One of the biggest blessings from my last trip to Korea was having genuine conversations with my parents in a way that I had never experienced before.
Now I know that for many Asian-Americans, our relationships with our parents are a sensitive subject, and I don’t want to discount that reality at all. At the same time, I can’t help but feel like many of us subconsciously exclude our broken relationships with them when we gauge our spiritual maturity. Yet, the Bible is clear in that we need to honor our parents, and I would argue that it is God’s will for us to be good earthly sons and daughters so long as those titles apply to us.
So how did my paradigm shift? I had the simple but important realization that my parents are sinful humans just like me.
Growing up, I couldn’t help but hold my parents to a higher standard of behavior and holiness, and this expectation that I had of them inevitably caused me to be upset and judge them. But after prayerfully asking God to change my heart, I applied life-changing realizations about my parents that are gradually shaping the way that I relate to them.
1. My parents get lonely
I genuinely tried to put myself in my parents’ shoes, and I couldn’t help but feel empathy and a deep sense of emptiness on their behalf. My immigrant parents did everything they could to put on a strong face, but deep down inside, they struggled with loneliness for almost their entire lives.
2. My parents don’t want to bother me
This was such a heartbreaking realization for me. My parents believe wholeheartedly that I am living my life independently of them and that if they ever want to talk or interact with me, I might feel annoyed or bothered.
3. My parents have regrets
For every time I thought to myself, “Why did they do this?” or “How could they do that?”, my parents asked themselves the same question ten times as much. My parents aren’t dumb. There may be cultural and language barriers, but they are self-aware and feel the weight of mistakes that they made in life, especially as parents.
4. My parents don’t need much
My parents aren’t wealthy. There are so many things that I would want if I were in their situations, but every time their birthday rolls around or Father’s day and Mother’s day approach, they never cease to say, “Don’t give us anything.” At the same time, my experience taught me that a simple card or a few words of love and encouragement can give them strength for the day.
5. My parents need grace
I’ve yelled at my parents before, and I’ve definitely complained to them. I’ve made it clear how they have failed me before, and I’ve even shared with others about the many ways that I don’t want to be like my parents. What I can’t remember are the times when I, with a prayerful and genuine heart, simply showed grace to my parents. Times when I gave them space to be sinners. Times when I told them that God forgives them, and that I forgive them as well.
Honoring My Parents
These five simple realizations are helping me to change my perspective on how I view and relate to my parents. My realizations and narrative may not be yours, but my genuine prayer is you would pause and intentionally take some time to humanize your parents.
They were never intended to be perfect and that’s why even our own fallen parents should point us to our perfect heavenly Father who lovingly adopts us all — children of bad parents, single parents, divorced parents, no parents — into His family.
Now the great temptation is to procrastinate on repairing our relationships with our parents, but what pushed me to do it was realizing that my parents weren’t getting any younger. So I lovingly encourage you to simply talk to your parents. Ask them good questions. Give them the space to share their mistakes with you, and even if it’s awkward or it doesn’t turn out how you want it to, do it with a desire to honor them before God.
Sam Bay is a college pastor at Gospel Life Mission Church.