There's this cardinal rule when it comes to calling my mom.
Don't call after 9 pm. Like...ever. Even if you are in your last moments of life, just don't.
My mother has bipolar disorder. As in, debilitating, life altering, generally hanging on by a thread bipolar disorder...and she takes her night meds at 9 pm every night. And once they kick in, she can not (and will not) be responsible for what she says if you break the rule and she picks up the phone.
Recently, I broke the rule. I didn't mean to...I was driving home from rehearsal, missing my mom and picked up the phone and dialed. I realized as soon as I heard her "high" voice (like she just woke up but a little higher pitched) that this was going to be a short conversation. But we chatted for a bit.
Then she said, "I've been thinking. I'm actually glad I'm not married to (insert ex husband's name here) anymore." I was quite pleased at this and thinking she'd had a major break through of some sort, said "Oh, do tell..."
Apparently, my sister (half, but we're not counting) had told my mom about riding with her dad recently and he'd been quite aggressive and even rude to other drivers.
My throat closed up. My stomach clenched. Tears came to my eyes.
Hearing no response, my Mom said my name "Cindy?"
"Road rage?" I said through gritted teeth. "You're glad you aren't with him because he has road rage?" My Mom was actually quite pleased there was a term for it. I could barely hear the rest of what she said because the screaming in my head was getting loud. I ended the conversation quickly.
My mom had just explained to the child she'd given up in order to protect the aforementioned ex husband from being convicted of child molestation that she'd found closure and finally been able to not only accept, but be happy they were no longer together...because he wasn't a good driver.
Reacting to all the emotions and thoughts I yelled "SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP!" at the steering wheel (because steering wheels don't care if you yell at them) And things got quiet, and then-because I could finally hear it-that still, small voice said
"Honor your Mother and your Father"
And I said (because I am super spiritual ya'll)
"Don't give me that load of crap right now."
Let's be real...Some days you just don't feel like taking the "higher road"
So the rest of the way home, I had this argument in my head. And I went home and read Scripture. I really started considering what it looks like to "honor" our parents so I researched, talked to pastors and people whose opinion I respect. I was looking for the exceptions to the rule. I wondered if the expectations for honoring parents when they were "good" parents were different from when they were "bad" parents. I decided maybe God set the bar lower for us so that particular commandment was easier to fulfill. I looked for an "out"
For my kids. (Both my biological and all my "adopted" kids.)
For the ones reading this who struggle with this same thing.
Because God bless you if you have the parents that make it an easily accomplished task. If the least you can do is honor the amazing, wonderful, perfect parents who brought you into this world, loved and nurtured you, instilled the best values in you and never, ever made a mistake. But for the rest of us...the ones who were abandoned, abused, neglected, overlooked in favor of an addiction or the television set, whose parents weren't quite perfect...we aren't really up for it.
I've got good news. And I've got bad news.
The bad news...there is no out. I looked guys...for weeks. There is no place in Scripture that says if our parents stink, we don't have to honor them. So, having found no out, I began to look into what exactly "honor" entails. I tend to think of "honor" as saying 'yes ma'am' and 'no sir' and not sticking my tongue out at them or calling them names (out loud). I know that meaning and depth is often lost in translation so I asked several pastors about the word "honor"
"The Greek word for honor means to revere, prize and value"
"The root of the Hebrew word for honor means to weigh heavy"
"It means weighty or heavy. It speaks to the significance we place on something"
So, if I manage not to roll my eyes...that's not quite cutting it?
Matthew Henry says it like this. "That obedience which God demands from their children...includes an inward reverence [honor], as well as the outward expressions and acts."
Before Jesus, the spiritual life had become more about actions than intentions or motivations. Going through the motions was enough. But after Jesus...it was more about the intentions or motivations than the actions. Look at what He said about giving, adultery, murder in your heart...
So it is with honoring your parents. It can't be just about going through the motions. As Tim, pastor at Brown's Mill Church, puts it "It's your posture as you obey"
A couple of years before my dad passed away, our relationship was on pretty rocky terms-again. Most of you know that my dad was an abusive alcoholic for most of my growing up years and that he sobered up, became a mentor for those walking the path to sobriety, and that he and I still had our issues. Oftentimes it was as much hard headedness as past hurts that led to our falling out but neither of us was willing to take the blame...and I had the pretty convenient role of "victim" so I rarely had to. My dad fell one day and broke his leg. A bad break and the fact my dad was a diabetic meant he spent a lot of time in the hospital. My aunt and I took turns being there for him...keeping him company, emptying out his pee pot, picking up the ice and other trash he threw at the door when the doctor or nurse left after telling him something he didn't like, washing his hair with those dry shampoo caps because my dad couldn't stand for his hair to be dirty. At first, I did them begrudgingly while at the same time feeling like quite the wonderful Christian daughter. After all, look what I was doing for my dad...after all the times he hadn't been there for me. It didn't take long before the Spirit provided an attitude check and I began to deliberately change my attitude about the tasks I performed for my dad. I'm so glad I did because those days in the hospital brought my dad and I closer than we'd ever been. After he had his stroke, the day they told us would be his last, they put him in a room where he could be "comfortable" and the family could be with him. The nurse asked if there was anything she could do and I asked her for one of the dry shampoo caps. She looked at me puzzled. I explained that his hair hadn't been washed for days and I knew how much he hated oily hair. So she brought me several and I did one of the last things I could do for my dad-wash his hair. As I scrubbed, I told my dad how much I loved him...how glad I was that he was my dad...and I meant it.
Here's the good news...God doesn't just tell us to do something and then leave us to do it on our own. I know some of you are shutting me out, thinking "oh...but you don't know..." I have heard so, so many stories. Stories that make me even more grateful for the parents I have because OH DEAR LORD! The brokenness of this world, the brokenness of our parents, the brokenness of your heart as you put one foot in front of the other. But I have to tell you that letting go makes the journey so much easier...and just like forgiveness is a choice, so is honoring those who gave birth to us...no matter what came after. And just like forgiveness, obeying the Lord in this means that we are also letting go of the past and freeing ourselves to live the future.
Hear me when I tell you that forgiving your parents, honoring your parents is not about saying that what they did to you is okay or right. God gave them a mandate as your parents and they didn't do it and that is not okay!
But that doesn't mean we don't have to do our part. We do. And the reason we do is because God is going to use it to make us whole again. And as we are honoring our earthly parents, we honor our Heavenly Father. And the weight of that isn't like a stone but like our favorite sweater, or a comforter thrown over us. Our posture is of reverence and the overwhelming emotion is love. And God, to help us honor our parents, will give us both a glimpse of how He sees us and how He sees them. And we are free to be ourselves and live the lives God planned for us because we are free of the hurts and regrets and the ever present, nagging desire and absolute must be accomplished goal of "fixing" it or "figuring it out" And sometimes, as we honor our parents, we are free to have a relationship with them. Perhaps not the one we hoped for, but a relationship nonetheless. And, if we aren't...because it's not safe, because they choose not to, because it's too late and they are gone from this world...then we are free from the sorrow of not doing our part.
It's not easy. I'm not going to pretend it is. I know plenty who are struggling to find a morsel of "honor" for their parent(s). My kids don't even call their biological father "father" or "dad." In fact, he's barely mentioned at all, and if he is, he is called by his first name. And I am not going to stop them. My children have to work this out in their time. I hope that as they've seen me wrestle with this and as they've watched how I have honored my parents (and how I haven't) that I've made it easier for them. I'll be there for them as they figure it out.
The Gospel, as Pastor Tim often reminds us, is counterintuitive. It goes against everything in us that tells we're entitled to or what's "fair" and it's a constant reminder that we don't do this in our own power but by God's grace and His power.
From one of the emails Tim and I exchanged as we discussed this: "Honoring your parents when they've been abusive, absent, etc. is not about the parent...it's about the one offering the honor...and the one who gives us the ability to do such a crazy thing. In fact, honoring a parent who is "not worthy" of honor is one of the most kingdom-minded things we can do. Jesus taught us to love our enemies. The original wording is not just a "don't curse them out under your breath" but it's also "intentionally seek to tangibly bless them." It's connected to what I mentioned yesterday, in that following Jesus means embracing these counter-cultural, counter-intuitive ways of seeing/doing things. Whereas the world says "they hurt you and do not deserve your honor", Jesus says "honor them because it pleases me...and it tangibly demonstrates my love for you AND for them."
If I talked to my Mom about the conversation that night, she probably wouldn't remember it. She'd most likely be astounded at how much it had hurt me. Both the illness and the medication have taken so much away. But my Mom gets up every day. She chooses life every single day. And regardless of all her past mistakes (and the ones she will make in the future), she is my Mom, she is a surviver. And she is worthy of honor.