Not Just A Sunday School Lesson

Susan Narjala   |   April 6, 2021 

You know one of the topics we don’t talk about often in churches? Our relationship with our parents when we’re adults. Somehow, we’ve decided that it’s a relevant topic only for Sunday School/ Children's Church - but not really beyond that.

Maybe we’ve relegated the subject of honouring our parents to the fringes because we feel like we’ve outgrown it. Maybe we’ve dismissed it because it dredges up painful memories and past hurts. Maybe we don’t talk about it because we’re more focused on other relationships, those with our spouse or our children or our friends or our frenemies. Our relationship with our parents seems like a passé topic that we can easily gloss over.

And yet, there’s the Word of God which says not once, not twice but eight times: honour your father and your mother.

Yikes. Really, God? Isn’t that just a Ten Commandments thing? It’s in the New Testament, too?

 And God says, “Yeah, only like six times.”

That’s a direct quote from Matthew chapter 30.

Kidding. There’s no Matthew 30 and God didn’t say those words.

But joking aside, the Bible speaks of honouring our parents six times in the New Testament (in Matthew 15:4; Matthew 19:19, Mark 7:10, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20 and Ephesians 6:2) and, hey, if it’s in the Ten Commandments, we’d better be paying attention.

Today, let’s look at what honouring our parents can look like, but, first, let’s consider what honouring our parents is not.

Honouring our parents doesn’t mean implicit obedience. It doesn’t mean allowing them to manipulate our choices or our marriage. It doesn’t mean we don’t have boundaries with them. It doesn’t mean that you follow them to forgo Jesus.

So, what does it mean? According to the Hebrew meaning (er, I sound like a pastor now, don’t I? Full disclosure: I googled it.), the word “honour” in this context means “to give weight to”.

I love how this idea of “giving weight to” is beautifully demonstrated in the Ruth and Naomi story.

You may recall the narrative from the book of Ruth: Naomi has lost her husband and her two adult sons, leaving her and her two daughters-in-law, bereaved. Naomi plans to leave Moab and go back to her hometown of Bethlehem and she urges her daughters-in-law to return to their own homes so they can pick up the pieces and make something of their lives.

But Ruth isn’t convinced. She sees through Naomi’s insistence that the daughters-in-law go back to their homes. She sees an older woman who is dealing with immense loss. She sees someone who could use a travelling companion - and a friend.

Ruth tags along with Naomi as they make their journey.

I can just imagine that scene:

Naomi choking back tears as Ruth says those now-famous words:

Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. (Ruth 1: 16b)

The older woman overcome with emotion. The younger one steely in her determination and yet completely tender-hearted toward her mother-in-law.

I picture Naomi tugging at her scarf and wiping the tears that threaten to roll down her cheeks. This time, not tears of grief but tears that flow when you're overwhelmed by another's kindness.

I picture Ruth gently holding Naomi’s elbow and steadying her step as they journey toward Bethlehem.

I picture Ruth diverting attention from her act of sacrifice with a corny joke, hoping to distract her mother-in-law, all the while burying her own pain and bewilderment at what the future may hold.

Yes, this is conjecture, but I wouldn’t be too far off the mark in guessing that Ruth demonstrated empathy toward Naomi.

 The story of Ruth and Naomi enfolds many sweet treasures and I’ve written a longer Bible Plan on this topic for YouVersion which you can download here if you’d like.

But, personally, I love this nugget of truth that we discovered right here in chapter 1: Ruth demonstrated unselfish empathy.

She put herself in her mother-in-law’s shoes. She saw beyond the obvious. She gave weight to her mother-in-law's struggles. She even looked beyond her own emotions and pain.

And, friends, couldn’t all our relationships with our parents use just a little empathy?

Wouldn’t that stop us from retaliating with a careless word?

Wouldn’t that stop us from belittling them in our conversations with others?

Wouldn’t that stop us from harbouring hurt and nursing resentment because we now understand a little bit of their story and struggle?

Today, can we honour our parents by choosing empathy over indifference?

There are no perfect relationships, despite what it looks like from the outside. We’re all imperfect people meshed together in messy relationships.

But let’s take a page out of Ruth’s book and, despite the annoyances, despite the words that sting, despite the way we think things “should” be, let’s challenge ourselves to live from a place of empathy in our relationship with our parents.


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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When she's not smuggling chocolate past her kids or drinking gallons of coffee, Susan Narjala can be found writing, baking and (thinking about) working out. She grew up in Chennai, lived in Portland, Oregon, for the last ten years and is now back in India with her family. She finds nuggets of humour in the everyday, and writes about it on on her blog,

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