A Simple Way to Honor your Parents

Honor is a word that is being used less and less these days.

The Bible was delivered into what sociologists today call an honor and shame culture. Honor was deeply understood and was a foundational motivation for action within these cultures.

In contrast Western culture is sometimes called a justice and guilt culture. We ask if our actions are right or wrong.

Honor and shame cultures were centered with group loyalty but justice and guilt cultures are centered on individual morality. 

People in Western cultures feel a deep need to be the hero or good person in their story and will twist their individual narratives or sometimes even reorder the foundation of morality itself to assure themselves that they are on the side of justice and not one of the guilty ones.

So when Western people read biblical instructions, like we have in the 10 commandments where we are told to “Honor our father and our mother” (or in Ephesians where Paul repeats this command as a primary way to structure our family relationships), it’s not obvious to us what this looks like.

In fact today, in order to free ourselves from feelings of individual guilt many of us tell the story of our upbringing in very harsh terms where we are the victims of parents who should have known better. This gives rise to the feeling that our parents owe us an enormous debt for all the wrong they inflicted on us which can make the relationships between parents and their adult children extremely fragile. 

(Let me state that there are many real cases of abuse that are exceptions to the above description)

Honor and shame cultures see things from a different perspective.

They see the years of provision a parent freely gives a child as accumulating an unpayable debt from the child to the parent which places the adult child under a lifelong obligation to his or her parents. All the obligations that a child owes a parent can be summed up in that single word – honor.

So how does honor work?

Honor involves many things including providing for physical needs as our parents age or considering them as higher status by giving them places of honor in the home and listening to their advice.

I’ve written elsewhere about ways modern families can show this kind of honor to parents but I want to mention here one simple form of honor that many of us have never thought much about but that all of us could do.

I’ll call this form of honor, tell the origin story

There are likely thousands of things you’ve learned from your parents. In a justice/guilt culture you’ve likely dismissed considering the implications of these lessons believing these lessons are an obligation that parents must do on behalf of their children.

But this is a category mistake when we’re commanded to honor our parents.

Let’s think about this using an analogy where our culture still understands honor – giving credit for work.

When a breakthrough is made by someone’s individual effort, we feel there is something wrong when that breakthrough is celebrated but that individual is not given credit. It’s even worse when the wrong person takes the credit.

But what about in the family?

It is said that the children of the Proverbs 31 women, “Rise up and call her blessed.” These rising children are thanking their mother for all she has done. 

Have you ever done that? 

Have you ever seen that? 

Do you expect that will be done for you someday?

A simple way to honor our parents is simply to take advantage of every opportunity to give them credit for things they passed on to us. 

We tell the origin story of our lives. 

We declare how our parents blessed us. 

We play up the good and we down play the bad when communicating in public.

So next time you’re at a meal and your parents are present, tell an origin story. Explain to those present and the next generation what good ways your parents have reproduced themselves in you.

This simple step gets to the heart of what honoring our mother and father is all about.

This entry is a part of Jeremy’s Journal, a newsletter Jeremy sends out every month to encourage you on your parenting journey. You can sign up to get them here.

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