What It Looks Like to 'Honor' My Mother and Father as a Christian With Abusive Parents

Christians everywhere are aware of the words of Ephesians 6:2 — “Honor your father and mother.” For those of us with abusive parents, this is a very hard commandment to keep. It is one that brings much angst and guilt, tears and pain as we wrestle with our desire to please God. It is one that is fraught with confusion as we try to figure out how best to honor them, without harming ourselves.

After much tearful prayer, I came to the conclusion that just as there are different types of families (for example, loving ones and abusive ones) there are also different kinds of honoring.

When we honor abusive parents in a way that protects us and our own families, we are in fact still fulfilling the commandment. We need not feel guilt that we do not honor them through close contact – although that may be considered traditional in our society, or among members of our Christian congregation.

Which brings me to the big question.

How do we honor abusive parents?

We honor them by not returning the abuse they gave to us.

We honor them by praying on their behalf for them to find the courage and knowledge to improve, change and transform their own lives.

We honor them by not enabling their bad behavior, or allowing them to continue their abusive ways with us, or others under our own protection.

We honor them by giving them clear boundaries and consequences if they are not remorseful, repentant or willing to work towards ending their abusive ways.

We honor them by stopping the cycle, not allowing their abusive legacy to continue in how we treat our own children.

We honor them by being good people who bring honor to God and establish a good reputation for our own family.

Remember the sons of Korah. Although their father, and his friends and their families died for their rebellion, the sons of Korah were saved. Numbers 26:11 reminds us of this: “However, the sons of Korah did not die that day.” Come could have reasoned that they were not obeying their father when they refused to support him in his rebellion against Moses and Aaron, but instead they realized their loyalty to God and their love for others was more important than loyalty to any human when they are behaving in a bad way.

So while we do our best to honor our parents, it does not always mean putting them first in our lives to the exclusion of our own mental and even physical health. We do what we can to take care of their physical and emotional needs, and we pray for their spiritual needs, but the time we spend with them may need to be limited for our own protection, and that of those we love.

Unsplash photo via Ben White

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