Honor My Mother?

A new adventure of biblical truth.

by Betty Smith

Sixteen-year-old Angela struggled to find the chord among the piano keys. She pressed a combination. The sound made me cringe.

“It’s okay,” I assured her. As I reached for the keyboard, I felt my heart quickening. My hand trembled as it hovered over the keys. I hoped Angela didn’t notice.

Note by note, I helped her find the chord. “There,” I said. “Let’s try again.”

Angela had taken lessons before, but a teacher was currently unavailable in our small town. I thought I could help her learn some of the piano theory I remembered from my childhood lessons, though I hadn’t touched a piano for years.

I didn’t play anymore. Every time I considered playing again, ugly memories invaded me. . . .

Ugly memories

It starts with her face — my mother’s angry face. It burns hot and red as she scowls at me. I’m trying to get away, but she grasps me by the arm. I’m just a little girl — maybe eight or nine. She’s hitting me. Over and over. Hitting and hitting.

What did I do wrong? All I did was break the rhythm. I couldn’t find the chord so I hesitated while my fingers searched for the keys. Mrs. Jackson, my piano teacher, told Mom that I wasn’t keeping time right, so Mom stands over me now, making sure I keep time.

I’m so afraid of doing something wrong, of making Mom mad. My hands tremble. They’re sticky with sweat. I can’t hit the right keys, so I can’t keep the time right. And Mom’s mad.

Again.

She’s screaming at me. And she’s hitting me . . . and hitting and hitting. . . .
I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the image to fade. One incident on one day out of many years — even a lifetime.

Everyday rage

My mother’s anger boiled over often. It didn’t seem to take much. A wrong note. A wrong pause. A wrong word. Enduring her out-of-control rages became an everyday event.

In the early years, I took comfort in one thought: My mother could not stop time. If I could just hold on, just wait it out, eventually I’d be an adult. Never again would I have to endure physical or emotional abuse. But as time went on, I wore down. I began to doubt I’d be able to hold on until my eighteenth birthday, when I could legally leave home.

Striking back

As a young teen, I began to strike back. When Mother would yell at me, I’d yell back. Then one day when she struck me, I slapped her.

She glared at me in shock and horror.

Oh my! I thought. What did I just do?! I felt angry, but afraid.

Am I becoming the very thing I hate? I wondered. Am I beginning to act just like her?

Leaving home

I graduated from high school and moved into an apartment with friends the very next day, though I was still only seventeen.

I rarely called or saw my mom over the next several years. Part of me never wanted to go home again — never wanted to have anything to do with her. But another part of me felt guilty. I really don’t want to treat Mom like this, I thought.

Eventually I got an apartment of my own in the city and met a man who became my husband. After we married, his job took us to a small mountain town two hundred miles away. I made new friends, some of whom were Christians. I became interested in their faith, and they invited me to their church. There I learned that Christianity is a relationship with the living God. I understood I needed to build a relationship with Jesus. I spent time with Him each morning, talking with Him in prayer, reading the Bible. I joined a Bible study to explore who Jesus is and what He wanted me to do.

Facing the truth

One day I read in Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother. . . .”

There it is again! I thought. Those words kept popping up for me. “But honor my mother?” I protested to God. “How can I honor a parent when she’s not very ‘honorable’?”

Nevertheless, I sensed that just as God wanted me to have a relationship with Him, He also wanted me to have a relationship with my mom. I decided to talk with Mom about all that had happened between us.

Beginning a relationship

I dread this! I thought as I sipped coffee with her at the table, but I decided to give it a try.

“Mom, remember how we used to fight?” I began.

She looked up suddenly, as if shocked. “What?” she asked.

I tried again. “Do you remember how we used to never get along with each other?”

“What do you mean we never used to get along?” she asked.

I was stunned. She acted as if she had no idea what I was talking about.

“Never mind,” I said, and I let the conversation die. I didn’t bring it up again. But I visited, called, and worked on building a relationship with her anyway.

Choosing to forgive

As I continued to study the Bible, I learned about God’s forgiveness. Though I had done many things wrong in my life, God was willing to forgive me through Jesus’ death on the cross.

One day it occurred to me that when Jesus went to the cross, He did not demand a guarantee that I would respond to His sacrifice. He went anyway, whether or not I acknowledged the wrong things I’ve done or accepted His forgiveness. Likewise, God wanted me to forgive Mom whether or not she acknowledged what she had done or accepted my forgiveness. It did not depend on her; the choice was up to me.

“Lord, I choose now to forgive Mom for all the hurtful things she has done to me,” I prayed. “Help me truly forgive her.”

I didn’t tell Mom. I didn’t need to; God knew.

New adventure

Soon I began to understand something new about God’s command to honor my mother. It does not have anything to do with my mom; it only has to do with me. Am I going to obey the command?

“Lord,” I whispered, “help me obey Your command.”

A new adventure followed. Today I believe honoring my mother includes treating her well, regardless of how she treated me in the past or how she treats me now. This does not mean I must endure attacks from her — either physical or emotional. While she has not been physically abusive since I became an adult, should she do so, I can protect myself or separate myself from her. Still, I must not retaliate. The Bible instructs Christians to “not repay anyone evil for evil. . . . but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17, 21, NIV).

Also, I believe honoring her means I must make sure my mother is taken care of, especially as she ages and becomes more needy. While I have not been able to interest her in studying the Bible, I pray for her often, asking Jesus to draw her closer to Him and to teach her more about Himself. I care about her spiritual well-being.

Interestingly, I’ve discovered honoring her, or treating her well, does not include some things, such as solving all her problems or covering for her by making excuses when she treats others poorly. Her relationships are her responsibility.

Personal choice

In the end, my behavior — what I do with my life and how I proceed from here — does not depend on my mom or on how she treated me. What I do depends on me. I still may live with the consequences of someone else’s sin. But just as I bear the scars of abuse in my trembling hands whenever I approach a piano, Jesus bears the scars of my sin in His hands and feet and side.

Those scars — those lasting effects of the wounds I bear — are not permission slips to sin. Regardless of how somebody else’s sins affect me, I have the choice to do what is right in God’s sight — or not.