Do I have to honor parents who abused me?

The Question:

One of the Ten Commandments is to honor your parents. My father tried to molest me as a child and I had to leave home. I've since forgiven him and my mother. But I can't go around them. But I'm not angry anymore. So my question is: does God still expect me to try and have a relationship even when they were not proper parents?

- S. from Anderson


The Answer
Part 1: How to honor
Part 2: Moving forward

How to honor (Part 1)

You are never expected to have a relationship with anyone, even your parents, if it compromises your safety or well being. Children or spouses have every right to remove themselves from danger, whether that is physical, sexual, emotional - any kind of abuse.

As far as honoring them, it is possible to do that from afar. You have already taken a good step by forgiving and you can also thank God for them. Thanks for what? Well to begin, they gave you life. You can be thankful for that. And you can look upon your childhood and thank God for every meal they provided, shelter; every good thing that was there despite what happened.

Joyce Meyers, who is a great Christian teacher and evangelist, came from a background of extreme sexual abuse from her father. Her book, Beauty to Ashes, might well be worth reading if you have not done so. As she became famous she gave her testimony, and wrote her book to help others be overcomers who had suffered similarly. She found a way to tell the truth about what happened and yet honor her parents. She never gave her father's name (though he was still living) and she never put her parents in a place of embarrassment.

So do you still have to honor your parents? I would say yes if you wish to receive the promise that goes with it: "That it may be will with you, and that you may live long on the earth" (Ephesians 6:3). However, do you have to have a relationship with them in order to honor them? Strictly speaking I would say no, you are not required to.

That said, I feel there is more to say then "strictly speaking." You are now an adult and you are out of harms way. So the issue of removing yourself is a moot point. Even though you have forgiven, you have not moved forward in some way. You may not be angry anymore but you are still hurt. Let's examine this a little more.


Moving forward (Part 2)

I would propose a few questions for your own self examination. Are your parents seeking to restore a relationship with you? You have forgiven them (I'm sure you have a reason for feeling that your mother was also part of this), but have they sought your forgiveness? If your parents are actively trying to connect with you in a positive way, are you resisting, and if so, why?

You might say the answer to that is self-evident (attempted molestation) but you need to go deeper. What about a renewed relationship would hurt you now as an adult? In other words, while it is legitimate to decline a relationship with your parents, it would be a good thing for you to understand the real root of why you want to do so. The fact that this question is heavy on your mind tells me how you are struggling with it.

It is important to make sure that the natural emotional trauma you felt as a child does not still hook you into unhealthy emotions which only stunt your spiritual growth. For instance, fear could be at work. You may be dealing with shame even though you were not at fault. You may want to punish your parents and therefore exact some sort of justice for the injustice that was done to you. Perhaps you dread going through more emotional upheaval which contact might initiate and you feel you have been through enough.

Another question for you is: what do you really feel God wants you to do? Do you feel the Lord is gently prodding you to reconnect? If you are simply going by the scripture you found which makes you feel guilty, stop right now and forget it. Guilt is one more thing you don't need. That would not be from God but Satan would be only too delighted to use any scripture he can to condemn you.

If it is part of the Lord's plan for you to reestablish a relationship with your parents, be open to it. Lay the whole situation down at His feet - surrender it, and then expect Him to bring it about in a way that is healing and not hurting. Trust Him with this and He will not disappoint you.

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