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How Do I Honour My Family When We’re So Different?
Every single person’s life begins in the context of family. This is where we draw a sense of identity from, a sense of belonging, and even a sense of worth. What unites a family beyond genetics, could be faith, culture, hardship, hobbies, or physical home. But one thing that is always true without fail, is how different every family member is. As everyone gets older, the things that united the family, may not seem as significant anymore and differences may become much more apparent. Weeks and months can go by without talking to each other. Past or present hurts may still be the reason for holding grudges or bitterness. Misunderstandings and differing values can make it challenging to have healthy consistent interactions with each other. And yet, the Bible tells us that we should honour our father and mother so that it will be well with us (Exodus 20:12) and that just as we love God, we ought to love our families (1 John 4:20). This past weekend we celebrated Mother’s Day and heard a great message on honouring the moms in our lives (view it here). We came to understand that honouring someone means valuing them and their intrinsic worth, but how do we honour our family when there are such stark differences between us, or maybe we have grown apart? The book of James in the Bible encourages us to consider the power of our words in making a great impact (chapter 3, verses 2 to 5):
2 Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. 3 We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. (NLT)
Therefore, if we can control our tongues, we can ultimately change the course of our actions, reactions, and even the outcome of a situation. This blog will explore four ways in which we can still honour and love our families no matter how different they are from us, particularly in how we speak.
1 – Words of Prayer
Any hope for better interactions with family must first begin with prayer to God for yourself and for others. The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi that can certainly apply to any one of us: “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT). Prayer is God’s gift to us. He wants to us to know His peace that goes beyond our understanding; His peace that guards our hearts and our minds as we live in Christ. The key to knowing His peace even in the midst of challenging relationships is to come to God in prayer with all our worries, for His help and for His perspective. Don’t stop there though, as many may do, but be sure to thank God for all He has done. In other words, thank Him for the good things you have seen, thank Him for your family, thank Him for His protection etc.
In my personal life, nothing has grown my spiritual walk with Jesus more than experiencing challenges in family relationships and taking them to God in prayer. Not only do I grow in my dependence and trust in Jesus to help me in my weaknesses, but I gradually begin to see how God does work in myself and others even when it doesn’t seem like it at the time. In fact, in 1 Timothy 2:1, the Apostle Paul instructs his spiritual son, Timothy, to “pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them” (NLT). This may feel like the last thing you would want to do, especially if someone has hurt you, but the reality is that the person who hurt you is probably going through their own challenges of hurt as well. As a kids pastor, I have seen this time and time again, that whenever a child begins to act out with inappropriate behaviours, more often than not, he or she had a rough time at school or at home. So if we’re uncertain about where to begin when it comes to honouring and loving our family who is so different from us, let’s start with speaking words of prayer to God.
2 – Words of interest and care
In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie writes that the first thing you can do to “make people like you” is to become genuinely interested in other people.1 I recall receiving this book from my sister when I was in my adolescent years. She was learning to become a better business leader and thought I could benefit from reading leadership books too. This book helped me make friends when I didn’t know how. The truth is, people may not naturally inquire and care for others, but they love it when others do this toward them. In other words, people naturally like talking about themselves whether they realize it or not. The Apostle James wrote in the earlier passage we outlined, “a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong” (James 3:4 NLT). Our words of interest and care have the power to disarm and dismantle barriers in a tense relationship. I can already hear some people saying to me, but that won’t be genuine interest in the other person if it’s forced! I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Philippi about having the attitude of Christ in Philippians 2:1-4 NLT:
1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. 3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
As with anything in this Christian life of faith, we must not think that we can muster love for others and behaviour that is not natural to us on our own. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The key here is that these characteristics of a believer in Jesus must come from God’s Spirit within us. If we find ourselves unable to walk in love, patience, kindness etc. then we must continually depend on, and ask the Holy Spirit to help us. Depending on the Holy Spirit in our lives, being sensitive to His leading, and walking in obedience to Him are paramount.
3 – Words that speak the best of others
When we have been hurt by others, especially family, things may or may not be resolved. We may have a tendency to rehearse how we have been wronged, how the other person can’t be trusted, and we may become critical of everything he or she does. But if we desire to honour and love our family members who seem so different from us, then speaking well of them despite what has happened in the past becomes key. Real love that comes from God by His Spirit is:
“patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT).
It may be helpful to have trusted friends or family members who periodically help keep you in check, by asking them what they thought of your interaction with someone who you have had a tough time relating with in your family. I’m so thankful for these trusted individuals in my life who help to make me better, because when we’re in the moment, doing what our natural fleshly tendency wants to do, very little thought is given to how we might be perpetuating the very things that keep the relationship from becoming better. Just “as iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT). Some of these trusted friends in my life have come from small group community at our church, called Life Groups. Every week, we come together as friends to connect, get to know each other, worship God together, study the Bible, and pray for each other. Some people in the group may be newer in their faith in Christ, while others may be more experienced. Regardless of where we are at in our walk with Jesus, we learn so much from each other as we all purpose to follow Christ.
4 – Words that seek reconciliation
Last but not least, at some point in our challenging relationships with family, there will be times when the Holy Spirit will be leading us to either seek forgiveness or to give forgiveness. The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus about being children of light, created to be like God in right living and holiness, and whose thoughts and attitudes have been renewed by the Holy Spirit: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31,32 NLT). Why is forgiving one another so important? Can’t we just ignore the past and focus on things that are happening right now? From a physical standpoint, even healthcare professionals understand the impact holding onto bitterness can have on our health. According to Dr. Karen Swartz, director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, “There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed.”1 The hospital goes on to state on their website about forgiveness,
Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health. 
The Bible also has much to say about how unforgiveness actually prevents God from being able to work in our lives (Matthew 6:14; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 6:37). Seeking or giving forgiveness is vital to honouring and loving others, including our family members. This may be an ongoing process for many, as forgiveness often is. We are making a decision to let go of hurt, bitterness, rage etc. so that God can come and heal us. We may think that by holding on to bitterness we are doing the other person harm, but in fact, we are only doing ourselves harm. By forgiving, we are letting God be God. The Bible tells us in Romans 12:19, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord” (NLT). If we find ourselves holding onto something against someone else in our family; or alternatively, if we realize we have done wrong to someone, then begin praying about how you can speak words that seek reconciliation.
The Apostle James reminded us earlier that just as a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire, our words can have the same effect for good or bad. I encourage you to use your words for good. Pray by faith, show interest and care by faith, speak the best of others by faith, and seek reconciliation by faith. We only have one family and while they may bring joy or sadness, God has called us to honour and love them by the power of His Spirit within us.
1 Carnegie, Dale, How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981.
2 Forgiveness: Your Health Depends On It. The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System. Retrieved May 10, 2021, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it