There’s an apocryphal story about a woman who, all her married life, cut off the end of a roast and arranged it beside the main hunk of meat before putting the roasting pan in the oven. When a friend asked her why she did this, she said, “Well, my mother always did it this way. I’m not sure why — I think it helps the flavors get through the meat.”
For years, the woman continued to prepare her roasts this way. Finally, she got curious, and she called her mother to ask about it. At first, her mother wasn’t sure what she was talking about. Then, “Oh!” she said. “Our roasting pan was so small I couldn’t fit a whole roast in it unless I cut the end off.”
The things our parents teach us — whether explicitly or by example — are powerful and pervasive. In some way, they will affect us all our lives. As we enter into responsible adulthood, it’s important that we begin to examine our parents’ examples and teachings from a biblical perspective.
As children, we tend to accept what our parents do and say without question. We don’t need good reasons to believe them; they’re our parents! In our teens, many of us go through a rebellious stage where we reject everything our parents say and do.
But now here we are, at young adulthood. And now, maybe more than ever, the things our parents said and did matter. Most of us are past the reject-everything rebellious stage. We’re entering seasons of life in which our parents’ teaching and role modeling are more important than ever. And as Christians, we also desire to honor our fathers and mothers as the Lord calls us to do.
But honor notwithstanding, we’re not at liberty to accept everything our parents say and do like unquestioning children. Examination and discernment are major elements of a responsible Christian life. The writer of Hebrews describes the mature believer this way:”For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:13–14).
In our mixed-up world (maybe more saliently, in our mixed-up hearts), good and evil are not always immediately obvious. That’s why Scripture must become not just a go-to book for answers, but the lens through which we see the world. It needs to shape our worldview from beginning to end. And part of the way that happens is that we bring things we’ve always accepted, or things we’ve always reacted against, and we search God’s Word to discern good and evil in these things.
Sometimes that means realizing that your parents were wrong. Other times, it means facing up to the fact that they were right. But either way, it’s imperative that we step back and examine what our parents did and taught to see how it lines up with God’s perspective.
Conviction and Consequence
If imperative seems a little strong, think about how many ways your upbringing does and will affect you, especially if you are moving in the direction of marriage. After all, your parents are the most relevant example of marriage and family life you have!
Your parents’ example and teachings will have a major bearing on how you reach the altar and conduct your marriage; how you fill the role of husband or wife; how you manage your home; how you raise your children; how you handle finances — the list is long, and it affects almost every part of your life.
If we don’t stop and examine the things we caught and the things we were taught, and if we don’t use Scripture to form our own convictions and arrive at a vision for our homes and lives, we will automatically default to our parents’ ways of doing things — especially in times of crisis or creeping normalcy. When we don’t form convictions based on the Word, we’ll experience the consequences of a life lived by default.
So how do we go about examining our parents?
A Student of the Word
If Scripture is going to shape your worldview, you have to read the Scriptures. You have to breathe them, to live them out and to make them such a part of you that they begin to shape your thinking. That means, first off, that you devote a decent amount of time to reading the Scriptures. It also means that you spend time discussing them (in small group or with friends at Starbucks), hearing them preached (in your local church) and meditating on them (in your car on the way to work).
As the principles and teachings of Scripture become familiar to you, bring them into your own context. Start living them out in your life as best you can, and as you do, start to apply them to life as you’ve experienced it growing up. Think through your memories or the example you still see your parents living out. Ask yourself, honestly, how these things line up with God’s teachings.
As you identify different areas where your parents did or didn’t exemplify what you see in God’s Word, ask yourself how you need to follow their example or do things differently. Form your convictions as clearly and concretely as you can.
And where you do see your parents walking in a way that lines up with God’s Word, go to them and commend them for it. Ask them how these things have worked out in their lives. Find out what challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve formed their own conclusions about life and living.
Value Scripture Over Experience
One consequence of being a student of Scripture is that you don’t get to lean on experience as much as you naturally would.”It worked for them” is not a good reason to accept your parents’ ways without further question.
For one thing, God’s grace is active in your parents’ lives (whether or not they are believers), so the good outcome they experienced is not necessarily connected to them having done things “right.” Your parents may have dated foolishly but have a great marriage anyway — but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should follow their example in the dating department. If God gives you greater light on a subject than He gave them, He will expect you to walk in that light.
The negative side of this is also true. You may have watched a parent suffer in a bad marriage for years and then finally “find happiness” through divorce and remarriage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean divorce and second marriage are an option for you. Let God, through the Scriptures, shape your convictions and actions — not your experience alone.
Honor Thy Father and Mother
Examining your parents in this way can be hard. You may struggle with feeling that it is somehow dishonoring or rebellious to question what they’ve taught you or how they’ve lived. Or you may have come from a home that lacked God’s truth and presence, and looking into your parents’ lives may be like peering into a train wreck.
It’s important to remember that agreement and honor are not the same thing. Likewise, approval and honor are not the same thing.
I grew up with a father who thought deeply about almost everything and was passionate about the conclusions he reached. However, he always made it very clear that we were free to disagree with him. We were expected to think through our own positions scripturally, but Dad was adamant that he was guaranteed to be wrong about something, and he wanted us to feel free to pass him in our pursuit of truth.
At the same time, even while my siblings and I came to vastly different conclusions on some things than our father held, we continued to honor him as the head of our home, as our caring father and provider, and as someone with wisdom and counsel to speak into our lives.
At the same time, I’ve watched friends whose parents’ lives bore the scars of divorce, strife, substance abuse and a host of other problems. Yet by God’s grace those friends are able to continue honoring their parents even as they walk a totally different path. They don’t approve of how their parents lived (or live). But they continue to love and respect them as parents.
Honor is an attitude of the heart, one that chooses to respect even where differences exist. Agreement is not honor, and approval is not honor.
The shaping of our worldview is God’s prerogative, and because of that, we can and must bring our own upbringings under the scrutiny of Scripture. But even as we do, we need to recognize the light of Scripture shining back into our own hearts, calling us to love and respect those who are as imperfect as we are and who are, like us, on a journey.
Copyright 2011 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved.