One of the things that has held me back from expressing my real feelings is the Biblical commandment to “honor your father and your mother.” (Exodus 20:12) Notice that there aren’t any qualifiers to the commandment, such as: “Honor them as long as you approve of their actions.” Lacking qualifiers, I take this to mean that we have to do it regardless of what our parents do.
So the question has lingered in the back of my mind: how do I honor them when they have mishandled things so badly? I’ve written some things here that might seem like I’m dishonoring them. My dad died in 1991, but I worry about what my mom would think if she read these posts. I need to express what it was like for me growing up, and my worry about hurting her feelings has forced me to remain silent for many years. I’ve had to pretend that so many things did not matter to me, in order to preserve my relationship with them. I was angry and sad a lot but didn’t understand why. It’s ironic that in order to honor them, I felt the need to pretend and hide. That tells me that I wasn’t really honoring them all these years. After all, the pretense was a type of lie. And I know that God doesn’t want me to lie.
For the last few years I’ve been studying marriage and family from a policy perspective. This enabled me to see how the legal system and the culture have played a role in what happened to me. So more recently, part of how I navigated Exodus 20:12 was to shift the blame away from my individual parents, to our culture. After all, the manner in which my parents handled my childhood was totally acceptable to psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors, religious leaders, political leaders, professors, teachers, neighbors, friends and even other family members. Our culture embraced “sexual freedom,” and “not judging.” We opted for silence, and focused on letting adults do what they want.
That being the case, my parents are absolved of some of the responsibility regarding my childhood. The difficulties imposed on me were largely due to cultural influences rather than being deliberately created by my individual parents. This means that many, many other children had childhoods similar to mine. And sure enough, I’m finding this to be the case. Some of us are emerging from the divorce fog and finding our voices.
I have not practiced Exodus 20:12 in a healthy way. After all, pretending and lying can’t be part of God’s plan even though my culture required them of me. Now I have to think about how to move forward with this new knowledge.