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reframing your picture of honor

Author: Shelby Rawson

“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16 ESV)

Alex stood before the card section in Kroger, just staring. He was unsuccessfully looking for a card. None of the cards had the right words. Thirty minutes passed as he watched person after person reach for cards, read their words, smile to themselves, and walk away satisfied with their purchases. 

Their faces blurred as Alex’s mind focused on a memory … He was six years old. They were at his grandparent’s house for Thanksgiving. Cousins running around, plates of food, football on the television, card games, beer, and so much liquor.

No holiday was ever spent in Alex’s family without drunk men and women. Some drunks were funny and some drunks were cruel. And little boys were an easy target for thoughtless jokes.

“Hey, Alex. Come’ere, bud,” his uncle smirked when he called him over to his chair. “Where’d you get that haircut? It looks like somebody took a weed whacker to your head, son!”

Alex knew better than to say anything, so he just stood there sheepishly staring at the floor and cracking his knuckles to deal with the tension building in his body. His uncle continued making fun of him while his dad threw in his own jabs and laughs at his son’s expense … Not once did he chime in and take responsibility for the horrible buzz-cut he’d given him.  

The day he grabbed the clippers and told Alex it was time to get a man’s haircut was burned in his mind. His dad hated his curls and told him they made him look like a little pansy. “You’re not gonna look like a girl anymore. And don’t even think about crying,” his dad sneered.

He secretly hoped his mom would stick up for him. He often found himself wishing she would just be in his corner for once instead of shrinking while his dad made him feel like he was the butt of every joke and the reason he always seemed to be disappointed and angry.

None of these Hallmark-esque scribbles came anywhere close to the feelings Alex had for either of his parents. He had spent his entire childhood putting his heart out there and repeatedly learning it wasn’t safe with them. His dad’s version of love was distant and critical, masquerading as “helpful instruction.” While his mom just survived backed into a deep corner of her own heart.

Alex remained frozen, his mind pondering reality.

Do they make cards that just say, “If you hadn’t been born, I wouldn’t exist. Thanks so much.”? Or “Thanks for keeping me alive. Satisfactory job.”?

Or, God forbid I even attempt a Father’s Day card … Is there a card that says, “Happy Father’s Day. Thank you for all that helpful instruction! I’ll never use power tools after a six-pack.”?? Or maybe … “It’s Father’s Day. I hope you’ve become as great as you always said you were.”

I refuse to lie anymore. I refuse to falsely show honor or make excuses for my parents’ failure to love me.

No card expressed the truth of Alex’s story.

It’s easy to choose a card when your mom packed your lunch, made birthday cakes, cheered at your t-ball games, or gave you hugs every day. All of those things show love or kindness, at the very least. 

It’s easy to find a card for a Dad who threw the ball with you, took you for ice cream, and encouraged you to be a man. Each of those actions is nice, but they are especially good for the heart when they can be done without criticism and judgment.

As a believer, you know that you are supposed to honor your father and mother. You know that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are designed for showing honor to your parents. You know that birthdays are meant for recognition and celebration of life. You know that people make phone calls, send texts, give cards, and buy gifts. 

So when your gut is churning and your jaw is clenching at the thought of sending a bunch of words that show zero representation of your actual parental relationship, you feel anything but honor. You may feel angry, sad, hurt, lonely, guilty, or a combination of feelings. 

Your life didn’t look like an American Greetings card …

Your dad didn’t know how to love you. He paid more attention to Jim Beam and Jack Daniels than his own kids. Or maybe he resented you for forcing him to grow up before he was ready … so he just didn’t.

Your mom didn’t protect you. She didn’t guard your innocence. She introduced you to shame and confusion. And you’ve paid the price for her failures physically, mentally, and emotionally.  

Now let’s add to this the picture of honor that the world paints. It’s pretty dramatic, right?

We tend to associate honor with this grand gesture we bestow on another person. We honor veterans, fallen soldiers, former NFL players, and retirees. We hang engraved plaques. We write articles. We have ceremonies. Heck, we even have parades to show honor.

And, of course, we have dedicated holidays for each of our parents, set aside for us to honor them. Teachers do crafts with their students, restaurants hold special brunches, churches pass out flowers, and grocery stores stock up on bouquets. 

So, we develop this ideal in our minds of what honoring our parents looks like. It comes with the pressure of pretentious perfection. And you know what? That ideal is wrong. 

Honor in its most simplified definition is showing respect for another person. Respect doesn’t need to be shouted from the rooftops, it doesn’t have to be paraded in front of anybody. Respect can be quiet. Honor can be silent.

The way you honor your parents isn’t up to Hallmark or your local flower shop. Honoring your parents is between you and the God who has written every page of your story—including the days you may want to forget. 

Take a minute to pause and consider that honoring your parents can look very different than what you’ve imagined up to this point. It’s time to let go of those ideals that have been trained into your thinking. Honor can be simple.

Honor may look like making a decision to stop speaking negatively about your parent. You can honor your mom by biting your tongue rather than sharing the ugly truth. 

This doesn’t mean that you fill your silence with lies. In other words, you’re not skipping cards with disingenuous sentiments and replacing them with fake words or memories. 

It means that you make a conscious effort to bridle your tongue. It means when you are given the opportunity to air your mom’s dirty laundry, you keep it to yourself. That is a way to honor a mother who was absent physically or emotionally. There may be no card for that, and that’s okay. 

And what if your parent is still very much a part of your life, but continues to be harmful? How can you show honor to a parent like that? 

Think about something this parent does really well—it doesn’t need to have anything to do with parenting. It could be something like cleaning, baking, woodworking, gardening, or decorating.

You can show honor to a dad who is great at carpentry by asking for his input or help on a carpentry project. Could you look it up on Google or Pinterest? Of course you could. But, this is a simple way to allow your dad to give his input and feel respected. 

Both of these forms of honor make space for honesty and authenticity. They don’t require you to deny your reality or to ignore your history with a parent who has hurt you repeatedly. And yet, either of these practices can be done as a way to be obedient to the commandment to honor your father and mother. 

Holidays don’t matter in God’s eyes, honor matters. You can honor your relationship with the only Father who will never leave you or forsake you by showing small acts of respect to your earthly parents. 

There isn’t a predetermined formula for honoring your parents. You don’t need to rely on your imagination in a card aisle to buy a card with hollow words. You don’t need to buy flowers, send gifts, or make dinner to show honor to your parents. 

You may need to honor your parents by remaining safe behind much-needed boundaries. Don’t confuse showing honor to a parent with putting your heart in harm’s way by subjecting yourself to unhealthy behavior. That isn’t honor. 

Honoring a parent doesn’t demand that you ignore harmful behavior. Honoring a parent doesn’t demand your dignity. And honoring a parent doesn’t demand you live a lie to protect them. 

Your parents don’t get to tell you how to honor them. Your siblings don’t get to tell you how to honor your parents. And strangers writing cards don’t get to tell you how to honor your parents. 

Honoring your mother and father isn’t just for your parents. God tells us to do it knowing there is a benefit in it for you. Things will go well with you when you honor your parents. The Bible doesn’t tell you how your parents benefit from honoring them, it tells you how you will benefit from honoring them. 

Think of it this way. We came from our parents. We carry their DNA. When we look in the mirror, we see their eyes staring back at us, we see their hair color, dimples, freckles, or smile.

We are biologically connected to our mothers and fathers. And we tend to hate the parts of ourselves that we identify with the parent who hurt us. So when we can find no way to honor our parents, it does something to us … 

It affects how we see ourselves. We see ourselves as just a little less worthy of being honored by someone, a little less worthy of being admired, and a little less worthy of being loved because we are inextricably bound to a person who put scars on our hearts.

Find a way to honor your parents in your heart so you can stop associating yourself with a lie about who you are. Biology makes you related to another person, but it doesn’t make you eternally connected. 

And no matter what kind of parents you’ve had, there is one Father who you can always relate to. There is a Father who you can always connect your identity to because He made you. 

He knit you together in your mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13) He chose your eye color. He gave you those dimples. He placed every curl on your head. He knows your laugh. And He recognizes each of your smiles.

He knows your every thought and move. He knows your yesterdays, todays, and all of your tomorrows. He is intimately familiar with every page of your life story. And He knows why it’s hard for you to show honor to your mother and father. 

God wants good things for you. Honoring your parents is good for your heart. Let your Father help you practice honor—not American Greetings, not Hallmark, not posting on Facebook or Instagram. Love yourself by taking the pressure off and reframing your picture of honor.