Recently I’ve talked with a number of peers who (like myself) have one or more parents who are not Christians or who are nominal Christians, showing little desire to read Scripture, pray, pursue community, or discuss anything spiritual. We've expressed to one another doubts that we, as "just their children," have the ability to affect change. But, because we are first and foremost God's children, there are ways in which we can be spiritual leaders – servant leaders to be exact – for our parents, especially as we return home for Christmas.
Recognize the need for appropriate parent-child boundaries.
Although college students are adults, we’re still our parents’ children. And the apostle Paul instructs children to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3). At times, intending to offer a bit of biblical advice, I've excessively lectured my parents and received the convicting reply: “You're my kid. You shouldn't be telling me how to live.”
Honoring our parents means that we can’t be their boss, their psychologist, or their pastor and certainly not their savior. Rather, we are a tool in the Savior’s hands. So if a parent tells you about their spiritual concerns, encourage them to look at Scripture with you or visit your church in order to see for themselves. If a parent tells you about their emotional or even marital concerns, encourage them to consider some biblical counseling. As with any relationship, God is God and we are not.
Actively honor your parents.
Honoring our parents, however, doesn’t mean passivity. We can honor and obey our parents actively by serving and encouraging them. Wash the dishes unexpectedly. Tell your mom that she looks great today. Reduce your complaints and increase your patience when the house gets hectic (I know that one’s hard). Forgive when your parents wrong you and ask for forgiveness when you wrong them. These are pictures of Christ’s love and can open doors for you to talk about Him with your parents.
Last summer, for instance, after being rude to my mom at dinner, I later said that I was sorry and asked her to forgive me. When this happened a second time, she asked me, “Why are you asking for forgiveness all of a sudden?” I replied: “Because I’ve learned to ask God for forgiveness...and learned that He gives it to me.”
Ministering to our parents requires a balance of respectful boundaries and faithful boldness, accompanied all the while by a lot of prayer. This radical obedience to our parents and radical love for them can surprise our parents so much that they glimpse the uniqueness of the God we follow and grow increasingly open to hearing about Him.
What experiences and suggestions would you add for trying to honor and love your parents?
Julia Powers is an English major at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, currently serving as a small group leader and as her chapter’s prayer coordinator.