Recently we watched “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” The major issue in the film is interracial marriage, but that’s not what I want to discuss today (Roger Ebert has a great review of the film here.
Something that stood out to me was the speech Sidney Poitier’s character made to his father. His father is opposed to his son’s marrying a white woman, and when Poitier’s character tells his father to “shut up and let me think,” his father indignantly begins to list what he and his wife sacrificed for their son and what he owes them.
If I transcribed it correctly, the part that especially caught my ear and provided food for thought for several days was this:
I owe you nothing…You did what you were supposed to do because you brought me into this world, and from that day you owed me everything you could ever do for me, just like I will owe my son if I ever have another. But you don’t own me. You can’t tell me when or where I am out of line or try to get me to live my life according to your rules….Not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs…You’ve got to get off my back.
Admittedly, both characters were having pressured-filled days, and the son later softened his tone and professed his love for his father.
I don’t want to critique this from a Christian viewpoint because I know it wasn’t written that way, and there was fault of both sides in that scene, but for now I want to take this concept of what adult children “owe” their parents out of the context of the film and just ponder it.
Truly parents shouldn’t do what they do for children for “payback,” and neither should they hold it over their offsprings’ heads as a manipulation to do things their way out of guilt, though there may be times a little adjustment in the kids’ perspective is in order. There comes a time a man has to “leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife” (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:7; Ephesians 5:31), to step out on his own as an adult, and come to his own convictions and rules.
But there are things we do owe parents even after we’re out of the home and out from under their direct authority.
The fifth of the ten commandments was not given only to children: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” We usually apply it to children, but children aren’t specified in that passage. Even when we’re out from under a parent’s direct authority, we’re still to honor them. Even if they’re not everything they ought to be (who among us is?), we’re still to honor them.
This is perhaps a part of honor. Leviticus 19:32 says, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD,” and Proverbs 16:31 says, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” Proverbs 23:22 says, “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.” I wrote some thoughts about this a while back here. Society today does not value the elderly much, but in God’s economy we’re to greatly respect them. But the tenor of Scripture indicates respect of parents even before they get to be “elderly” — you can’t read far through Proverbs especially without picking up on that attitude.
The book of Proverbs is a father’s instruction to his son, except for the last chapter which is a mother’s instruction. I don’t know that all of that instruction is aimed at a minor child. Other places in the Bible, as well, urge us to listen to advice, instruction, and even rebuke from those who are wiser and more mature than we are, and parents should surely be among the first we’d listen to, because they know us best and are the most interested, usually, in our well-being and outcome. Again, not every parent’s every piece of advice is going to be on target, but it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand: it should at least be given a fair hearing and then evaluated in light of God’s Word and prayer.
Honestly, I can’t think of a Bible verse for this one, but if gratitude and appreciation for what others have done are good character traits, they should certainly be applied to parents. I’ve written before about how children don’t fully understand what’s been done for them until they’re older, usually when they have children of their own. Even now that I am in my 50s and my mother has passed away, there are new realizations sometimes of things she went through, and I can’t tell her now that I understand and appreciate it, but I hope she knows.
In I Timothy 5:1-15, Paul instructs the younger pastor Timothy in how the church should care for the widows in its number, and he says in verse 4, “But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.” Jesus called out the Pharisees and scribes for allowing people to give to them what should have gone to care of parents.
Then of course, there are the Biblical “one anothers” that should govern Christians’ interaction with each other. Sometimes, sadly, we neglect those most with those closest to us.
Parents are fallible people. They’re not always on target; sometimes they might be a little out of touch. Sometimes they’re out and out wrong — I came from a non-Christian home and have written before about having to learn to respect my parents out of obedience to God even when they were doing things I couldn’t respect. On the other hand, sometimes teen or adult kids think a parent is a little too free with unsolicited advice when that advice is something they really need to hear. Parents shouldn’t nag and manipulate; kids shouldn’t ignore and disrespect. Sometimes parents do have to pull back and let their children make and learn from their own mistakes, but sometimes a parent’s advice will save a son or daughter from a serious problems and heartache. It’s a delicate balance. But if those involved are seeking the Lord’s best, He will help them find that balance and best way of interacting, and even if only one side is actively seeking to honor Him in their dealings, He will aid them.