Recently I watched this online sermon by Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church (Seattle) from his '10 Commandments' series. I had been eagerly awaiting this sermon with a friend of mine to hear his viewpoint on it. If you want to hear it yourself HERE it is.
Although I always enjoy his hour long practical scriptural based sermons and I totally support everything he said however I felt he only dipped his foot in the area of the question of how do you honor your parents when:
- You don't know either both or one of your parents
- You only have "spiritual parents" (a Christian person or couple in your church who mentor you in a parental manner)
- You are a foster child with "guardians/caregivers" not biological parents
- One or more parent has married again (does that step parent get the same or a different kind of honor as the biological parent they're married to?)
- One or more of your parents is not a Christian (is there a different standard?)
- One or more of your parents have displayed abusive behavior (emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual abuse) towards you, your siblings &/or the other parent. And if they are being abusive in their parenting, to what level do you show respect, submission and obedience as a child/adolescent when doing so will only ensure more abuse to occur?
These are really really hard questions that will take me a while to think and pray on and will probably require me to study into the issue.
To me the verse "Honor your Father and Mother" brings me to mind of deep hurts and devastating shame from the past. I have and still have no problem with honoring my Mother. After Jesus and my husband, she is the joy of my life. Even though I have walked through the process of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, even though Christ bound up and took upon himself my deep wounds I still have scars in my soul from the issues that arose out of not knowing my biological Father while dealing with abuses caused by my Mothers ex husband.
This man did not abuse me 100% of the time. He did make rules that were not all dishonorable and and maybe in some instances he did act honorably at first. If he was Satan incarnate my mother would have never married him so he must have acted at some point honorably, only thing is I barely remember those instances. If I take away his abusive attitude and look at what he expected of me and my brother at the time I can definitely say that his expectations were high. To say he was strict is an understatement. When my brother joined the army and had to go through a grueling 6 month training period in Waiouru Army base in NZ, he told me after his graduation that it was an enjoyable walk in the park compared to 10 years of living under our stepfather. And I totally believe him to this day on. This man made the Navy SEALs or French Foreign Legion look like a pleasant excursion at least in our eyes.
Im not trying to be overly dramatic but that is sincerely how we both felt. And I think neither me or my brother would have absolutely no problem with this military like upbringing if it weren't for the fact that for the majority of the time, our step father did it out of malice, jealousy, fear, cruelty and anger. There was no gentleness, no forgiveness, no grace, no kindness. No love. If there was gentleness it was insincere and manipulated only to meet his needs. He had no servant heart. In his eyes he was under no ones authority, he was the top of the hierarchy. What made it worse was that he insisted on calling himself a "Christian" or as he liked to call it "a God fearing man." No church was ever good enough for him, however if he did meet professing Christians he presented as a very likable, respectable, "spiritual", articulate educated man with a lovely wife and children. He was very intelligent and clever, theres no denying that. He may have spanked us voraciously with a wooden spoon when we were small children, but as we grew intellectually he stopped the spankings before we caught onto the fact of what he had done and tell someone. Instead he graduated onto blackmail, verbal abuse, threatening behaviour and sutble sexual grooming towards me. He built over many years a foundation of terror so that even as intelligent growing adults we would still be emotional slaves to him.
Meanwhile, as a preteen I was being witnessed to by a wonderful Christian couple who eventually led me by the hand to make a decision about Jesus. All I knew growing up was that God was my "Dad" and accepting Jesus kinda formalised the adoption process. I didn't really understand Jesus, I sort of did but sort of didn't either and wouldn't until I was 20. Anyway, I publically declared myself a Christian, got baptised and started going to church regularly, got to observe other older mature Christians, read and understood my bible a bit better and grew in relationship with God.
Only thing is, the situation at home got worse. Far far worse. Prior to becoming a Christian myself, my Mum had been slowly, subtly and methodically removed from christian influences by our step father. He started by isolating her from church, then her friends and finally her family (although he never quite managed to get rid of my relatives thank God). He was used to being the sole influencer of our family and me becoming a Christian and opening myself up to godly outside Christians pissed him off big time and kind of tore a bit of that wall down. Thats because he knew the power of mine and my brothers influence, especially mine given the extremely close relationship I had with my mother. So to keep me in check, he used bible verses to keep me under his control - and his favorite verse (you guessed it) was "Honor your Father!!" and the other popular one "Submit to your parents, so that you will live a long and happy life!"
So what do you do?
You're barely in your teens. You've been systematically put down, harrassed, abused, sexually groomed and terrified over a 10 year period by this person who scares the absolute crap out of you so much he even made you wet your pants in fear (on multiple occasions), he makes you faint and hit your head on the kitchen floor and then blackmails you and your brother to lie to your mother about it. He causes you at night time to scream in silence and dig your nails into your arms. You dream of running out the window, to the nearby playground and hanging yourself on a swing chain just for relief from the anguish. And on a few occasions you have nightmares involving rape, and a metaphorical child being murdered, and upon waking up crying and screaming and he would be there with your mother asking you what you dreamt about and not being able to say anything. What do you do when the bible you view and the God you worship as the biggest authority in your life tells you to honor your parents? To submit to them? WHAT DO YOU DO?
Submit to them and wait it out right?
No. If you think that, your sadly misinformed and you need some more bible literacy. Unfortunately, I got that answer from a few people when I told them what was going on at home. Not very helpful, considering I was thinking of hanging myself from a swing chain. Not very helpful AT ALL.
I found an exception clause. Quite a few of them actually. Now, Im not saying this is for everyone. Every unrepentant idiot out there is trying to find an exception clause in the bible for injecting themselves with heroin, coveting at the mall, cheating on their spouse, sleeping with their girlfriend or having an extra curricular porn/mills & boon habit til the cows come home.
Thankfully and providentially, I had a Christian Therapist at the time who knew all the dirty dark secrets that were going on in my family and everything that was going on. She was brilliant. Firstly, she demanded that I stop thinking about killing myself, and second of all she told me I was not going crazy and that even though I had no physical evidence on my body, I was in fact being horrifically abused and that the judicial law AND Gods law supported me. That gave me hope and for the first time in my life peace of mind
The exception clause is this - Do not submit to evil. Do not honor evil. Do not respect evil. Submit, honor and respect that which is good and healthy. What is good and healthy is a parent who loves and cherishes their child. Abusing a child was and is EVIL. In fact according to the bible its down right satanic. She said, first of all, God is the only God I worship. Not my stepfather. However if he (along with my mother) expects me to maintain good grades, keep my room clean, act civilly, participate in chores, I was to submit to that. I continued doing all the household jobs that he expected me to do (which was no easy thing given the list and expectations) and he also was in the habit of verbally abusing me while I did those tasks but it was now like water off a ducks back. It had no effect. I was strangely no longer afraid of him. Third thing she told me, was that even though I was still in highschool, I had (in her opinion) the maturity and life skills of a grown adult and that legally I could and should leave home with government supports for my safety. She felt that I was getting dangerously close to being physically assaulted by my stepfather (the fact that he regularly stalked me and physically threatened boyfriends was a hint). Just because I had peace of mind and that he no longer was able to blackmail or control me financially didn't negate the risk I was in - in fact it probably made it worse.
Theres a hierarchy that I often follow that comes from the bible when it comes to submission. the main idea is that God and his Word is always at the top. (If thats not your belief system or worldview bear with me as its mine and important to me)
3. Church Authorities
4. Father - Mother
If the parent sins in a horrific manner (as in my case), they are not the end of the law. I still submit, but not to them, I go to the next level up. Unfortunately, there are some church authorities that say I should still submit to parent/s even if they are being abusive. That is victim blaming and in my opinion ungodly and unbiblical, and if you ever get that from a church leader I suggest you find another church and Pastor. Technically speaking the church authorities are supposed to deal with the person using church discipline IF they are a Christian as well as call the police (if they broke the law). While my step father was saying he was a christian, any uneducated hillbilly could in fact state with authority - he wasn't. Therefore the next step is government authority - including the police and courts then finally to God.
When I became a Christian I put God on the throne of my heart. He always comes first. He always has supremacy of law because I know his law to be loving and just and because I know and understand that he is my ultimate Father. Capital F.
If you have never known your biological Father or Mother, the God of the bible calls you to forgive their absence and if possible do it in person. It doesn't excuse their behaviour or the hurt they caused, but it helps you to be cured of a disease called bitterness that will go on to infect your own children and grandchildren. Neither is forgiveness a guarantee of reconciliation but an option if possible. Forgiveness only requires you. Reconciliation requires both parties. I have forgiven my ex step father but I can never reconcile with him - mainly because he still believes he has done nothing wrong. And while he is unrepentant it would be extremely dangerous to seek him out. I have on the other hand forgiven and reconciled with my biological father whom I am fond of very much but can never have a parental/child relationship with. Thats not me being mean thats just a consequence of never knowing him til adulthood. I am not a child any more. That stage is over.
If you have a biological parent (or two) who had a history of abusing you and still does, get out. Know that you are not parentless. You are deeply loved and cherished, by the biggest and best and perfect Father. Thats what makes Christianity so unique. No other "religion" has a loving parental aspect to it theyre all about what you HAVE to do to earn love. Being a Chrsitan isn't about what you do its about whats done FOR you. What you do after that, you do because of love. But you still need to work on forgiving your biological parent/s and praying for them in the hope for reconciliation. But if reconciliation cannot occur that is fine. Second of all, in Gods family you have potential for gaining spiritual parents. I feel during my teens God answered and gave me this. I thankfully had multiple wonderful adult men in my life who unknowingly were showing me that there was an alternative to how men should treat their wives and daughters. And that there were strong lovely wise men out there (otherwise I would have forever thought they were all evil) While I don't think they have the right to expect you to submit to them quite like a biological child you should have a strong enough relationship with them that if they have godly healthy advice or convicting to do, you should humbly consider and if so submit to the advice. But don't put them at the same level as God. Theyre imperfect sinners themselves and should be aware of that.
If you are a foster child, submit to the "parents" the government (as an authority on the hierarchy) have given to you unless of course they harm you in anyway, then refer back to the higher authority - your caseworker, school counselor, social worker etc. And use the links at the bottom of this post to support your argument of abuse.
If you are a Christian and your parents aren't, at the very least, salute the uniform and the fact that God did choose them to be the ones to conceive you. This might come as a surprise to some christians but some of the most loving parents Ive personally come across actually weren't practicing christians at all. At the very least be an example and a witness to them of your relationship with Christ if thats possible. You should still strive to care and provide for them in some way. And always strive to be loving and respectful.
But if they stumble and sin and ask you to submit to their sin or join them in sin or advocate their sin, thats when you pull out the hierarchy card and look at your other options. You lovingly and boldly say no to them. They'll get angry for sure but thats how most people react to fair boundaries. They'll get over it eventually. Always try to love. You can say no and still love.
If you've ever wondered about all the different kinds of abuse there are (most often people only think of the obvious physical kinds) then take a look at this link and if you want to know what the cycle of abuse looks like check out this link