Honoring Difficult Parents
About the Guest
Good ole' Mom and Dad! Dennis Rainey gives you some practical advice on honoring and loving your parents.
Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
Good ole’ Mom and Dad! Dennis Rainey gives you some practical advice on honoring and loving your parents.
Honoring Difficult Parents
Bob: One of the great gifts an adult child can give to his mother or his father is the gift of time. Here is Dennis Rainey.
Dennis: One of the fondest memories I have of my father was—after dinner, he would rise from the dinner table. He would tell me, and my mom, and my brother that he was going over to his mom’s house. It was about a five-minute walk across town to get there. He would go sit in a chair and listen to the squeak of that rocking chair—that his mother sat in—and the tick of that clock. There was not much shared in that relationship—my dad just went over, and he gave her the gift of his time. Up until his death, there weren’t many days that passed when he didn’t either call her or go by to see her.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 18th.
Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk about the gift of time and other gifts we can give our parents, as adult children, on today’s program. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.
Bob: Let me go talk to Keith for just a second: “Do you have the pitch shift messed up in there because Dennis sounds like he’s”—[Laughter]
Dennis: If you are a listener, just ignore Bob; will you?
Bob: I better not go here—
Dennis: He’s trying to make fun.
Bob: —I better not go here because you’ll find some old tape of me; won’t you? [Laughter]
Dennis: We’re about to play a message I gave, 20 years ago, that is still as relevant today as it was back then. He’s just making fun of my pitch, my annunciation, and a lot of other stuff. “Keith, see if you can’t correct it before we send this out over the air.”
Bob: You shared this message with a lot of Cru® staff who, back in the 80s and 90s, would gather for staff training.
They would always sit in Dennis Rainey’s Christian Life class. This was one of your messages.
Dennis: I had about 600 singles in a class, back in the 80s, called The Christian Single Life. This message—I would say, out of the 20 different messages that were a part of that course—this message was—I don’t want to call it most controversial, but it evoked the most response, in both positive and—not negative about the message—but negative about the subject of the message. It’s about honoring your parents.
I remember there would be young people in college—some graduates of college—standing in line wanting to talk—singles who were talking about: “You mean you want me to go home and honor my dad? How can I do that?”
Bob: —“after he did this?”
Dennis: Oh, yes! And they told some stories where—
truthfully—I’ll be honest with you, Bob—it caused me to kind of check my theology, and go back, and go: “Yes, it’s one of the Ten Commandments. Yes, I think even though what your father did or your mother did was not honorable / wasn’t right, God still calls us to return home with honor because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the God-honoring thing to do.”
And I think, Bob—kind of in the fine print of the Ten Commandments—I think what happens is, as we start the process of thinking about—I’m not talking about writing it—I’m just talking about, as we begin the process of thinking about writing a tribute, honoring our parents—we go into some deep water, where we have to give some other gifts to our parents before we give them the gift of the tribute.
The message folks are about to hear today is about those four gifts that you need to give your parents.
Bob: These four gifts are also talked about in the book that you wrote on this subject, which is just now being re-released in a 20th Anniversary Edition. It’s called The Forgotten Commandment by Dennis Rainey. Before we are done today, I’ll let you know how you can get a copy of the book; but right now, let’s listen to Part Two of Dennis’s message, titled “Putting Your Parents in Proper Perspective.”
Dennis: Colossians 3:12 has got some instructive words to us, as children: “As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved”—there’s your position. Now, here’s your practice: “Put on”—like a hand in a glove—“Put on a heart”—what?—“of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Boy, do our parents need all of those.
They need compassion, which is being a fellow-feeler—
someone who feels with them—but he feels with them with action. Compassion is not just feeling sorry for someone. Compassion is something that is accompanied with action. It’s stepping out and doing something to let them know. Our parents need visible signs that we have compassion for them—just as they gave us a visible sign, when we were a kid, and we stubbed our toe and skinned our knee. They took us into their arms, and had compassion on us, and put a Band-Aid® on our knee. Our parents need to be hugged. They need to be touched. They need to be embraced—the gift of compassion.
When I began to relate to my parents, as people who have needs, there was something that clicked within me that changed our entire relationship. You see, I moved from being a taker to being a giver. And most of our lives—think about it, as we relate to our parents—most of us in this room have been takers, not givers.
Well, a second gift that we can give our parents is the gift of balanced understanding: “By wisdom, a house is built; and by understanding, it is established. And by knowledge, the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” One of the applications of this verse is that understanding establishes a home. Understanding is essential to building a relationship with your parents.
One of the ways you can show that you understand them is by looking at the homes that they came from. You know, it began to help me begin to relate to my father, and understand him as a little bit of the unexpressive man that he was, when I realized that his father deserted him and his seven brothers and sisters when my dad was but a boy.
In fact, if it does anything for my opinion of my dad—
who was the most influential person in my life—if it does anything for me, it elevates him about ten notches even higher—that he did what he did without having a father to model what he needed, as a boy, growing up.
He shared with me how, in their log cabin, it would be so cold at night that the snow would blow in between the cracks in the log cabin and how the boys would go out and trap skunks, and beaver, and game and sell it to put food on the table for their mom and their big family.
And to think, now, that he went out and played catch with me when he never had a dad to play catch with him—my dad reversed the cycle. And some of you, who are coming from broken homes, just need the encouragement: “It can be done! Don’t wallow in the self-pity of the past. Deal with the past, and move forward, and make a difference for the future.” We need to see our parents through God’s eyes.
Well, a third gift—not only the gift of compassion and the gift of understanding—but a powerful gift—the gift of forgiveness—the gift of forgiveness. Oscar Wilde has said: “Children begin by loving their parents. After a time, they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.” Isn’t that true of us, as children? We idolize our parents. They let us down. We judge them. Then, for many of us, we never go through the process of closing the loop of forgiving them and moving on so we can relate to them freely, without holding them hostage to some mistake or mistakes they made in the past. Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another.” Apply this to your parents, if they’re living: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other”—
they’re just human—“just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
One of the things you may want to do is to confess any anger, or bitterness, or resentment you may have—first of all, to God, before saying anything to your parents. It may be that you can’t ever go to your parents and get down in the detail of confessing your anger about the specifics because some of the specifics are just too painful / just too harmful today to deal with—but your Heavenly Father can handle it.
After you deal with forgiveness with Him, and confessing that anger with Him, it may mean that you need to go to your parents, in a general way. With your mom or with your dad, look them in the eye and say: “You know, I want to ask you to forgive me for my wrong attitude towards you, growing up. Will you forgive me?” And ask them. You can’t force them to forgive you, but don’t let them weasel out of it.
Ask them, “Will you forgive me?” Give up the right of punishing your parents.
All three of these first gifts—compassion, understanding, and forgiveness—are seen in a letter that was written to me, a number of years ago, by a student I had in a graduate class. She wrote me this letter that told of the horrible abuse that she had, as a child; but what took place in her life when she became a Christian and how she forgave her father. Listen, now, as I read an incredible letter of a drama of a young lady, who endured some incredible emotional pain, growing up.
Dear Mr. Rainey, my father abused me when I was a child. He would beat me so badly, at times, that I didn’t think I was going to live; but perhaps, even worse than the physical abuse, was the mental abuse. Oh, how he hated me.
He would cuss and scream at me every possible word you could think of and a lot you probably couldn’t think of. When he was silent, the raw hate in his eyes spoke louder than words.
Also, while growing up, I was sexually abused by my two older brothers. If I had told anyone, they would have beaten me up; and who would I tell anyway? Well, finally, we got caught. How thankful I was. Finally, someone would hug me and assure me it wouldn’t happen again; right? Wrong. I was beaten again—told it was my fault—and lived with dirty, obscene comments about it for months.
During my freshman year in college, I became a Christian. My life began to change rapidly. Over the next year to a year-and-a-half, God took me from a tremendous hate of my father to a dislike—to a like—until I could finally say, “I love my father.”
Then, I began to find out certain things about my father. He was abused, as a child. His father kicked him out when he was 17.
What about my mom? How come she stood by and let my father abuse us? Well, her first husband was an alcoholic and beat her. So, she left him. Even though she worked two jobs, on many evenings, there was nothing to eat for her and the two boys. That must have been hard. Then, she had to stay awake at night to guard the baby crib or else the rats would eat on the baby all night.
No wonder she was scared to leave her second husband. Does this excuse what happened to me as a child? No. Does it make it more understandable? Yes.
Dennis, my father still yells and cusses at me; but you know what?—not quite so loudly. I call him on special occasions. I share my life with him and ask his advice—his response?—not so good.
But that’s okay. The other day, I heard he was bragging about me at work. There’s hope.
Perhaps, you didn’t come from a home like that; but I promise you—your parents need those first three gifts: the gifts of compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.
A fourth gift, though, that I want to ask you to give your parents is the ultimate gift for Christmas—the gift of honor—Letter “D” in your outline. What we mean by honor is something that shows value, that esteems, that respects, and that shows high regard for another person. Here we find the familiar passage in Deuteronomy, Chapter 5, verse 16: “Honor your father and mother as the Lord God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you in the land your God gives you.”
Look at this command. It is tied to a promise. You will live a long life if you honor your parents. This verse is better than jogging to increase your life expectancy. [Laughter] Let me give you some suggestions: First of all, spend time with them on their agenda. One of the most valuable things we can give our parents is time that has no agenda except their agenda.
One of the fondest memories I have of my father was—after dinner, he would rise from the dinner table. He would tell me, and my mom, and my brother that he was going over to his mom’s house. It was about a five-minute walk across town to get there. He would go sit in a chair and listen to the squeak of that rocking chair—that his mother sat in—and the tick of that clock.
There was not much shared in that relationship. My dad just went over, and he gave her the gift of his time. Up until his death, there weren’t many days that passed when he didn’t either call her or go by to see her.
It was interesting. That woman lived to be 102 years of age, outliving my father. All of her kids have cared for her exceedingly, abundantly beyond any group of people I have ever seen. When most would have put their mother in a rest home, she was cared for—after she had been blind for about six years—and was fed with an eyedropper by her children. They gave her the gift of honor by giving her their time.
Second, phone calls, letters—a way to demonstrate honor to your parents—one of the lost arts of life is that of letter writing. Think of it: “When you go get the mail, what do you fiddle through?”
You’re looking through to find the hand-addressed envelopes; right? Then, if it’s typed-in, you open it quickly to see if it’s a form letter—computer-generated. You hold it up against the light to see if a signature has been done by a signature machine. Why? We’re suspicious. We’re looking for the personal touch.
Charlie Brown wrote, “Nothing echoes like an empty mailbox.” Isn’t that true? Don’t you love to get a personal note from someone? I’ve got a personal note from Bill Bright, from James Dobson. I’m not being a name-dropper. It’s just nice to have their handwriting and know that they’re real human beings that write these notes. That’s really special.
You know, what if the Apostle Paul had just direct-dialed Timothy—he decided he just wanted to reach out and touch someone—
so he just direct-dialed Timothy and imparted the contents of First and Second Timothy to this young disciple? Today, what would we have? We’d have a New Testament that wasn’t complete. I’m glad he couldn’t direct-dial.
Today, I think we need to have a revival of the lost art of letter writing—writing things to our parents we appreciate about them. I’m glad that I wrote some things to my dad before he died.
I’m reminded of a story of a man, who went back after his mother died. She was the last surviving person in the household. They began to go through all of her belongings. There, in her chest of drawers, on the top shelf, they began to go through all of her personal things. It was the most prized spot in all of her drawers and cabinets. There he found certain jewelry. There he found certain mementos and items. Also, was found in that chest of drawers a series of letters about that thick—held together by a shoestring.
He said: “As I opened those letters up, I could see what they were. They were letters that I had written my mom—during service, while I was at college, after I had grown up, as a man.” He said, “By the looks of those letters, they had been read and reread. The most astounding thing, though, and saddening thing,” he said, “was how few of those letters there really were—that he had written.”
We need to have a letter-writing campaign to our parents, saying, “Thank you,” for what they did right.
Bob: Well, again, today, we’ve been listening to Part Two of a message from Dennis Rainey on putting our parents in proper perspective. And you said, as we were listening, that the letter-writing campaign—we need that more today than even 20 years ago.
Dennis: Well, that message was given a long time ago, but I think—
Bob: There was no e-mail back then.
Dennis: No. No texting.
Bob: No texting.
Dennis: Yes. So, you know, you think about it, “How many letters, in a year, do you get, Bob, that are hand-written?” Now, we get a lot of letters from listeners.
Bob: We do.
Dennis: So, this is unfair for you and me to talk about this; but there are still a lot of folks who write us.
Bob: Still maybe, you know, a couple dozen—three dozen that are hand-written—that aren’t typed out on the computer.
Dennis: One, two, three a month—maybe, max.
Dennis: But that really points out the need for us to, maybe, sit down with a nice pen, and take out some nice stationary, and just write a letter of appreciation. Now, the tribute—as I talk about the tribute—I really want to challenge people not to take the easy way out and just write a letter, and put it in an envelope, and ship it off to your parents, and consider that your tribute.
No, I really want you to think about crafting something of a masterpiece—something that takes you a little while to do it. Bob, I’ll never forget, early on, when The Tribute first came out. A woman wrote me and said, “When I got your book, it made me mad as a hornet.” She said, “I threw your book across the room, and it landed kind of in the form of a tent”—
Dennis: —“on the floor.” And she said: “I left it there. I’d go through the door. I’d look over, kind of disgusted, looking at your book.” You know, it’s not the kind of response to a book you’d write that you’d like to get from somebody who writes. You know? But she said: “That book—after a while, it began to cry out to me: ‘Pick me up. Go ahead. Do the courageous thing. Come on! Do the tough thing and write a tribute.’” Finally, she did it. She wrote to finally thank me for writing the book—which is comforting to know after she threw it across the room—
but the blessing that she had received—the sense of God’s pleasure being upon her because she had done what was right.
Bob: We have just released the 20th Anniversary Edition of your book. Again, it’s called The Forgotten Commandment. Before it’s all said and done, there may be some more people who throw it across the room; but we believe that this a message that’s important for young people—people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s—to read and to understand: “What is our responsibility to honor our parents look like when we are adult children?”
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of The Forgotten Commandment: Experience the Power of Honoring Your Parents by Dennis Rainey. This is the 20th Anniversary Edition of this book, and it’s fresh off the press. We’d love to send you a copy. Again, order at FamilyLifeToday.com—
or call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-FL-TODAY.
You know, with our focus this week on the legacy / the heritage that our parents have left to us, we are also focusing, this month, on the legacy of this ministry and how that is shared by thousands of families, all across the country, who join with us as Legacy Partners. These are the folks who have said: “The ministry of FamilyLife Today is important for our family. We think it’s important for this community. We want to see it continue, and we’re willing to help support the ministry with a donation each month.” These Legacy Partners provide us with funding, each month, to help cover the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program.
What you need to know is that the number of people who currently are engaged with us as Legacy Partners—
is below what we need in order to cover the costs for this radio ministry. So, we’re hoping that, during the month of March, there might be 20 new families in every state where FamilyLife Today is heard—that would be a thousand new families who would join with us and say: “We can make a monthly donation. We’d like to see FamilyLife Today continue. We’d like to support what you guys are all about—seeking to effectively develop godly families.”
When you sign-up this month, as a new Legacy Partner, we have a welcome kit we’d like to send you. There are some CDs in it. There is a date book for couples, and there is the brand-new Legacy Partner Cookbook with recipes from my wife Mary Ann and me, from Barbara and Dennis Rainey, from the rest of our team, and from Legacy Partners, all across the country.
We’ll send you the welcome kit when you sign-on as a new Legacy Partner. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link you find there that says, “I CARE;” and you can enroll online. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY—
and say, “I’d like to become a Legacy Partner.” We’ll get you all set up over the phone and send the cookbook and the rest of the kit out to you. And please, remember to pray for us this month—that we would see a thousand new families join with us during the month of March.
And we hope you can be back tomorrow. We’re going to hear from Barbara Rainey about how she responded to the fifth commandment and honored her parents by writing a tribute. We’ll hear that story tomorrow. Hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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