The world that we live in today offers us choices constantly, right at our fingertips. From social media sites, mobile games, streaming platforms, and even food delivery services, with one click of a button or a swipe on a screen, we can pick and choose what we want, when it’s most convenient for us. And if we get tired of one thing in particular, we can always move onto something else with ease. This is neither good, nor bad; it’s simply a reality of the technological age.
One reality that we cannot choose our way out of, however, is our family members and the household we’re born into. Unlike the apps on our phone, we are unable to so easily pick and choose new parents if our current relationships with them are less than ideal. However, even though we haven’t handpicked our parents, God still calls us to honor them. What does honoring them exactly mean when you don’t always feel like they’re on your side?
The Fourth Commandment
Although I grew up in a Catholic family, I still found it difficult to remain obedient to my parents. When I was younger, we prayed before meals, went to Mass every Sunday, and I even attended a Catholic elementary and middle school. However, I didn’t actively participate in my faith until the second semester of my freshman year in high school. From that point onward, I started walking towards Christ while my parents stopped in their tracks. The more time I spent at Church, either celebrating Mass, attending Life Nights, or staying behind for a parish event, eventually my parents would ask the question: “You’re going to church? Again?”
This question alone made me feel discouraged from sharing my faith with my parents, as well as obeying them. No matter how much of God’s love I felt at retreats or Life Nights, I could never seem to bring that love into my own household — and more than likely, I just stopped trying. Even though I was growing deeper in my faith, it stopped short when it came to upholding the Fourth Commandment. I poured my efforts into school and even used church to avoid the problems at home.
Fast forward to post-high school, I started praying that I could be a reflection of Christ’s love to everyone that I meet. From this prayer, God started to knock on my heart and pointed to the people I often found hardest to love: my parents. I realized that if I wanted to be an outpouring of God’s love to the world, I needed to first start at home.
Maybe you can relate to my experience or maybe you’ve experienced a different type of tension between your parents. Perhaps at times it seems like all of your interactions with your parents end up in arguments, or it feels like they hold you back with a mountain of rules that only gets higher, or maybe they’re simply not around.
These situations can cause us to look at our parents into sworn enemies, which makes it difficult to follow and uphold the commandment to “honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12) and in turn, makes it harder to live out our faith. It can be so easy to slip into an argument and immediately retreat into your room for days, without coming to a healthy resolution.
Relating Back to the Father Above
And yet, despite the difficulties of carrying out the fourth commandment, we are still called to show obedience and respect towards our parents. In the Catechism it says: “The divine fatherhood is the source of human fatherhood; this is the foundation of the honor owed to parents. The respect of children, whether minors or adults, for their father and mother is nourished by the natural affection born of the bond uniting them” (CCC 2214).
By adhering to the fourth commandment, we not only honor our parents, but we also honor God, our Heavenly Father, who united all families together. Parents were intentionally put into our lives so that we could have an earthly reflection of our relationship with the Father above. By seeing Him as the source of our parental relationships, we can hope to see glimpses of God, no matter how small, in both our father and mother. Maybe by seeing God in your parents, honoring them and upholding the fourth commandment becomes a lot more easier.
But we are unable to see these small, little glimpses of our Father if we become too caught up in things like ignoring our parents, arguing with them, or even complaining about them to friends or on social media. Just as you are able to show obedience and respect to God, you are called to mirror that same obedience and respect towards your parents; even in the moments when you feel like they don’t deserve it. In doing so, God the Father will sure to be pleased and overjoyed (Col. 3:20).
Honoring your father and mother does not mean, however, that you should follow them if their actions or rules fail to love and bring you into a state of sin, inflict any type of abuse, or any other problematic action that brings you farther away from God (i.e., if your parents do not allow you to attend Mass on Sundays or another Holy Day of Obligation, it would not be considered “failing to honor them” by disobeying that rule).
Living it Out
Upholding the Fourth Commandment goes beyond just avoiding arguments and sitting down every night at the dinner table. And it won’t always be easy. So here are a few ways that may help your parental relationships become a reflection of Christ:
Communicate. Simply put, talk with your parents. Even if it’s something as small as how your day went or asking for help with an assignment, one small conversation could go a long way.
Listen. This doesn’t only apply to obeying the rules they’ve set forth, but also listening to them when they speak. A conversation goes two ways and believe it or not, parents were teens once, too. By asking them questions and listening to their answers, you might find that you and your parents have more in common than you think.
Invite them into your life. Not just when it’s convenient to talk about around the dinner table or when things are easy. Share your struggles and your joy with them.
Pray for your parents and ask God to heal anything in your relationship that might be preventing your family from becoming a reflection of Christ’s love.
But above all else, love. Share mutual affection and have sincere love for your parents (Romans 12:9-10). It is through this sincerity and genuine love that we are able to bring a little foretaste of heaven here on earth, especially in our homes. By having love at the core of our hearts, we are able to honor our father and our mother in ways that only Christ knows how.
So now go forth into your home, share the love that you’ve received from God with your parents, and make Christ known.