How do I honor abusive, ungodly parents?


Our parents are abusive, ungodly people. I have forgiven them and continue to ask God to help me. My sister says I have to honor them by doing what they want because they are old. She chooses to subject herself to their verbal abuse. I struggle to do as God would want. I do not wish to continue to put myself in such a position. Can I still honor them and not physically be around them? I cannot be who God wants me to be when I have to deal with their anger, narcissism, favoritism, and wicked tongues. It cuts like a knife and has never stopped. How do I honor without setting myself up for more hurt?  What more can I do besides forgive them and prayer?


A person's behavior is the result of his or her own choices. "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20). You can't make your parents change. You can encourage them to go in the right direction, but your parents must decide for themselves. And your sister decides for herself how she wishes to deal with your parents.

For a child, honoring one's parent includes obedience. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Ephesians 6:1). But when you reach adulthood, your parents no longer control your life. They are no longer responsible for your actions and so they no longer have authority over your life. However, growing up doesn't mean your responsibility to give your parents honor has stopped.

Nor does honoring your parents mean supporting them in their sins or bringing their sins into your life. Be polite when you must interact with them. Check once in a while to see that they are all right. But when they become abusive or try to drag you down to their level, just politely tell them "no I won't go there" and hang up or leave.

Let's list out some ways you can honor your parents.

  • As bad as they are, they did manage to raise a child who wants to serve God. For their care of you when you were young, you can be thankful even while recognizing that their approach to parenting was often flawed. Don't stoop to scorn (Proverbs 30:11) or mockery (Proverbs 30:17) of your parents.
  • Treat them with respect (Leviticus 19:3). You can be polite without agreeing with their behavior. Don't treat them with contempt (Proverbs 20:20). When they intrude into your life, you can listen to their advice. Perhaps most isn't useful to a Christian, but they do have some experience which you can use to your advantage.
  • Make sure that in their old age they are taken care of (I Timothy 5:3,8,16). This doesn't mean you have to do all the work or that you must pay all their bills, but you should make sure that they are receiving adequate care. As they get older, there are going to be things they just won't be able to do. For example, they may get too old to take care of their yard, so you can offer to pay a neighborhood boy to come and mow the lawn for them.

Many people mistakenly believe that Christ requires his followers to forgive and accept people as they are. "If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death" (I John 5:16-17). This verse confuses people because they approach it with a preconceived notion. A sin that leads to death is a sin that has not been repented of. Repenting of sin means that sin does not lead to death. Your parents are unrepentant of their sins. Those sins will lead to eternal death. God tells us not to pray for someone who remains in his sins. We can pray that they find their way out of sin and turn their life over to God, but while they stubbornly remain in their sins it would be improper to ask God to accept them or forgive them while they remain in their sins. To do so would be asking God to go against His own laws and His own nature. God does not sin nor accepts sin, so why should we pray that He overlooks the sins of someone who doesn't want to yield to his Master?

No matter how bad your childhood was, you don't have to let it impact your life. All the choices you make are also your own -- the bad and the good. Just as your parents have no right to blame their behavior on their parents, you cannot use your parents as an excuse for your own behavior. Break the cycle of sin and follow God with your whole heart. Forget about the past and start living for the future.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email