One of your questions for this summer’s “Wrestling with the Big Questions” sermon series, had to do with our parents, and the Fourth Commandment which states we are to honour our parents.
And how is it that we can honour our parents, in situations where one or both of them had a decidedly negative or destructive impact on us?
A very good question.
Too many parents – and let’s say, more specifically for example, too many fathers – have been emotionally and physically abusive, dictatorial, or neglectful.
Too many fathers have been more committed to work, than to their families, ironically priding themselves for being “workaholics.”
As a result, too many fathers have been emotionally distant from their spouse and children, effectively abandoning them, with hurtful consequences.
And for this, we need God’s forgiving and transformative love.
But for those who embark on a spiritual path, their problems with their own father, lead to problems in relating to God. Our relationship with our parents influences our image of God. So, for example, if we’ve had an emotionally distant, angry and punishing father – we will tend to image God in a similar way: distant, angry, and punishing.
I think many imagine God in this way. An un-thought-through default image of God.
Notice how insurance companies will consider those catastrophic destructive events to property from tornadoes, earthquakes, fallen trees or meteor strikes, as “acts of God.” Really? Is that who God really is, some scary, punishing Being, ready to inflict such devastating suffering?
We so quickly, and easily, image God like that. Why?
Is it perhaps partly because of painful, or difficult relationships with our parents, with our fathers or mothers?
And there’s the Fourth Commandment: Honour Your Parents.
Isn’t it true that no relationship is completely perfect or whole, and people have always had difficulty with their parents, to different degrees?
Is that we can only honour parents, when we are able, emotionally and psychologically, to step back from them, and observe them from afar, and truly see them through the eyes of compassion, as people who are just as wounded, and hurt, and imperfect, as we all are?
It’s hard to do, because we’ve been so close to, and dependent upon them especially during our infant years. But, to be able to step back, and to see them more compassionately, less reactively, more objectively, as people with amazing talents, and also painful emotional wounds; and to include them in the great company of the wounded, just as we all are.
“Honouring” one’s father and mother, doesn’t mean agreeing with them, or condoning everything they’ve done or not done, or avoiding confronting them or speaking up when we need to. No.
It’s about thinking of them compassionately, embracing them in mind, heart and in prayer, entrusting them to God, who holds all of us wounded people in the same boat.
We’re not that different from our parents. We too have our own wounds and scars, for which we need God’s healing and forgiving love.
And that’s why it’s so important to realize that, even if our parents have been imperfect, we all have a more perfect parent, the ultimate Parent: God, who is the ultimate “Father” or “Mother”, who loves us more perfectly and completely than anyone could.
St. Augustine said that God loves, as though there were only but one to love. God loves us as if we were the only person on earth.
God is a good God who only wants the best for us. As Jesus said, recorded in Matthew 7:11, in some of his boldest words about prayer: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Jesus, in his prayers to God, called God “Abba” – the Aramaic word for “daddy” or “papa.” An intimate, familiar, endearing term for a loving, caring God.
The God to whom we pray, is a Good God, a Good Parent, the ultimate “Father” or “Mother”, our safe Refuge and Source of Strength, Courage and Boldness.
Earlier this month, I was completely amazed and impressed by hearing a story of boldness and courage, the story of Tom Woodward.
Back in 1955, Tom was living the wonderful retired life. He had a place up in the Ottawa valley near Eganville. One day as he was lazily boating down the Bonnechere River, his curiosity and excitement suddenly peeked when he noticed a spot along the riverbank where the water was mysteriously disappearing down into a subterranean cavern.
Without letting anyone know, Tom, over the next couple of days, explored these riverside caves,
by securing himself with a rope tied to a tree and then around his waist,
sitting on a small raft, with only a small flashlight,
in dangerous, swirling fast-moving currents,
through narrow passages, deep underground,
with bats flying overhead,
and always in danger of knocking himself out on the rock above him,
or being sucked underwater from the turbulent whirlpools.
At one point, his raft turned a corner, only for Tom to realize suddenly he was on the edge of tremendously large and fast whirlpool about to be sucked under water, with the cave ceiling coming right down to the water’s surface in front of him.
In a split second, he drops his flashlight, his only source of light, in order to reach up and grab a hold of a large stalactite hanging from the ceiling of cave, an action that saved his life.
But, he was plunged into total, utter darkness.
Slowly but surely, he pulled himself back out from where he came, in complete and utter darkness, with the sound of the rushing waters around him, and don’t forget, the bats constantly flying around and hitting his head.
I was nervous enough going through these Bonnechere caves with our tour group earlier this month, but couldn’t imagine the nerve and guts of Tom Woodward, the founder of these caves back in 1955.
I don’t know if he was ever a man of faith, but I wonder, if he were, what kind of God would he have imagined? What kind of God would he have held in his heart and trusted all his life and prayed to on a regular basis?
I’d venture to say that if he were a man of faith, he’d have a vital trust in a living God who was with him right there at his side as he clung on to dear life, all alone on his raft; a living God who gave him courage and boldness and a spirit of adventure that inspired him to explore the amazing world that God made.
The best of parents call us to be bold and courageous. They “push us out of the nest” and make us use our own wings to fly. The call us to be courageous and bold.
Such is the boldness that our Good and Loving God calls us to,
so that in our own day age, in our generation of the people of God, in our own corner of the world and time and place we’ve been privileged to live and occupy for these few decades of life,
that we too can go out in good faith,
with a spirit of adventure and discovery,
for the love and healing of the world,
not knowing exactly what may lie around the next corner,
but only that God’s hand is leading us, and God’s love is supporting us.