About two years ago, I started blogging about my take on the ten commandments.
I got off to a good start.
Then, I came to “Honor Thy Father and Mother.” I came to a screeching halt. I didn’t want to sound hypocritical. How could I talk about what I no longer do?
You see, I’ve not seen nor spoken to either of my parents since 1993-4. For years, if anyone challenged me on this, I trotted out my dog and pony show of parental horrors visited on me from a young age. Sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Neglect. Total unwillingness, years later to take responsibility for it. Insistence on shifting the blame towards me, saying, in my father’s words, that I was ‘delusional.’
This former Youth Director/Sunday School teacher and vestry member didn’t want the light to fall on him that way. Never mind that he had molested two younger sisters and a cousin by a young age. Never mind that his work history was littered with problems with people because he expected everyone to do things his way or they were bad people.
Never mind the neighbor who saw the marks on me from my mother and said, “I don’t want to get involved.” Then wondered why I wanted nothing more to do with her.
If I think much about it, I can still touch some anger. Despite a lot of counseling, prayer, healing, and let’s face it, a lot of learning from some lengthy bad choices, I can still feel like that abused (and not believed) little girl. Sometimes, with authority figures who act angry and impatient, I inwardly curl up, anticipating a frenzied, out of control beating.
There’s a lot I chose not to do out of fear of my parents passing on trauma to the next generation after me. Not having children being a big decision. I didn’t want another person, especially someone I had conceived, nurtured and loved having to go through the type of junk that was my life for 28 years. Or to have to spend the next 24 years after that struggling just to be a semi-functioning adult.
What was there to honor about these two individuals? That they did what was necessary to bring me into the world? That they fed, clothed and housed me until a certain age? Were those privileges worth the price? There came a time when I decided not.
And there came a time, just prior to that, that I knew that I no longer wanted to be as unkind as I had to be to make either parent, especially my birth mother, back off. Just to get her to respect a simple boundary, I had to verbally hurt her to the point that she would leave me alone. It felt like beating a cow sometimes. She never seemed to get that her need to control and manipulate weren’t okay. Just as my father never seemed to get that treating me like a girlfriend rather than a daughter wasn’t okay.
I’d started growing closer to God in a real way about that time, and my conscience got to me about the things I would have to do and say just to have them treat me with a bit of respect (fear?). Finally, I knew that backing away–for life was the only way that we could have peace between us. Their sickness just wouldn’t allow them to show me respect. They couldn’t stop trying to get their unhealthy needs met, because getting those needs met meant more to them than I did. So, I stepped away. Geographically, physically, and legally.
Years later, I have very little patience for a manipulative or controlling person. I try to get away from them if I can’t get them to treat me with respect. I have left jobs, church congregations, friendships and love relationships where I felt dishonored.
Honoring wasn’t just a one way street.
So, what is this thing called honor? How do you honor long distance? How do you honor when a relationship is broken beyond repair?
I never thought I would forgive my parents as much as I have. There’s still more to do. But I finally learned that carrying the anger, hate and grudges was tantamount to carrying them on my backs as I walked through life. Big load. So, for the most part, I stopped.
I never thought I would ask God to forgive my parents. Or, to bless them. Help them. But, with God’s help, I have done that more and more as I’ve gotten older. I can’t honor them by being in their lives, making sure that they, as seniors, get what they need. I know that the manipulation and attempts to abuse and control would just start again. I escaped once, at 28. I’m not sure I could escape twice.
Honor, finally, to me, means what you do to be able to show respect. To not abuse or manipulate back. I’ve seen adult children ‘snap’ and abuse formerly abusive parents. I swore that I would never be that person. Forgiveness and reconciliation do not always go together, sad to say. Honor for me, meant walking away.
And so, on a late January day in 1994, I picked up a court order that gave me a new legal name and a chance for a new life. It wasn’t easy. I had to suddenly, at 28, learn things that many teenagers take for granted. Life skills that perhaps some children have. But, again, with God’s help, I’ve done a lot of work on that. I’m still lacking in many ways. If someone angers me once too often, its far easier to end the relationship than to do the tough work of figuring out a solution.
Sometimes, to honor means to stay.
Sometimes, it means to go–so that the sickness no longer has an outlet.
Today, at 52, I honor my birth parents by accepting that we just can’t be around each other in peace. I honor them by trying very hard not be like them. I honor them, despite some near misses in my 30’s and early 40’s by having survived.
It doesn’t really matter that I can’t honor them face to face. I honor in a way that is least destructive to me.
I honor by giving my parents to God and letting him sort it out. Ultimately, they will stand before him, as will I, and no manipulation, lies or denial will be accepted–from any of us. On that day, we all will have to account for what we have done and left undone.
I walk the earth as a woman broken in some places, healed in others. I walk this journey by knowing what is healthy for me, and what would just break me down again.
Most of all, I honor my father and mother by doing what honors God, others and, just as importantly, what honors myself.