As a young teenager, I was on my own. I lived mostly normal-went to high school, work, sports, after school activities-only I wasn’t “normal” at all. My life was chaotic and often uncertain. The 8AM to 3PM block of time was the only consistent schedule I had. My “home” life was a wreck and then it got to the point where there wasn’t a physical home for a while. And then I became a social orphan having to navigate money, shelter, and food.. and everything in between.
Life had not always been that challenging. There’s a very brief time when I was very young, before parental mental illness surfaced. Things were calm. I remember a few traditions. A tiny bit of warmth still comes over me when I think of it, the faintest feelings of nostalgia I think. A time when I not only loved the people who then called themselves my parents, but I respected them.
My mother was fair, honest. My father was hardworking, sacrificial. They were respected in our community, courteous. There was much integrity in their actions and the ways they cared for others. I suppose I received some of those qualities from them. And to be fair, they still have some of these qualities, but perhaps not in the same ways.
The idea of honoring my mother and father has not been clear to me. I’ve wrestled with how to honor someone I don’t agree with, someone I don’t always respect, someone I can not always support. How do I honor others when I am hurt? When I am hurting? When I’ve been hurt by the same people whom I am asked to honor?
And I have come to realize that though I do not always respect or support their choices, though I may struggle with hurt, honoring someone is less about what they are to another, less about what they’ve done and more about who they can be at their very best. We all want people to believe the best in us, to see the best in us even when we are at our ugliest.
Those early glimpses of my parents before the hardness and suffering of mental illness and grief and generational sin struck and took root, that’s who they are at their core, their best selves. It’s the image of God they hold and it’s that image I can honor. I can honor who I see they can be in Christ and hold that hope until they can see it for themselves.
It’s hard to honor those who have hurt and offended, belittled and slighted us. It’s hard to look at others who have directly caused suffering and affliction through their actions and find a reason to honor them. But maybe honoring a parent is less about their role in “parenting” and more about seeing them as humans, fellow bearers of sin and suffering, but also Image bearers of God, wholly and dearly loved in the same way I am. And the ground is level, for all of us to commune with God and one another.