I received a request to write an article for Every Thought Captive magazine recently. This is what they requested:
Q and A How do you confront a parent – Robert Barnes
They are those who must be honored. God gave us the parents He did and whatever their faults or sins, said that we must honor them. How do we confront a parent who needs to have their sins dealt with in a way that is honoring and respectful?
Here’s how I answered that request.
I had won. Or so I thought.
“I’ve looked at these books. I’ve read all of them. And they are filled with romance and sex between people who are not married. Here are some examples I’ve dogeared. What do you have to say about this?”
She looked down at me sheepishly. Guilty. Sad. Quiet.
“I’m going to pray for you that you’ll do the right thing about these books and the ones you bring from the library. Dear Father…”
That was me at age 13 confronting my mom about her Harlequin Romance books. The Young Prophet Against Minor Debauchery could have been the title of my story back in those days. Strong, sure, certain of what I wanted—like one of the bronzed men on the cover of The Golden Stallion. And with my choice of a hundred different wrongs I could have confronted in my own life, my friends, my culture—I picked my mom. Her dreamy dalliance with fantasies of a man who would take her away from the life I daily prayed I could flee—that was the problem. And my confrontation was the solution.
God helped me to make things right with my mom later. God put me in a place of humility (and great honor) as I cared for her daily needs for over 10 years after she had several strokes. The arrogance and folly of my rebuke of her would have never happened if I were humbly serving her, more repentant of my own sexual sin, and open to admitting my own foolish fantasies of leaving the farm.
My dad was a different story. He was very active in his sin. And he was far too violent to confront. But God did something I could never do—God saved him. God changed his heart one day and I could not even believe it. I could not forgive him because I didn’t believe it was possible for someone like him to change. But over a year, God showed me more of my own sin, my own anger, and I began to taste his grace and mercy flowing over my own life. One day, I woke up and I believed God. I believed he could save my dad and change his heart and that his apology to me was real.
What did your story with your parents look like? How did their sin impact you? Did you try to confront them? How did it go?
Surely my life would have been much different, and I’d have brought more peace and harmony into my home if I’d practiced a few simple principles.
First, as the apostle Paul closes his second letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, he says, “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). This was a message to a young pastor, showing levels of correction. For a child, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father” (1 Tim 1:5). A child exhorts in the mildest way possible.
Second, “Honor your father and mother” is the way a child sanctifies his parents, not the sort of haughty rebuke I gave my mother. The work of honoring those in authority is not simply a duty, but a means of seeing real change. “In the same way you wives must submit yourselves to your husbands, so that if any of them do not believe God’s word, your conduct will win them over to believe” (1 Pet. 3:1). Honor and submission in the Lord is the hammer and anvil of God to change the hearts of those in authority over us.
Third, trust God is with you and live like you are not alone. I speak as someone who felt very alone as a child. God has counted the nights I prayed and wept over Psalm 27:10, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” A child of God is never alone, even amid parental sin and chaos.
I wish the 51-year-old me could go back to the 8-year-old me and reaffirm these great truths. Give them to your children, your church, your friends, so they might draw great solace from the wisdom of Scripture.