“The Bible says to honor your Daddy and Mommy.” I’m looking my 5-year-old in her teary eyes. “That means God wants you to listen and obey when we talk to you.”
Our youngest was out of line for something. Honestly, I don’t remember what it was because that was six years ago now. The only reason I remember the instance at all is because that same week I sat across a table in a coffee shop from Kylie (name changed) grappling with the fact that those words don’t work for emerging adults.
Kylie was a 20-year-old sweetheart with contagious joy and a smile as big as Europe, where she’d just returned from serving Jesus and people for several months. But now, her spirit was breaking. She moved back to a dividing home and parents whose values were increasingly opposed to each other’s, and her own. She felt like a pawn in her parents’ fragile marriage. Their requests felt unreasonable and self-serving. She was in tears.
“What does it look like to obey my Dad and Mom as a 20-year-old who has things more together than they do?”
Good question, huh? It was the first time I’d heard it. The direction I offered my 5-year-old doesn’t work here. “Just listen and obey…” Ugh.
The question has surfaced again and again across tables in coffee shops with emerging adults I have grown to love and serve.
“I’m ready to take risks; travel more, maybe give a year away to missions or a gap-year program. But my parents have another plan. They want me in college. They want me to ‘grow up’ and ‘be a man.’ What do I do? What does it mean to honor my parents right now?”
“I finally met a guy. He’s amazing. We met online. I’m so excited…but my parents are not. They say I don’t even know him. It’s like they want me to be lonely. I’m 21 and tired of being lonely. How am I supposed to honor my parents in all this? I really like him.”
One beautiful wrestling heart after the next, each one caught between a rightly taught and ages-old commandment to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother…that it may go well with you” (Ephesians 6:1-3; cf. Exodus 20:12), and a deepening desire to chase a dream or live a life worthy of a possible calling.
Kylie and I lingered on her question for a while. We bounced around a few ideas. Finally though, this thought: “What if, more than obeying them, you lived out your life in a way that shows them they raised you well? Wouldn’t that honor them?”
Over the years, that point has turned into these few principles that I have passed on as often as the question of how to honor parents as emerging adults returns…
- Listen to your parents, the way you’d hope for them to listen to you. Take the focus off yourself and lean into the relationship. There’s a story behind what they’re telling you. They’ve lived longer and made more mistakes than you. Maybe there’s something to that?
- Hear their heart in it all. Before you level your opinion, ask a few questions. Get clarity on hopes and intentions. Seek to understand what they mean by what they say. There’s love and devotion and concern in their words. You honor your parents when you search for it.
- Catch the advice beyond the command. This is a hot one, but your relationship with your parents needs to grow beyond “living under their roof and by their rules.” That’s messed up for a 21-year-old, and frankly, equally as messed up for parents trying to enforce it still. Learn to receive what your parents say as advice to be heeded more than commands to be obeyed. Then honor your parents by actually heeding it; mull it over, acknowledge it—act-on-the-knowledge of it.
- Show off your will to make godly choices that take your parents’ advice seriously. Move from strict obedience as an active response to character-based decisions as an active response; character that your parents have fostered and that God has forged through direction and discipline. Remember, this isn’t merely about obeying their rules or doing what they say. It’s higher than that. It’s about living life and making decisions that glorify God and exalt the name of Jesus Christ. Imagine how honored they’d be here!
- Report back feels like a strict way to say it, but the idea is to tell your parents what you did (even if you failed). Leaning into the relationship, remember? Have some conversation with them. You may or may not have taken their advice, but you can tell them what you chose and why. Give them assurance that you honored them by listening and really processing their advice, and ultimately you chose what you thought best.
There is certainly more to say about this. Each of these gets push-back in some manner. Each of these has caveats to consider. For instance, some kids have been raised in messed up situations. They had parents who didn’t care who they were or where they were. They were abused in any number of ways. They need a lot of love and grace and compassion to be sure. But we can still help them in honoring their parents. They can choose to live above the hurt and the pain, and honor their parents through forgiveness and living in the freedom of Christ … which really, at the end of these, is where we all want to land.
ANDY WEEDA has been serving young adults for 20 years. Currently, he is Pastor of Emerging Adult Ministry at Sunrise Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, where he leads The Branch: an emerging adults community, and directs LEAD Academy, an academic leadership initiative of the local church. You can read more from Andy on his blog.