic letters of Christian life, wisdom writes them in cursive.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, in whom subsides perfect insight and understanding, please grant and increase in me wisdom to give spiritual counsel. Not for my own glory, do I ask, but for Christ's pleasure and for the benefit of others whom you delight to bless. In know your means of imparting wisdom can be unpleasant, even painful, but I believe your promise that treasure gained is eternal. By your grace, in due time, I look forward to directing others in paths of godliness and peace. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Humans are Not Made for the Ant Heap

Humans are Not Made for the Ant Heap

Cultural programs that require depersonalization and denial of the individual are inherently flawed and doomed to fail. Humans are image bearers of one God who is three Persons, indivisibly united yet distinct. As such, our species is made for diversity in harmony, not peace at the price of uniformity. A secular author who expressed this instinct well was Aldous Huxley. In 1958, under the Cold War cloud of communist experiments, he observed in Brave New World Revisited...

Let Your Deeds Be Your Deposits

Some friends of mine are serving as missionaries in Ghana. From what I gather, it is not easy work. Just yesterday, though, I came upon an encouraging passage from Ignatius' letter to Polycarp, written in the first century. He urged the younger pastor,

"Be more zealous than you are... lend everybody a hand, as the Lord does you... Let your deeds be your deposits, so that you will eventually get back considerable savings."

The reward which God shall grant for our works done in faith is of grace. It will nonetheless be a reward proportioned to our service, while greatly outweighing any opportunity costs involved. I'm jealous for the blessing the Lord is preparing on behalf of my missionary friends, doubtless one that will crown Christ admirably. Because I cannot have their reward, but must receive one suited to my service, I will need to serve all the more heartily so that I can share the same joy with them in glory. Lord, bless us all to run the race so as to win.

The only lasting way forward for race relations

In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a paper titled, "It is not enough to condemn black power." In it, he wrote that "the majority of Negroes want to share power to bring about a community in which neither power nor dignity will be colored black or white." His words were directed to a minority within the black community who used violence as a means of securing justice, which King roundly condemned. This clip of a young man using wisdom, reason, and love to seek peace and understanding, captures the spirit of King's noble aim. I was especially impressed with the unity in Christ which this young man placed above (not in denial of) differences of race. For what it's worth, I invite any of my brothers and sisters to pray with me, and I will pray for you, regardless of your color or culture.

The only lasting way forward is for individuals to be converted and transformed by their spiritual identity. There is "neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ" (Gal 3:28). United to Jesus, the Head of the Body, the white man must say of his black brother, “he is blood of my blood, my own flesh in Christ, created black for God's glory.” Likewise, the black Christian must say of his white brethren, “our eternal, fraternal union is defined by faith, not color.” The glory which shall be shared equally among races in the New Creation is revealed now in the equity of our love for one another. For that reason, I have more substantial commonality with persons of another race or even language, with whom I share the Spirit, than I would with an otherwise identical clone of myself if he were not converted.