By Tiffany Dinh
As we grow in what it means to follow Christ and be part of raising up and building multiplying disciples, the giving of our whole selves to Jesus often needs to involve learning how to navigate the cultural realities of parent/child/family dynamics and exploring how to honor God and honor our parents. Sometimes what the Bible says regarding how we are to love and honor others is very clear, while other times what our parents desire for our lives may stray from what we sense Jesus wants us to do. How can disciples of Christ respond in these tensions and how can we further enrich our journey of growth both in our relationship with God and with our parents? In discussing this, our prayer is that this will be a space to look at some biblical passages and open a space of exploration and insight.
Disclaimer: Although we all come from broken families to varying degrees, if you are coming from an abusive family background we understand that “honoring” your parents will look different so please use discernment and wisdom throughout this article.
“You’ll bring honor to us all.”
The last line of the matchmaker’s song rings in my ears as I watch Mulan again for what feels like the hundredth time. Although I grew up as a second generation Vietnamese American in the suburbs of the Pacfic Northwest, I always felt like I could relate to parts of Mulan’s story. As I got older, I began to recognize that the cultural nuances and emotions in the movie expressed unspoken parts of my story that made me feel seen and known.
We toss the word honor around a lot in Asian American spaces. There’s so much complexity to our culture that affects us besides just honor, but this is one that I’ve heard the most about growing up – particularly when it comes to family. I grew up with the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) fact that to honor my parents means to listen and obey their wisdom and plan for my life. When I became a believer in college, I learned that God is my ultimate authority above all else.
The Bible calls us to honor several different groups of people. But one of the most important ones, He wrote out in his 10 commandments. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” God continues to remind us of this throughout the Bible. Honor means to place a high value and importance on another person and respecting them. It’s a choice we make and decide to give to someone, regardless of whether or not they deserve it. But what do we do when obeying God means going against what your parents want?
Read Luke 9:59-62 together.
Is burying your father or saying farewell to your loved ones a bad thing? No! There are many things in our lives that may be harmless or good, but not when we put it as a priority over God. Oftentimes when I was a student, I’d tell myself, “I’ll just focus on studying for finals this week and get back to praying/reading my Bible next week.” He uses this verse to show us that above all things (even good things), honoring God and what he asks us to do should come first.
Read Luke 14:26 together.
The word hate always sat weird with me. Doesn’t God call us to love everyone, especially our family? God tells us to give up everything for Him, just like we saw in Luke 9. God has to come first. In this verse he uses very challenging language so that we may fully understand. He doesn’t literally mean for us to hate our family, but we must be prepared to put everything else second. God placed your parents as your earthly authority, but when you came to Christ it was no longer just your parents. God became your ultimate authority.
Discuss: What is an instance where you struggled between following God and honoring your parents?
Honoring Our Parents
We honor our parents by first knowing God
Discuss: When you think of God and his character, as revealed to us in scripture, what words come to mind? Make a list together.
When it comes to honoring our parents, we begin by first knowing God. In order to honor and follow Him, we have to know what he’s like. Look at the list of words you wrote down together. This is the God that we are called to follow. Your parents may have some of those qualities, but Jesus is able to be all of those things all of the time for us.
We honor our parents by knowing who they are
Discuss: When you first meet a new student, what are some of the questions you ask them? What do you get to know about them?
We often look at and describe our parents from the sole perspective of being their child. But what would it look like to discover who they are and what their story is, especially before you were born? Knowing someone’s story often leads us to compassion and understanding. Following God’s will means to stand strong in what God asks us to do, but to do our best to honor and love our parents along the way. Even if you don’t agree, seek to respectfully understand their side, ask questions, and learn about them. God’s will won’t always be opposite of your parents though, and he can use your parents in your lives as His voice to lead and guide you more often than you realize.
We honor our parents by knowing who we are
Discuss: What part of your personality differs from your parents/family?
God has created each person uniquely with different gifts and passions. As we grow older, we learn more about the person God has created us to be. In knowing ourselves, we can understand more of God’s will for us and our future. We have to grow in confidence through the Holy Spirit to use our voice and share who we are and where we’re headed with our parents. Sometimes that can lead us down paths that God is calling us towards, but our parents don’t agree with. (They will probably have some choice words and opinions to share about that decision.)
But disappointment is not dishonoring. Disappointment is your parents’ emotion. You can honor them, and they may still feel upset and disappointed. Jesus experienced this with his own parents (Matthew 12:46-50). This is such an important passage, that it’s recorded in 3 of the 4 Gospels. Although his mother and brothers probably felt disappointed in Him for not putting family first, it was not dishonoring and not sinful. There will be times where you’ll need to take action by drawing healthy boundaries with family, both physically and emotionally. Their intentions may be to care for you, but the impact can at times be hurtful. Taking time to navigate those boundaries will be difficult at first, but it can hopefully help to create a healthier, adult relationship and dynamic between yourself and your parents.
As you discern how to follow Jesus while honoring your parents, stand firm in what God is calling you towards and put Him first in your life above all things. God is simultaneously working in the lives of your parents as well as yours. Have grace and compassion towards your parents as they are first time parents to your unique self in this specific time in your life. When you come upon a crossroads of obedience, invite trusted brothers and sisters to come alongside you as you discern God’s will and to navigate God’s voice. Following Jesus can sometimes lead to a decision your parents don’t agree with. However, you can still honor them well by being respectful and having compassion for their point of view, while still standing firm in what God has called you to.
- How would you describe the difference between obedience and honor?
- Family dynamics and disagreements can oftentimes be very personal. How do you feel about sharing some of those situations with others (safe people)?
- What are some ways you can get to know more about your parents’ history and why they have certain viewpoints (religious, educational, political, etc.)?
- What is a tangible step the Lord is leading you to further honor Him as a disciple of Christ?
- What is a tangible step the Lord may be leading you to love and show honor towards your parents?