Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Taking the Fifth (Commandment)

Honor your father and mother.
This first commandment with a promise has potential to cause angst in children, both young and old. And I'm not entirely sure we've had complete teaching on it. While some of us are not parents, all of us are someone's child. So no one gets a free pass.

If I think honor is my right as a parent, I do not understand the commandment.

If I think I can make my children honor me, I do not understand the commandment.

If I think honor is whatever I say it is, I do not understand the commandment.

Like the rest of the Ten Commandments, the fifth commandment is part of what a covenant people looks like. We don't obey the Ten Commandments to get saved; we obey them because we are saved.

And like the other commandments, the fifth commandment is a divine transaction. Honoring parents is how covenant children honor God. I hate to say this, moms and dads, but when it comes to honor, we're just the middle men. This is an issue between children and the God they serve. Honor has nothing to do with our self-esteem as parents. Honor has nothing to do with how our children make us feel. What's more, if our children really, truly understand what honor is, then they will honor us, not because we are honorable, but because this is how they honor God.

Unfortunately, there's some pretty whacked thinking in the Church regarding this issue.

First, honor does not mean mindless submission. When one of my kids was younger, he was told by another parent, "Never correct an adult."
Um, no. Wish I had been there to intervene.
Adults are not god. Adults are not perfect. Adults are not even more perfect than children. If we think we are, there's something seriously wrong with our theology.
And 1 Timothy 5 gives provision for this. Sometimes, an older person simply must be corrected by a younger person. Don't let us be more pious than God here.

Second, we don't get to define what honor is. I've seen parents require children to obey an elderly person's every whim in the name of honor. Please. If Granny insists that your son wear the pink crocheted sweater she made for him or her feelings will be hurt....
You don't have a conversation with your son; you have a conversation with Granny. 
It may be a fact that Granny feels dishonored, but that does not mean that your son is guilty of dishonor in God's court of law.

We are not the final arbiters of whether our children honor us.
God is.
Honor is a heart issue, and only God can objectively see honor, or the lack thereof, in the heart.
Divine transaction.

Our kids don't owe us. We are SO missing the boat if we think our children owe us.
And we never teach them about honor in order to get our egos stroked. We teach them about honor because we want it to go well with them. We teach them about honor because it's good for them, not because it's good for us.

I can't say this emphatically enough: it is NOT your child's job to make you feel good about yourself or build your self-esteem or validate you or agree with you. If you have needs in those areas, it's not because your child has dishonored you; it's because you have failed to apprehend the fact that your identity is in Christ. Let's not turn every situation into a King Lear moment.

If anything, the fact that children are commanded by God to honor their parents should fill us with compassion towards our children. It should humble us as we realize our own brokenness and sinfulness. It should bring us to our knees when we understand that our children must honor us in spite of who we are, not because of who we are. If I don't understand that, then I don't understand my own depravity, and I don't understand grace.

Not only that, but honor can be especially hard as an adult child, now that we have our own walk with the Lord and a little bit of life's mileage ourselves. The downside of being older and wiser is that we are also smarter about our own parents' failings. We start to connect dots. We have 'aha!' moments. Childhood issues come into sharper focus.  So we must tread carefully. And, again, if we put ourselves in our adult children's place, this should give us great compassion towards them.

We all fall short of the glory of God.
We do.
Our children do.
Our parents do.

The flip side of the fifth commandment is that, if our children are required to honor us, we should strive to be honorable. And we all need a whole lotta grace to make that happen.