Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PARENTS: Gotta Live With 'Em Cuz Ya Really Don't Wanna Live Without 'Em

I am inspired to share this amazing article I read by John Huffman, Jr. the senior pastor of a church in Newport Beach. I hope all my adopted kids, nieces, nephews, and even friends will read it. It's a great help to our journey as kids dealing with parents, no matter how old we may be.

Biblical reminder #1: God created our parents for our benefit.

Can you grasp that fact? Your father and mother, as tough as they are to understand at times, are God's gift to you. You are part of an authority structure that helps you be the person God wants you to be. In this world there is authority. This authority is ordered by God.

The Ten Commandments state: "Honor your father and mother."

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' — this is the first commandment with a promise: 'so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth'" (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Do you catch the positive element of that command? We are to obey. In the process we will find a full, positive life.

Paul notes that this is the first commandment that gives a promise. The promise is that if you obey, respecting the authority of your parents, your lifestyle will be blessed of God. Whether this is simply a psychological fact of life or whether God himself goes out of His way to reward you is not clearly specified. I am inclined to believe it is both, for the Bible is God's clear expression of how to live the life He created you to live.

On the other hand, the author of the Book of Proverbs warns of what will happen if you don't take your parents seriously. He states, "The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures" (Proverbs 30:17). That's tough language, isn't it? The person who disobeys the commands of God finds out that this actually happens. Your life is destroyed by your failure to live within God's authority structure.

What are these authority structures? The Bible teaches that God is able to accomplish His purposes in our lives through those He places in authority over us. In the family relationships, this authority is entrusted to God and parents. Every teenager has an enormous potential for either beautiful living or chaotic ruin. In God's eyes, every child is a diamond in the rough. The father and/or mother serve alongside with God as master diamond-cutters, working to bring out the finest qualities of the young person's God-given selfhood. If you refuse to submit to the sometimes painful experience of being shaped by the authority of God and parents, you can end up realizing so little of your ultimate potential.

Biblical reminder #2: God instructs you to obey your parents, not to spoil your fun but because it is the smart way to live.

God knows how you function best. He is the One who made you. Through His Word, He alerts you to a plan for living. He knows that your mother and father have insights that can be of enormous help.

If you are a young person struggling with your relationship with your parents, why don't you try a new approach? Put aside for a moment some of the differences you have with them and take an opportunity to go to one or both of them for some advice. Get their opinion on some issue with which you are struggling. You might be surprised at how helpful they can be.

I am speaking now specifically to teenagers, although we of all ages can continue to learn from our parents. As a teenager, you have your dating problems. You talk them over with your friends. Have you ever stopped to think that Mom and Dad can give you a lot of good advice?

This is especially true if you are doing the asking. Remember, they were young once too. Remember, they have gone through the insecurities, frustrations and problems that you are experiencing. Remember, they made some mistakes. Confront them with your questions. You will be surprised at the wise answers they may give.

I realize you may chuckle and say, "I don't have to ask my parents. They are loaded with all kinds of advice without me even having to ask!"

Why is that? Do you really want to know? It's because they really care!

Mom and Dad have a lot they can share with you. Even the worst parents have a God-given instinct as to what is best for their child.

I discovered this way back in my seminary days when I was serving at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, as an assistant to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. One Sunday afternoon, I was counseling a prostitute. She came to the church with her five-year-old boy, Michael, who had been born out of wedlock. This young woman had come to New York from the Midwest, aspiring to be an actress. Her plans didn't work out. In a sad story of downward spiral, she ultimately resorted to selling her own body in order for her and her boy to survive financially. She was so mixed up. Yet, one thing that impressed me about her was that she was determined that Michael would be free of the mistakes she had made in her teenage years. I will never forget the sincerity of this young woman, who did not have her own act together but wanted what was the best for her child.

You say, "But I can't get my Dad's time long enough to have a good talk. He's so busy in his work. And my mother, when she is not working, is in the gym or somewhere with her covenant group."

Harold Mallett suggest writing a note to your parents. I'll guarantee it will catch their attention. He says to write something like this:

Dear Folks:

Do you mind if I make a suggestion? We don't talk enough. I realize how much "Go" and "Do" there is in your lives, and I know it's important. But, frankly, I need some of your time. It's not that I'm in a jam, or intend to be, but somehow it seems that we belong to different denominations! I go my way and you go yours. We get along fairly well, but I'm like your roomer.

I'd like to discuss dating with you, and some problems that come up about school, parties, drinking, and such. I really need to know what you would say and do.

Could we agree on a time, soon, to fix other times when we can "get with it" more? Yours for the talking!

Your parents were created for your benefit. Obey them because God tells you to and because God knows what is smart. You'll be a lot happier that way.

Biblical reminder #3: There are circumstances in which you are entitled to disobey your parents.

I would be totally dishonest if I pretended the Bible leaves you forever in bondage to your mother and father. There are two specific contingencies which free you from their authority.

The first contingency is that you don't have to obey your parents when what they are demanding goes in direct opposition to the Word of God, the Bible.

Jesus put it bluntly when He said, "'Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me . . . .'" (Matthew 10:37).

God is the ultimate authority over your life. Jesus Christ should be first. You are to be free to disobey your parents when they force you to do something that goes against the Lord.

For example, there are some fathers and mothers whose lives are so perverted by sin that they enlist their children's aid in illegal activities. I know parents who have urged their children to lie, to steal and to cheat.

And, hardly a day goes by that we do not hear a case history of a young person whose parent has used them sexually.

God never expects you to obey your parents when this goes against God's instructions for creative Christian living. Remember, though, you are going to have to know the Bible. You should be growing in your relationship with the Lord so as to know what is right and what is wrong. I believe that in most cases the requests of parents do not go counter to the Word of God. But when they do, the highest authority is God, not Mom and Dad. Please don't use this as a copout. Use this as a responsibility. In most cases, your commitment to the Lord will only increase the quality of your relationship with your parents as you, in a healthy way, acknowledge their authority.

The second contingency is that you don't have to obey your parents forever.

The day comes when you leave your father and mother.

If you are a single young adult, you will have the privilege and responsibility of making your own decisions.

If you are married, the Bible urges you to leave your father and mother and cleave to your partner.

As an adult, you will be primarily under the authority of God and His Word. Maturity in a young person means that you are able to develop in your relationship to God and your fellow human beings so that you are able to live as a responsible adult.

As long as you are dependent on your father and mother for money, you have a responsibility to them.

A young man I know is 20 years old and has many hangups with his father. He went away to college. He and his dad continued to get along like cats and dogs. It all boiled down to the fact that my friend wanted freedom from his dad. Yet he was content to have his father pay all his expenses. When Dad made a request, he resented it. He was in bondage. Physically, he was an adult. Emotionally, he was a dependent. He wanted his freedom from everything except financial support. The fact is, he's not going to be ready for full freedom until he is no longer dependent upon his parents for financial support.

Biblical reminder #4: Don't be surprised if you, as an adult child, still have problems with your parents.

There are three kinds of problems I see quite frequently.

The first problem: Possessive parents.

So often I have heard this refrain: "My parents are so possessive. They try to dictate my life." I have heard this complaint from people in their twenties, thirties, forties and even fifties.

One friend went through 30 years of professional life hounded by his father in a business relationship.

I know another man in his forties, with a lively brood of teenage children, who still is taking direct instruction from his parents, resenting it all the time. His mother has gone so far as to dictate where he lives and who his friends should be. He is being torn apart inside.

Frankly, this happens because the child doesn't have the sense to really leave home when he becomes an adult. He may get married. She may live thousands of miles away from her father and mother. But, at the same time, they have left a link of vital connection that keeps them in bondage. In most cases, I have discovered that link is money. Most adults who have problems with their parents have them because of a bargaining situation in which the parent-child ties never mature to the point of adult-to-adult friendship. If I am dependent upon my father for the home in which I live, the job which is mine, and the inheritance which will someday come, I will find myself involved in a "love-hate" relationship. I love him because he is my father. I hate him because my relationship with him is distorted. I am still a teenager, dependent upon him, instead of living as an adult who is self-sufficient and self-governing.

Nothing is more pathetic than an adult who is dependent upon his parents for financial and emotional support. If you are caught up in that situation, get out of it. Allow your parents to be free and allow yourself to be free. Or, negotiate some kind of an understanding whereby you have clear boundaries.

The second problem: In-laws.

One psychologist states that 40 percent of the problems during the early years of marriage are related to in-law difficulties. He says there are two major causes of this. One is when the parents do not emotionally release their child. Two is when the child does not emotionally break away from the parents. The parent-child problem becomes extremely complicated because it involves someone else's parents.

There is a strange phenomena that I have detected in counseling and in my own marriage. It is easy for your wife to criticize her own parents. She can make a list of her mother's weaknesses and her father's weaknesses. But if you begin to list those weaknesses, you are in trouble! Why? Because you have criticized her when you thought you were criticizing her parents. After all, she is a product of people whom you are criticizing. She expresses her independence when she analyzes them. She is depersonalized by you when you analyze them.

The smart in-law is one who gives complete freedom to one's son or daughter to establish their own life with their new family. This means no financial support. Or if there is some financial help, such as a down-payment on a home, make certain there is a clear understanding of the implications and that you will not manipulate them in the years ahead by reminding them of the help you have given. Make it clear. It's a gift or a loan. Let them be free from your control.

The smart young couple is one that realizes that no set of in-laws is perfect. His parents are people. Her parents are people. They love their son. They love their daughter. I believe you can best accept that love if you are free to let it be known that the two of you are primarily committed to each other. You have left your parents to make a husband-wife commitment. In turn, you are going to be loving to the parents of both, yet independent of them. This independence may require that you make material sacrifices in order to achieve complete emotional freedom.

The third problem: Aging parents.

I am spending an increasing amount of my time in pastoral conversation with people in their fifties, sixties and seventies as they are endeavoring to cope with the issues facing their aging parents who are now well into their eighties and nineties.

I am close to one couple in their seventies who have spent a major amount of their time since their retirement providing support for his aging mother and her aging father. The roles have changed. The once care-receivers have become care-givers. The question now is how to establish firm boundaries, which guarantee responsible support for one's parents yet the capacity to continue to live one's life meeting other responsibilities that also are important. Fortunately, we are learning more and more about the aging process. That knowledge is much needed.

Yes, the child-parent relationship is fraught with potential problems. There are hassles. At the same time, it is worth whatever work we put into maintaining healthy relationships with those who have brought us into this world. The day will come when they are no longer with us.

My friend, Joe, found this out. During his twenties, thirties and forties, he turned on his mother in revenge for her domination of his adolescent years. He belittled her, ridiculed her lifestyle and talked about her behind her back. Then she died. Joe couldn't accept her death. Burdened with guilt, he went into severe depression. The mere mention of her name brought tears to his eyes. He would break down, sobbing. He had abused the special trust relationship. It was only when he accepted God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ that he was set free from his bondage. Still, he longs to have her back again to express his love and appreciation. He will never be able to do it in this life. He let his problems with his mother get the better of him in a way that has clouded the rest of his life

Let me conclude with this bit of whimsy that sort of describes this fascinating child-parent odyssey. It is titled "Parent."

4 Years: My parent can do anything.

7 Years: My parent knows a lot, a whole lot.

8 Years: My parent doesn't quite know everything.

12 Years: Oh well, naturally, Mom doesn't know everything.

14 Years: Father? Hopelessly old-fashioned.

21 Years: Oh, that woman is out of date. What did you expect?

25 Years: He/She knows a little bit about it but not much.

30 Years: Must find out what my parents think about it.

35 Years: A little patience, let's get mom and dads meaning first.

50 Years: What would my parents have thought about it?

60 Years: My parents knew literally everything.

65 Years: I wish I could talk it over with my parents once more.

I don't know where you are in this child-parent odyssey. Hopefully something I have said has been helpful. Perhaps now is the time, before it is too late, to pick up the phone, write a letter and say "I'm sorry." Or perhaps all you need to do is re-establish or maintain communication in a way that takes your parents seriously as God's personal gift to you.

If it has been a troubled relationship, one with abuse, you may just have to keep those boundary lines clear. Talk to the Lord about those issues and get therapy if you continue to be troubled. Hopefully you will come to the day when you will forgive your father and/or your mother for the mistakes they made, even if they are incapable of understanding the full degree of those mistakes. Hopefully you can identify the wonderful qualities in your parents and take the initiative now to express your appreciation to them. If they are not alive, thank God for His gift of parents!

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