Showing Grace to Graceless Parents
Dr. Valson Abraham
To effectively fulfill the Great Commission sometimes depends upon how we honor the most dishonorable people of our lives with God’s grace. This may include parents who mistreated, neglected and abused us.
To a degree, we all experience dysfunctional families. All parents are sinners. Yet some of us have or had parents who gave us little more than misery and torment. Just the thought of them revolts or terrifies us. God commands us to honor our parents, but how do we honor them?
You cannot truly obey this command until you first know God and the great work He has already done for you through Jesus Christ. You must know this deep in your heart, not just in your head. This requires a supernatural act, the earnest of the Holy Spirit, assuring you of deep gospel truths in deep ways, as they apply to your unique situation.
Those truths include a personal application of God’s foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justifying and glorifying of you before creation (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-5). Do not just read those verses, but take time with them. Study them. Know them, and absorb them deep into your spirit.
Realize that you were on your Father God’s mind and heart long before your father and mother were ever born. God’s choice of you as His own overrules all else in your life, including wicked parents. Know deep in your heart that you are a member of God’s family through Jesus Christ, with all the privileges He gives you through the shedding of His blood on the cross.
You may have terrifying and awful parents, but long before God created Adam and Eve, He chose to pull you from this muck and make you His own. Not even the cruelest and most repulsive parents can pluck you from His hand. Your earthly parents, terrible as they were, are only temporary. Your membership in the family of God begins in this life and lasts forever. Choose this moment to learn how to live in that reality even if you don’t fully understand it now.
Every day, thank God His grace is big enough He can even use such nasty people to bring you into the world so as to adopt you into His royal family!
Vietnamese people have a proverb that well illustrates these fantastic truths: “The lotus grows in mud, but it doesn’t smell of mud.” See yourself as that lotus because you are. Discover who you really are in Him, and He will give you the grace to honor your wretched parents even as He has chosen to honor you.
Remember that God is a “Father to the fatherless” (Psalm 65:8). He can use everything for the good of those who love Him and are called of Him (Romans 8:28), even your life with wicked parents. Take a small step of faith toward Him, see Him act, then take another step. You may hesitate, but be honest with God about your feelings.
As a man, He was “despised and rejected…a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” His own people, even his own earthly family members, did not welcome Him. So He understands your situation perfectly from His own earthly experience. He wants to help you do what you can’t do yourself.
Remember that honor is primarily an action, not a feeling. It is an offer of God’s grace to graceless people. It does not mean trusting them or tolerating further abuse or rewarding their evildoing. God does not demand that you submit yourself to continued mistreatment at the hands of your parents.
He does not demand that you obey parents when to do so means going against God’s will. Remember how Jonathan refused to obey his father, King Saul, when he demanded Jonathan join his efforts to destroy David. Though anointed by the prophet Samuel, King Saul abused his heavenly mandate and ceased to have God-given authority either as king or father.
Jesus wants us to love and pray for our enemies, even if our enemies include our own parents. Ask God to help you to hate their sin while still loving them as people whom He has made in His image. You can still pray that God will help them to see their sin and repent.
It may happen that extension of His grace to dishonorable parents may even win them to Christ. Do not set limits on God’s grace. Often, parents know deep inside that they have failed as parents, but they fear to take the first step of reconciliation. Extension of grace to them - the same grace God extends to you - may encourage them to change.
Even if they don’t change, you will have God’s peace, knowing you sought His help and acted as He would act.
Practically speaking, how can we honor dishonorable parents? Here are some suggestions:
• Become willing to forgive them and release emotional baggage. Only the Holy Spirit can help you do this. With Him all things are possible (Mark 10:22). Read Lewis Smedes’ Forgive and Forget—a helpful book.
• When possible, call and listen to them, and say nothing when they say hurtful things.
• When possible, do acts of kindness for them.
• Accept them where they are. Don’t expect them to match your expectations.
• Note any good things they may have done and express gratitude for them.
• Don’t criticize your parents before other family members.
• Create safe boundaries to prevent manipulation.
• Teach your children to love their grandparents.
• Pray for parents who mistreated you.
• Let your relationship with Christ shine through. Who knows? God’s grace in your life, shown to them, may eventually bring them to Christ. It happens.
Sometimes the hardest people to win for Christ come from under our own roof. Let God use this acid test to train you to reach around the world in His name.
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Father God, I thank you that you chose to make me part of your family long before anyone else ever thought of me. You sent Jesus Christ to save me from my hopeless situation. Give me your grace to love my graceless parents, and to reach out to others who need your grace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen