Sunday, June 16, 2013

When You Cannot Honour Thy Father Or Thy Mother

April 1989 - Smiles can conceal so much.
"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee." ~ Exodus 20:12 (KJV)

There are the words, written in stone - supposedly literally. If you were to ask many Christians (or Jews for that matter) what their favourite Bible passage is, the answers would vary. But ask them what the most important passage is, and many would reply with "The Ten Commandments."

There are some difficult commandments within the ten that Moses brought down from the mountain, and throughout the Bible in general. But for some of us, "Honour they father and thy mother" is the hardest.

For instance,

  • Some have grown up without a father or a mother; we have no idea who our father or mother is,
  • Some have grown up with a practically-absentee mother or father who left the parenting to the other parent,
  • Some have grown up with an abusive father or mother. Instead of love, we experienced intense fear. Instead of security, we constantly felt insecure. Instead of guidance, we were left to figure out life for ourselves. Instead of words of encouragement and praise, we heard words that no young person should hear.
Some of us dealt with one or more of these scenarios for our entire childhoods. There was no vacation from it. If there was a good day, you knew that sooner or later it would be followed by an awful one.

We were bruised.
We were scared.
We were abandoned.
We had to grow up much too soon.

Still, there are those hefty words in the twentieth chapter of Exodus, commanding us to honour thy father and thy mother.

The too-easy Christian answer for far too long has often been "Well, you just have to forgive your Mom/Dad. And once you release that anger, treat them with love." There is also often a heavy concentration on reconciliation within Christian circles, no matter the cost it seems.

But I'm here to say that sometimes it just can't be done. By it I'm talking about reconciliation. I definitely believe that forgiveness is achievable, at least in my case. Forgiveness is often more about your own healing rather than the person who has done you wrong. Holding onto bitterness against someone for years just gnaws at your soul and mind and I think it's very helpful to make a decision to let that go.

However, reconciliation is another thing. What I'm about to say is contrary to the Bible, I know, but:

Sometimes you cannot honour thy father or thy mother. 
Get away. Change your phone number. Throw away the letters.

This can be a very hard thing to do particularly for Christians because often they are taught to love at all costs, even if it hurts. However, so many children of absent or abusive parents attempt to do this almost to the point of masochism.  

Why is it so difficult to attempt to have a relationship with an absent or abusive parent? Often it is because the nature of the relationship has not changed (i.e. a parent doesn't acknowledge that their children has their own wishes and dreams) OR because the parent is still an abusive, miserable person and it is unbearable to try to maintain any sort of relationship with them.  

Some people would say that you are honouring your father or mother by ignoring them because you're allowing them to heal.

Let's stop it with the sugar-coating. 

I just say it sucks.

It sucks because in our minds and hearts we still feel that we want a mother or a father, and we try to believe so hard that a relationship will be possible.  Some can torture themselves for years when the best thing to do is to say goodbye, at least for now. You can't say what the future will hold. But it's time to take care of yourself.

Let me get personal for a moment; obviously there's a reason that I'm writing a blog post like this.

Without getting into the whole story, I grew up with an emotionally and verbally abusive father. It was almost constant right up until I left the house at age 17.  I describe it as hell.  My father was a ticking time-bomb. If there happened to be a good day (and there were), I still knew that it wouldn't last and I'd be hiding out in my bedroom listening to the abuse being heaped upon my mother.  On many occasions my father's temper would be so bad that my mother would necessarily shovel me into the car with a change of clothing and we'd stay at a pastor or youth leader's home overnight.  When my father wasn't yelling, there was deafening silence, the kind you could cut with a knife.  My Mom left him in my first year of college.  For several years my father noticeably changed; for instance his temper virtually disappeared.

In the last dozen years, my relationship with my father has been very rocky. There have been periods where we haven't had contact for a year and a half, on more than one occasion.  There have also been some good times, where we've been in regular contact. 

However, sadly, I have now had to distance myself from my father on a more permanent basis. The main reason is because it seems that my father cannot have a relationship with me without pointing out my "faults." These faults include that I have several gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends and am an active advocate for LGBTQ rights. Add to that the fact that I left fundamentalist Christianity over ten years ago and am now a Unitarian Universalist is a major point of contention.   I don't need people to agree with everything that I believe in or in my activities, but I also don't need - check that - I won't accept belittling and attacking. So, for now, I have cut my father out of my life.

It is a painful process to have to cut a parent out of your life, but often the pain of not having them in your life is far outweighed by the crap you take by constantly trying to make the relationship work and receiving grief in return. But allow yourself to feel that pain and that grief.

Finally, Christians who decide to cut off a parent shouldn't take any guff from fellow-Christians who start quoting The Ten Commandments to them. And while we're at it, women shouldn't take any guff from Christian leaders for leaving abusive husbands - that could be a whole other blogpost. It seems to me that Jesus said that he came that "we might have life, and have it abundantly," not miserably.

I am grateful for the relationships I have with some of my relatives, particularly my other immediate family members; they mean the world to me. But as a friend recently told me, and it hit me like a tonne of bricks - shared DNA does not constitute family.

I pray that if you've had to cut off a parent, or are in the process of doing so, that you'll realize that you are highly loved and that there are people around you who see and accept you for who you are.  Be good to yourself. You'll make it through this.

Mark Andrew Nouwen
(Feel free to share this, as it may help someone in a similar situation.)