“How do we honor parents whose conduct and example at times may be dishonorable?” Ensign, Aug. 1995, 72–73
David S. Ricks, regional welfare agent and member of the Butler Twenty-seventh Ward, Salt Lake Butler West Stake.
Only one of the Ten Commandments comes with a stated promise: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:12).
According to the word’s definition, to honor means to treat with respect, to value, or to esteem highly. Yet children whose fathers or mothers have misguided, abused, or neglected them may find it difficult to honor their parents in that manner. Honoring, however, has meaning beyond the traditional definition. Understanding this additional meaning is essential to those who have lost respect for a parent or who may be torn between allegiance to parents and devotion to God.
In the Pearl of Great Price, we learn that the prophet Abraham faced an especially hard task of honoring his fathers, who, “having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them, unto the worshiping of the gods of the heathen, utterly refused to hearken to [Abraham’s] voice” (Abr. 1:5).
Abraham’s fathers began sacrificing men, women, and children to heathen gods. Then they even “endeavored to take away [his] life by the hand of the priest of Elkenah” (Abr. 1:7). Despite their wickedness, Abraham “sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto [he] should be ordained to administer the same; having been [himself] a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge” (Abr. 1:2). Through his diligence, Abraham qualified himself to become “a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers” (ibid.).
From Abraham’s story we see that those who choose to follow their Heavenly Father need to honor him above their earthly fathers and mothers.
“One of the most difficult tests of all is when you have to choose between pleasing God or pleasing someone you love or respect—particularly a family member,” President Ezra Taft Benson said. “We should give God, the Father of our spirits, an exclusive preeminence in our lives. He has a prior parental claim on our eternal welfare ahead of all other things that may bind us here or hereafter. Should we not love Him for it and honor Him first?
“There are faithful members who joined the Church in spite of the objections of their mortal relatives. By putting God first, many later became the instruments to lead those loved ones into the kingdom of God” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 350).
Nephi honored and respected his father despite Lehi’s murmuring against the Lord after Nephi broke his bow (see 1 Ne. 16:18–25). Upon making a new bow, Nephi showed deference to his father by asking him, “Whither shall I go to obtain food?
“And it came to pass that he [Lehi] did enquire of the Lord, for they had humbled themselves because of my words” (1 Ne. 16:23–24).
Following his conversion, King Lamoni in the Book of Mormon put God first by refusing to obey his father’s command that he kill Ammon. Lamoni also refused to abandon his mission to free Ammon’s brothers from prison (see Alma 20:14–15). As a result of missionary work by Ammon and his brothers, many Lamanites throughout the land of Nephi, including Lamoni’s father, rejected the unrighteous traditions of their fathers and repented of their sins. Because Lamoni had honored God and disobeyed his father’s unrighteous commands, many people were blessed, including his father.
Honoring our parents does not mean we must agree with parental errors or emulate unrighteous examples. Parents, like their children, make mistakes. But those mistakes should not prevent children from respecting their parents’ righteous counsel and from supporting their parents in noble endeavors. Children need to pray for and forgive their parents—despite their imperfections and, in some cases, their unrighteousness.
Also, we can honor parents, regardless of their mistakes, by acknowledging the good they have done, the good they do now, and by showing appreciation for the gift of life they have given to us. We honor them when we do what is right and when we set a good example for them. When honoring is difficult, we need to remember that we show honor to our earthly parents when we honor our Heavenly Father first.
As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:9.)