Sunday, June 21, 2009

This week's sermon: Honoring Imperfect Parents

Deuteronomy 5:16 “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

Father’s Day is this Sunday. For many people it is a day filled with warm memories of fathers who gave them good advice, taught them how to ride a bike, and soothed their tears when their hearts were broken. For them, observing Father’s Day is easy. They overflow with gratitude for the experiences they had with Dad. They will find a way to honor their father whether he is living or has passed on.

For others among us, Father’s Day serves as a painful reminder of the failures of their fathers. For some growing up was accomplished without the guidance a father should give. Maybe he was absent. Maybe he was a substance abuser. Maybe he was just mean and abusive. For the children of fathers like this, Sunday will be a hard day to suffer through.

The question that begs asking is how can those who have dishonorable fathers follow this fifth commandment to honor their father and mother? And should they? I find it interesting that when God gave the commandments, he left no loopholes. He did not say honor your father and mother, unless they don’t deserve it, just like he did not say do not steal, unless you really need something. The command is simple and straightforward: “Honor your father and mother.” So how do we do that, when it seems impossible?

We need to remember this command is the only one that comes with a promise of blessings just for obeying: “that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving to you.” You would think that honoring our parents would bless them, and I am sure it does, but God specifically says that honoring them will bless us. I have met many people who have had difficult and painful experiences with their fathers. Most try to live their lives without even allowing the thought of their fathers’ existence to come into their minds. Others seem to be hyper-focused on the pain their parents caused them. Neither of these brings honor to the parent, and neither benefit the child. These friends of mine have been surprisingly prone to repeating the mistakes and bad choices of their fathers. How do we move past the pain to get the blessing?

I believe the key is forgiveness. Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened, in fact it is quite the opposite. Forgiveness requires us to acknowledge the hurt and pain. We have to recognize what it is we are forgiving, name it. Then comes a choice to set aside the offense as we would a debt marked “Paid in Full.” Forgiveness means laying down our right to revenge and our right for them to “owe us” because the wrong committed against us. For some of us, the only honor they can give their parents is forgiveness. But from that forgiveness we can begin the process of healing. Our lives can then become something other than a repeat of their mistakes. Living lives that are positive in the face of all the potential for negative brings honor to our imperfect parents.

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