A theme running through the Bible, both Old and New Testaments is that of honouring our parents. There are times when we all face difficulty doing this, and I know that I have difficulty here both normally, and also during periods of mental ill-health.
The Bible specifically says “honour your father and mother” seven times, with five of those times occurring in the New Testament. There are, of course, many related verses. If you are interested, the specific verses are Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Matthew 15:4, 19:19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20 and Ephesians 6:2-3.
Honouring our parents is part of the Ten Commandments, number five, specifically. As Paul says in Ephesians, it is “the first commandment with a promise” – in that Exodus says:
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12 NIV)
I think no Christian would argue that we should not honour our parents, although an important codicil is that we may be required to give up our family for Jesus, should that be necessary. It is important to note that Jesus does not tell us to dishonour our parents, but warns us that we may be forced to leave them for his sake.
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29 NIV)
Honour and respect go hand in hand, but sometimes prove difficult for me. I love my parents, but sometimes we argue, we fall out, we get irritated by each other. There are times I catch myself criticising my parents, and not giving them the same benefit of the doubt that I might give to a stranger or a friend. In fact, I am much more likely to argue with my parents than with a friend.
Part of that comes from how close we are. I live with my parents, and have done since university. I see them every day, for most of the day. I have tried to create a little distance by having my own “study” (from whence I am writing this) because otherwise we end up getting irritated. The phrase “familiarity brings contempt” springs to mind.
Let me tell you about my parents. My dad is a lovely man, very even-tempered and gentle, he likes to take his time thinking things through before doing them. He also likes being silly! He hates losing his temper and raising his voice and, unfortunately, it has usually been me that has caused that, although not for a long time now. My mother has a fiery Irish temper, is very passionate about things that she believes in, and is given to inappropriately telling me about her sex life. I tend to clash with my mum more often – perhaps because we are quite similar in some ways. She has become increasingly impatient as she’s grown older, and has also become very racist in recent years.
Mum once said to me that she thinks bipolar keeps me in a teenager-like state. I don’t know if that is true for other people but it seems to be for me. When I’m not well the world irritates me and, given that I am a polite person who makes an effort to be easygoing, when things/people are irritating me the only people I take it out on are my parents. I have many memories of getting irritated over silly things, particularly in a depression, things which wouldn’t bother me normally. Like getting irritated at watching mum’s soaps or crime programmes, instead of saying “actually I’d like to watch…” I might sit and sulk or start nit-picking trying to start an argument.
Why do I do it? I know I shouldn’t argue with my parents, who love me very much and who are good people, but neither do I think I should be a doormat. By which I mean that I should give respect to the people who brought me into the world but I don’t think respect means the same as doing whatever is asked, even if it is unreasonable. But it doesn’t mean shouting and being insulting either, even if I’m being asked to do something I disagree with.
Really, I know I have a problem here. I want to obey God’s command, I also want to obey him because I believe that my parents are due respect and honour for all the many things that they have done for me. I had no problem honouring my grandparents when they were alive, but it is harder to take a step back from emotions when it comes to the people closest to me. We are emotionally entangled in a way that I am not with other people, and they know me better than other people. As such I sometimes seem to expect that my parents understand me as though they were me, understand my actions and my moods and not have an emotional response to me at all. It always surprises me when they do become angry at my behaviour, because in a way I expect them not to have emotions to be hurt, not when it comes to me. Of course that is ridiculous, but that is the subtext behind my actions sometimes, that we are so close that what I say doesn’t have any effect, that I cannot hurt them because we are family.
I need some self-restraint. I think being very close to family makes me let it all hang out and not think about the impact of what I might do and say. That to me is the greatest honour, respecting other people’s emotions and actions and not ascribing them to malevolent intent, not saying things to hurt, of treating them as precious to me, to be placing them in a place of high esteem. It means listening to them, to seriously considering everything they say and teach.
I need to think more about what I do and say. I am impulsive by nature, but I need to try to tone down that impulsiveness and not just go around saying whatever I think. I need to be more measured, more thoughtful, more like my dad in fact. I am aware that I get more impulsive and more irritable if I am depressed but I think if I start good habits while well, perhaps the nastier person I become when depressed will be a little less nasty. Perhaps.
“Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” (Pro 23:22)