RETURNING TO HONOR
(c) Copyright 2010 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Exodus 20:12, Hebrews 12:15-17, Heidelberg Catechism Q+A 104
We have been talking about relationships between parents and children. We have been talking about a parents responsibility to be honourable, to be people of character, courage and conscience and a childís responsibility to honour based on
Ex 20:12 "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Last Sunday, we looked at Esau, the son of two hardly worth any honour parents, Isaac and Rebecca who not only played favourites with their children but loved conditionally, it seems that for Isaac, the way to the manís heart was only through his stomach. Make me a good meal and I will love you Esau. We notice how Esau reacted to his parents in anger, and in selling his birthright to Jacob for next to nothing demonstrated how his parents, for him were worth next to nothing. He dishonoured his parents and as he let that anger in his heart turn to a root of bitterness, that bitterness shaped his character, his actions, his life story became that of a wanderer, never really belonging to place and family. Even when he wanted a blessing, he could not change Godís mind, there was no turning. His actions could not be undone.
He had become his own bitter root, a living bitter reaction against his parents unfair use of power. The anger wrote his life story. It shaped his identity and behaviors arise out of who we are. And we discovered something else that is too often true, when children react against their parents in bitter anger, all too often in the act of dishonouring their parents they turn against the God of their parents, they miss the incredible grace they were born into, that is why we read in the book of
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.
That New Testament reference to Esau points us to the incredible pain that happens when we let anger turn into a bitter root that wounds an entire family. That tragedy stands as a warning to all of us to deal with our anger before it turns to a bitter root, to help each other deal with our anger so that we might not miss the grace of God.
Before we look at how to deal with anger that has turned to a bitter root, I invite you to look at one more passage, a prophetic passage that pictures for us the renewal that would happen in Christ. You see Christ came to restore families and bring healing.
That is what we discover in the 2 last verses of the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5,6
5"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."
Now we all know that we live in a culture where pop psychology has taught us that its not our fault. As one Simpsonís cartoon, and if you are young, you might remember it, showed Bartís denial of responsibility mantra "I didnít do it." sweep the nation. Blaming someone else for our own character flaws, our own actions, we are culturally bent in that direction. But this command makes our reaction to our parents our responsibility. Our reaction is not determined by their actions. This command makes very clear that we all have the responsibility to honour our parents. Our parents were unfair - it is still our responsibility to work out what it means to honour them even though in our mind, they are hardly worthy of honour.
Now the question is HOW? How do we honour parents that are hard to honour? How do we return to honouring our parents when the anger that we have held against them has already started to set our characters in a certain situation?
The answer to that is the hard work of forgiveness.
When it comes to forgiving, there are a number of key themes that we need to realize.
First, when it comes to forgiveness, timing is almost everything, the earlier, the better. Teaching our children habits and skills of forgiveness is one of the best life skills we can teach them. All of us would agree that it is much easier to remove this little seedling roots and all than it is to remove this little seedling which has had time to grow. The difference between those two pictures is time. And if nothing is done, that root which finds the smallest crack, how the power to permanently shape who we are, break us wide open, so to speak.
Thatís why this command is aimed at children. Do it now, honour now, forgive now, while forgiving is easier. Donít let that root grow. Donít let it become part of who you are. Deal with your relationship with your parents now. When you feel the hurt, make the choice there to forgive. And if you feel powerless to do so, get help for your family because there is help available. God wants you to be free. For freedom, Christ has set us free. Forgive now while forgiveness is still a simple decision. Forgive now while the work is not that difficult.
But what if the problem is that we have let the anger grow? Or the wound was so deep that the wound itself shaped who we are, this was more than a simple decision to forgive, maybe there were secrets in our family that could not be exposed, for which we could not get support, the shame of which we and our family could not bear. What if the problem was momís anger and it was there everyday, it was who she was? What if the problem was that dad did things in secret to you? How can we forgive if the wound or the bitterness has become who we are?
Then forgiveness is more than a decision, it is sometimes a lifelong and certainly extremely difficult process. It involves not a choice, it involves the repeated choice to forgive every time they remember the pain of the experience. Every expression of that bitter root of anger needs to be pulled out. Jesus said the same truth this way. When asked how many times a man should forgive his brother, Jesus said 70 X7, and by saying that, not only was it 490 times, but by phrasing it the way Jesus did, he clearly meant - until the work is done and you can rest from your work of forgiving. He was pointing to the year of jubilee when debtors would be completely set free.
You have probably heard of the process of forgiveness being compared to peeling an onion. We start with a large onion and as we take off the first layer, we cry, we let go, we give the cause of justice to God, we choose to let go of seeking justice ourselves. We grieve and we cry.
Only to discover the next day that there is another layer, and we peel that layer, and we cry and we give the cause of justice to God who alone can work perfect justice.
We do this day after day, week after week, and the deeper it goes, month after month and year after year, until one day we discover that the onion has become to small to hold onto, to small to be worthy of our attention, to small to hold and peel, we let it go, our work is done, it now longer has the power to shape who we are. That is a process, it takes hard work, but after the hard work comes the freedom of jubilee for us, and those who have offended us. While we are in that process we are forgiving as God is forgiving us.
Some people are of the mind that when it comes to these past experiences: "Let buried dogs lie!" They will say "Get over it." They feel that digging them up just causes trouble. But I suggest to you that truly honouring our parents insists that we deal with our anger and forgive. You see honour attaches to what we really and truly are. Unless we deal with these past issue of anger, we will not have the capacity to honour our parents for who they really are, and if the bitter root is large and expansive, we will not be able to see what is worthy of honour in our parents. Forgiving enables us to see our parents in a different light, it enables us to see the good qualities in our parents apart from the bad, it enables us to give honour where honour is due. But that perception can only start when we have taken the log of bitterness out of our own eyes. To forgive our parents is the highest form of honouring them. Honouring through forgiveness is possibly the hardest emotional work we will ever do in our lives.
Now, I canít speak for you, but I can speak for me. There have been situations in my life where forgiveness was one decision, and very frankly, because those hurts were minor, and because I forgave quickly, they did not have the power to shape my character, I have in effect forgotten them.
But there are also wounds which have shaped me, forgiving has been hard, and still today I am forgiving them, I have not finished the process, I am making the choice all over to trust the justice of God, in prayer I mention them by name and before God I forgive them again. That by the way is where faith comes in. Forgiving takes faith in the character and the justice of God. The simple truth is that on so many levels, if the wound has gone deep, we cannot secure justice. As the mother of the child who was killed by a drunk driver. Will those 3 months in the slammer and 2 years of probation be justice? Not at all. In fact, if he got the electric chair, in her wounded heart, that would not be justice. Only God can work true justice. God says: Vengeance is mine. You forgive, I will take care of justice. That is why there is a very real hell. That is why there was a very real cross. For those who have wounded us, justice will be done, in hell, or, if by grace they are in Christ, justice has been done on the cross. We can afford to forgive because God secures justice for us. We can let it go. We can start the journey to living in freedom. God has worked jubilee for us. We can return to honour by the journey and hard work of forgiveness. That is all about us as children.
But what can we as parents do to help our children honour us? Obviously, as we have already noted, we need to be parents worthy of honour. But we also have been sinful. One of the best ways that we can help our children forgive us is by being honest and humble about our sins and failures. As parents, we can start the process of healing for our children. We can say to them: "I failed you as a parent in this and that way, (be specific). Take responsibility for your failures. When you children see your desire for true relationship even at the expense of your pride, like it is far easier to forgive someone who acknowledges the wrongs they have done, it will be far easier for your children to forgive you. It is not without reason that Malachi started with Fathers... He will turn the hearts of the father to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.
Finally - to return to honour is to do unto our parents as you would have had them do unto you. We think we are people who live by the golden rule, but we excuse ourselves from the golden rule to our parents because of past injustices. The truth is, we are to do to our parents as we would have had them do to us.
A story is told in good book The Ten Commandments: the significance of God's Laws in Everyday Life , by Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel. Pp. 170-171) which demonstrates this point well.
""Once upon a time, when families lived in extended units, with children and grandparents living together there was a home in which a man lived with his son, daughter in law and grandchildren. The meals they ate together were always a wonderful time of sharing. As the years went by, the man's health began to decline. He couldn't help as much around the house, and his hands began to shake. He sometimes would spill his food on the table or even on the rug.
One day when he was shaking particularly badly the spoon he was holding in his bowl broke, spilling the food all over. The son said to his father in anger and frustration, "Dad, I can't take this any longer. Can't you control yourself? You will just have to eat by yourself in your room." And so the son gave his father a wooden bowl that could not break, and for every meal would bring food to the father's room.
Time went by and the meals at the dining-room table were much quieter and neater. The old man was very lonely eating his meals in his room, but he didn't say anything because he didn't want to make his son even more upset.
Several weeks later the son came home and found on of his children making something out of wood.
"What are you making?" he asked.
"I am making a wooden bowl," answered the young boy.
"It is very nice, but what will you use if for?"
"Oh, it is not for me, Dad, it is for you."
"For me? Wonderful! Maybe we can keep fruit in it," said the dad.
The son answered, "It is not for you yet, Dad. I am saving it for when you get older and your hands begin to shake. When I see it is to hard for you to eat with us, then I will give it to you so you can eat in your room."
The father silently walked into the house and went to his own father's room. "Dad, I'm so sorry for what I have done. How many years did you take care of me, assuring me that I would grow out of my clumsiness? Never once did you make me eat a meal in my room; and look and what I have done to you. Can you ever forgive me for not giving you the respect you deserve?"
That night the old man returned to the dining-room table. Though the table was a little less quiet and a little less neat, the family was whole."
When we forgive, we both honour and enable honour. When we forgive, we live by the Spirit of this command: "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
Learn habits of forgiveness
Dig out roots
Give us the jubilee of forgiveness in the sure knowledge of your ultimate justice.
Help us to enable honour
Do unto others...
1 Taken from The Ten Commandments: the significance of God's Laws in Everyday Life , by Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Rabbi Stewart Vogel.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.