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How Do We Honor Our Father and Mother if They Were Abusive?

What does it mean to honor a father and mother that didn’t represent Christ? How do we, as believers, uphold this commandment while trying to figure out how to heal from the painful parts of our past?

Author and Podcaster
Updated Nov 17, 2023
How Do We Honor Our Father and Mother if They Were Abusive?

As a parent, there are some parts of the scriptures that I have taught my children, despite the nagging going on in my own heart. Over the years, it has come up from time to time, even though I tried to push it down.

Honor Your Father and Mother

As believers, my husband and I have done our best to raise our children with a biblical worldview, trying to represent the Lord in the way we love and protect them. 

For many of our friends and people we go to church with, I would say they also strive to parent in very much the same way. For the most part, it has been easy not just to teach that concept to our kids, but for them to see it modeled in the lives of those around us.

If I am honest, though, there has always been something in the back of my heart and mind when I have spoken those words. 

What does it mean to honor a father and mother that didn’t represent Christ? How do we, as believers, uphold the commandment that is in both the Old and New Testaments while trying to figure out how to heal from the painful parts of our past?

I think for many years, I sat with this tension, allowing the enemy to speak shame and guilt into my life. More than once, I allowed those feelings to push me into situations that left me with more pain than when I started. 

While I knew God wanted me to break the chains of abuse in my family, I also couldn’t reconcile how I could do that, while also holding the tension of trying to honor my parents when they clearly were not living for the Lord. 

As I took that tension and pain to the Lord, He revealed some things to me that I think may also be helpful for you.

1. We Need to Read Through the Lens of What We Know about Jesus

Jesus said a lot about abuse, how to treat people, and what it means to represent Him well. The intention of the command to honor your parents included the assumption that those parents were themselves submitted to the Lord. 

If someone is submitted to the Lord, then there really is no problem with honor. The problems come when someone demands honor while not first honoring Christ themselves. Jesus does not ever condone abuse. 

His heart is for those who are broken to be restored, for captives to be freed, and for our human relationships to represent His love as we serve others. We also see Jesus throughout the New Testament exhibit and teach good boundaries. 

2. The Best Way We Can Honor Our Parents Is to Surrender Them to the Lord

Ultimately, we can never change our parents, as much as we may want to. The one who can?  Jesus. If we have parents who are not safe emotionally, spiritually, or physically, then the best way we can honor them is to surrender them to the Lord. 

We can honor them from a distance by praying for them. Sometimes, it takes the loss of a relationship before someone realizes that they need to change. It may take losing a relationship with a child for someone to seek Jesus for their own healing

3. Our Biblical Obligation Is to Protect Our Children

As we grow spiritually, we start to heal from the things the enemy has tried to use in our lives to keep us bound. Part of that healing means we have to parent our own children differently than how we were raised. 

That is part of the process of breaking the “generational curses” that have plagued some of our families. Addictions, abuse, mental illness, etc. are all ways that the enemy has impacted generations of families. 

While it can be difficult, we have a biblical responsibility to protect our children, sometimes from our own parents. This may mean keeping our distance, and not allowing some of the same things that affected us to affect them.

None of this is easy. There are people who may not understand. Sometimes people who don’t come from abusive homes may have damaging advice, even if it is well-meaning. 

The key? Leaning into our relationship with the Lord and listening to the counsel of the Holy Spirit. That is the only way we can effectively navigate these tricky relationships. 

As we continue to surrender our parents to the Lord, the hope is that He will change their hearts in a way that only He can. And until He does? We can remember that we are not alone. God is not just our Father, but He is a good Father.

And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty (2 Corinthians 6:18).

Rachael Groll is a missionary, a podcaster, and the author of She Hears: Learning to Listen to Jesus. You can listen to more about Matthew 15 on the Hearing Jesus Podcast: 

Read more from Rachael at SHEHEARS.ORG

For further reading:

How Long Do We Have to Honor Our Parents?

What Should We Say to Victims of Abuse?

5 Biblical Boundaries to Set with Others

3 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries Between Yourself and Toxic People

5 Prayers for Parents with Alzheimer’s

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/PIKSEL

Rachael GrollRachael Groll is a missionary, a podcaster, and the author of She Hears: Learning to Listen to Jesus. You can listen to more about Matthew 10 on the Hearing Jesus Podcast, What to Do When Others Reject the Gospel: A Devotional Bible Study on Matthew 10:7-15. Read more from Rachael at SHEHEARS.ORG

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