Honor Your Parents . . . Or Else!

parentsThere are a variety of reasons for expressing affection and care for one’s parents. Many feel gratitude for the sacrifices their parents made while providing for them. Others treasure memories of never doubting their parents’ love for them. Some enjoyed less idyllic childhoods, but honor their parents out of a sense of duty.

C.S. Lewis described the last type of family in The Four Loves. Rather than giving cause for their children to appreciate them, some parents raise obstacles to their affections.

We hear a great deal about the rudeness of the rising generation. I am an oldster myself and might be expected to take the oldsters’ side, but in fact I have been far more impressed by the bad manners of parents to children than by those of children to parents.

Who has not been the embarrassed guest at family meals where the father or mother treated their grown-up offspring with an incivility which, offered to any other young people, would simply have terminated the acquaintance?

Dogmatic assertions of matters which the children understand and their elders don’t, ruthless interruptions, flat contradictions, ridicule of things the young take seriously—sometimes of their religion—insulting references to their friends, all provide an easy answer to the question “Why are they always out? Why do they like every house better than their home?” Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?

Yes, there are several reasons for honoring our parents, even when they have not “earned” that respect. And now we can add another incentive to do so—because you might be sued in court if you do not honor them! While this statute has not arrived in the Western world, it is a relatively new law in the world’s most populous nation.

The recently revised law requires that adult children visit their parents “often” . . . without defining the specific frequency. Apparently, too many children have become preoccupied with their own concerns. (Shades of Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle.”)

Traditional Chinese culture is renowned for the value it places on revering elders in general, and parents specifically. In the Analects of the philosopher Confucius, an entire section is devoted to “filial piety.”

58. Confucius said: “When at home, a young man should serve his parents; when away from home, he should be respectful to his elders. He should always be earnest and truthful, express love to all, and follow men of virtue. Then, if he has the time and energy, he should study literature and the arts.” [1.6]

71. Confucius said: “When your father is alive, obey him. When your father has passed on, live as he did. If you do so for [at least] three years after your father’s death, then you are a true son.” [1.11]

72. Tzu Lu asked about the meaning of filial piety. Confucius said: “Nowadays filial piety means being able to support your parents. But we support even our horses and dogs. Without respect, what’s the difference between the two kinds of support?” [2.7]

73. Tzu Hsia asked about filial piety. Confucius said: “What matters is the expression you show on your face. ‘Filial piety’ doesn’t mean merely doing physical tasks for your parents, or merely providing them with food and wine.” [2.8]

74. Confucius said: “In serving your parents, you may disagree with them from time to time and seek to correct them gently. But if they will not go along with you, you must continue to respect and serve them without complaining.” [4.18]

75. Confucius said: “Never ignore your parents’ ages, which are both a source of joy (because they are still living) and a source of anxiety (because their deaths are coming nearer).” [4.21]

The Judeo-Christian tradition, of course, also demands respect for one’s parents. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12, ESV). And from the Letter to the Church in Ephesus: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

It is challenging to discern what it means to honor a parent who does not merit gratitude. Indeed, destructive (abusive) parents may well disqualify themselves from receiving honor, since they tacitly reject the very essence of what it means to be a mother or father.

Aside from these extreme cases, where only a biological relationship exists, we must be honest. None of our parents are perfect. But then the corollary is also true—none of their children are, either. It is in these common, shaded cases where our own character is tested.

C.S. Lewis lost his mother at a young age. His father remained distant, and sent his sons to distant boarding schools. During the First World War, Lewis was severely wounded and shipped from the front lines to a London hospital where he recuperated. While a patient he wrote the following to his father in Ireland.

Wherever I am I know that you will come and see me. You know I have some difficulty in talking of the greatest things; it is the fault of our generation and of the English schools. But at least you will believe that I was never before so eager to cling to every bit of our old home life and to see you.

I know I have often been far from what I should be in my relation to you, and have undervalued an affection and generosity which an experience of “other people’s parents” has shown me in a new light. But, please God, I shall do better in the future. Come and see me, I am homesick, that is the long and the short of it.

Sadly, Lewis’ father did not make the trip to visit his son at the hospital. Such is the nature of real life relationships . . . and such is the reason why honoring our parents sometimes needs to assume the form of a law, or even a Commandment.

May it not be so in your family. If your parents still live, I pray God will grant you great joy in honoring them. And, if you have children, I pray that the Lord will fill them with well-deserved affection for you.


If you have never heard the song “Cats in the Cradle,” you owe it to yourself to ponder its powerful message today. You can view it here.

15 thoughts on “Honor Your Parents . . . Or Else!

  1. Wow! You hit it out of the park (I can hear parents everywhere screaming as the post flies over the wall)! I don’t think I have ever read a post on respecting one’s parents before this. Great job, my brother!

  2. I’ve always appreciated that the Bible offers this, as well, rather than leaving the command one-sided: “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4
    Of course, the fact that one side of the equations fails to obey their command does not excuse the other from honoring it if possible. I am lucky enough to find honoring my parents an easy and rewarding thing, but I have friends who have quite a struggle. I will say, though, that most of them, Christian and non-Christian, manage to honor their parents most of the time in spite of damaged relationships.

    I have to wonder what the intent of the Chinese law is, though. Being required to visit ones parents seems to remove some of the value of doing so.

    1. Yes, the reminder that we, as parents, should not “provoke” our children is vital. It was a joy to honor my mother. Only through God’s transformation of my heart did it become a true joy for me to honor my father.

  3. It must be spring and the kids are on a roll. So many “kids are difficult and I’m trying” posts today.
    You are right that children learn how to treat others by watching/listening to their parents. (Hard to remember sometimes!)
    Then Confucius sayings echo well.
    Lewis’ letter is so sad.
    Great post – loved the last paragraph.

    1. Kids are certainly on the roll. We have our grandson and his lovely wife here with us for a couple of days. They just celebrated their first anniversary, and live all the way over at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. So you know that we’re treasuring these few hours together!

  4. Redneck Garage

    Great post with a very important message. Growing up my dad worked a job with split days off and worked a lot of overtime. One day in my late teens I went to him with a problem while he was takings some time to read the newspaper in his favorite chair (think Archie Bunker). He said he was listening so I explained my problem and then asked for his thoughts. He responded with, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening”. I just walked away in disappointment. Many years later in my early 30’s, with two preschool age children, an older co-worker talked with me one day during lunch and share that if he could go back and do his life over he would have spent more time with his family and less time at work…a true version of Cat’s in the Cradle. I took his advice to heart. You can my full post about this discussion if you wish at http://redneckgarage.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/regrets/

    1. I’m sorry for that experience you had. I hope you have had many compensating ones since, if not with your father at least with father-figures who DID or DO listen. Your father’s not listening is no reflection on your worthiness to be heard.

  5. An amazing post. The relationship between parents and a child is sacred. I am grateful that I was blessed with the most amazing parents ever. I am eternally grateful for the example they set for us children and that they taught us unconditional love, respect, dignity and honour. All children have the RIGHT to a happy childhood. It is so sad that few actually experience a safe and happy childhood. Thank you for this post.

  6. I remember an event at Lake Powell one summer with my father. While I was hiking around the lake’s ridge my father followed by jetski below. We came across a cliff that had “jump” written all over it. I asked my dad to dive in and check the water depth before I was even considering jumping. My dad told me with the confidence characteristic of my dad when he was absolutely sure of himself, “go ahead, son, its plenty deep.” To which I responded, “well, could you check anyway?” “I know this lake like the back of my hand, go ahead, its fine.” Trusting my dad I took a big back up, ran as hard as I could, and took flight. Things were indeed “fine” until I hit the water and almost instantaneously hit solid rock. I jumped from about a 30ft cliff into about 10ft deep water. Let’s just say it hurt, BAD, but I lived (bruised feet and tailbone, but nothing serious). It’s one of the closest brushes with dead or serious injury I’ve had ever since. Whenever I hear the phrase “respect your parents… you’ll have long life” I can’t help but grin a little.

  7. Eimi

    My husband says these verses trouble him. Should we not always honor everyone, regardless of kinship? What does it mean to honor someone? Is it more than respect?

    1. That’s an interesting thought. Yes, we should treat everyone with a dignity that is based on their humanity itself . . . but there are specific relationships that demand particular consideration. For example, we don’t “love” all people the way we love our spouses.

      And then there’s the question of when someone has stripped themselves of their very humanity, and arguably become something deserving of no honor at all (e.g. Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, Kermit Gosnell).

Offer a Comment or Insight

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.