“Good Christians are supposed to love their family no matter what, aren’t they?”
After a tough few days of fighting with my parents and exhaustively talking through my feelings with my friends, one of my friends suddenly asked this question.
To be honest, I had no answer. I was a Christian, as in I went to church when I could and prayed and believed when I had time. Ever since entering high school, my commitment to my faith had begun to thin. It was a part of me in a compartment that I had begun to show only when I felt comfortable. Otherwise, it was tucked away, far from prying eyes that could challenge me. Most times I feared that I had strayed so far that I was no longer a good Christian, maybe not even a functional Christian. On the worst days, I wasn’t able to remember a time I had been connected to God in a fulfilling way.
When Honoring Your Parents Isn’t Easy
This was especially true in that moment when I had no answer for why I fought with my parents and grandmother constantly, why I felt that the people who were closest to me in the world sometimes hurt me more than anyone ever could or ever will. I couldn’t reconcile it with my faith. I saw this as a reflection of my own double edged failure to be a good daughter and a good Christian. For Christians are supposed to love their parents according to Scripture. “For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother'” (Matthew 15:4a).
And so I was trapped in my inability to reconcile the emotional exhaustion that I had faced in my home life. The fighting that we engaged in everyday whether it was about my drive to pursue the magnet school downtown instead of in my district, my passion for extracurricular activities that required extra driving, my weight, my nose, the way I talked, my values, my views; there was nothing that I didn’t have to defend to them and ultimately myself. As I grew older from elementary to middle to high school, I noticed my home life affecting my patterns of social interaction, the way I related to others, the way I apologized for everything from a slight bump in a hallway to a bad idea presented in a group, as if I apologized consistently for my own existence.
Live According to the Love of Christ
However, as I’ve slowly started to become a part of the Christian community at Duke and to understand Scripture in this community, I’ve come to realize that there are different versions of both what it means to love and what it means to be in a loving family. I spoke to many fellow Christians and was surprised by the varying levels of difficulty and brokenness that they expressed about their families. I was surprised that students who I viewed as “good Christians” had to battle the same contradictions in their lives as I did in my “mediocre” Christian-ness.
What I learned very quickly, that I had been missing, was that honoring my parents and grandmother didn’t mean letting my fighting with them take from me what made me feel whole and worthy of love, including God’s love. Because even though children are supposed to obey their fathers and mothers, the parents are still held accountable for raising children that are sound in body, mind, and spirit. “Fathers do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). I too need to feel love and respect, to feel that what I do in my life is worthy of encouragement.
While I respect my parents and ultimately love them for the sacrifices they have made and the provisions and chances they have given for me in life, I have to make the decision to live my life according to the love of Christ, rather than the tenuous love of the relationships that draw me farther from forgiving myself and living in Him. In the end, I have His love for myself, without the constraints that are imposed on me by my nuclear family.
A Child of the Promise
In my tenuous relationship with my nuclear family, I was often left to doubt my own worth and the worth of others. Accompanied by the belief that the parental word was sound and good, this was all I had come to know. However, once I began to be more decisive and selective in what was good for me to listen to, I realized that my previous mindset was not only self-depreciative, it also degraded the central tenants in my faith. Our faith is set on the idea that Jesus paid the debt for us because he loved us all. In every individual, there is a part of Him, and by either physically or mentally degrading that, we are not taking care of what was given through immense sacrifice. In every individual, there is the image of God, and every human, even if we do not see it or believe it on certain days, has dignity and worth.
Honoring my parents is honoring the existence of other human beings, as Jesus created them of the same substance that I am. Loving my parents involves showing gratitude for the sacrifices they make for me and the grace that I am given. My faith gives me the strength to love my parents. However, my relationship with them may continue to be messy, tenuous, heartbreaking, and above all, sinful. Ultimately, only my relationship with Christ stands unwavering on the battlefield that I have fought in both the successful and unsuccessful moments I have shared with the people in my life. My relationship with Him defines me because I am “a child of the promise” before I am a “child of the flesh” (Romans 6:7-9).