From time to time I have counseled some sweet young woman who loves her parents dearly, but is having a hard time staying on the same page with them. For example, once I visited with a young lady whose parents were requiring her to wear dresses exclusively. She had been honoring them in this for some time, but was chafing under the restriction. She asked me what she should do, and I told her it was very simple: just continue to wear a dress cheerfully and pray that God will change their hearts. Most daughters flinch at this. “Are you kidding me? But that’s what I don’t want to do.” I know. That’s what obey your parents means. The command is not followed with when you agree. Obedience is simple when you agree. No one needs help with that. But when you disagree, when you think they are being unreasonable, then it is difficult to be obedient.

This is particularly trying when it comes to courtship.  Sometimes a young woman becomes emotionally attached to a young man, but her parents are saying no way, not him. When the young woman obeys her parents and trusts God, He always blesses her. When a daughter persists in going against her parents, whether openly or on the sly, God  does not bless it. This is simple. This is the way God tells the story. If you want to be blessed, follow His instructions.

In this I am not speaking of older, unmarried women. I do not think that a thirty-something-year-old woman living on her own across the country is still required to render obedience to her parents. Honor, yes, but it would be weird for parents to continue to require obedience of a grown daughter as though she were still in her teens or young twenties. But she should still care very much about what her parents think and how she can honor them.

Though obeying on some points may be hard for a time (denying yourself always is), it is obviously much better to trust God and honor your parents, by faith. And I always have to add one qualifier to cover the hard cases: if  parents were requiring a daughter to do something unlawful or immoral, of course she should disobey them, and  get help in doing so. But most of the things daughters have trouble with are not in this category at all. It is usually something as mundane as clothing, music, makeup, movies, or facebook. If parents are unhappy with their daughter’s choice of clothing, I suggest that the daughter open the door of her closet and say to her parents, “Please take out anything that you disapprove of, and I will get rid of it.”  The same should go with music CD’s and the same should go with friends. A daughter who takes seriously the command to honor and obey her parents will be a daughter who receives rich blessings from the Lord.

Parents make mistakes too, of course. But an obedient daughter will make room for them to see their own. When a daughter is disobeying, her behavior is taking up all the landscape. And then the atmosphere gets charged with hurt feelings, which just makes it all worse. Parents can feel that a daughter is not just disregarding them, but also being disloyal. Obedience cuts through it all, clears the air, and puts life back in focus. A daughter who asks her parents if they might reconsider their decision, but assures them that she will follow through on whatever they want her to do, is a daughter who will win her parents’ hearts over. They are more likely to think about whether they are being too demanding or unreasonable. And as time goes by, many daughters have seen the wisdom in their parents’ decisions and thanked God for the close calls when they obeyed their parents and didn’t wreck their lives!

But what if the parents are being demanding about it? What if they are not being sweet? (I wonder how sweet the daughter is being.) But she can still please God in the situation. She can obey “as unto the Lord”  and pray  something like this, “God I am obeying my parents because You are telling me to, even though I think they are wrong. So I am rendering it to you.”  This kind of obedience happens all the time in offices, in the military, in schools, in churches, in our neighborhoods. If we limited our obedience to only when it was asked for sweetly, we would not be obeying very often. God has established His authorities in the world, fallen as they are. And one of those authorities is parents over their own children. They will be held accountable. And so will their daughters.

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28 thoughts on “Close Calls

  1. *Sigh* Wish I could have read this post when I was a teenager, but it is a blessing to read it now as a parent. Very edifying :-)

  2. Speaking of Facebook, I find myself wishing that this article could find its way to the Facebook page of every young girl in the country. The reading of it would surely benefit many! Like Claire, I would certainly have benefited from it when I was a sweet young thing myself back near the dawn of time😉

  3. this is a wonderful post. i had one of those close calls, and have been so blessed by God’s grace on my very slowly obedient heart–i love how you said that obedience cuts through all the STUFF and clears the air in the relationship. i have a 13 year old daughter who, i pray, will understand that idea sooner than later.

  4. “When a daughter persists in going against her parents, whether openly or on the sly, God does not bless it. This is simple. This is the way God tells the story. If you want to be blessed, follow His instructions.”

    And the daughter who learns this lesson when she is young will be beautifully equipped to be a faithful wife who follows her husband openly and in her private moments as well.

    Great post!

  5. I have known more than one young woman whose parents are so legalistic and particular and just plain fussy (all in the name of being wise and godly, of course) that their obedient daughter never was able to get married. And these parents usually have a real dearth of grandchildren and several unfaithful kids because family life was so hellish in their crooked little world (characterized by a capriciousness that comes from their crooked view of authority) their children either simply don’t want to continue on in that vein OR the parents have crippled the children in such a way that their early chances at marriage have been thwarted. So, every time I read one of these “daughters, just obey and you will be blessed” I do know that it is true, yet I think of my friends and relations who don’t feel blessed, they feel lonely and confused. I obeyed, they say, so why am I alone? Can you speak to this? I am certain with all your years connected to the ministry you have seen this happen and wonder what your thinking is in these cases of warped and sick Christian parents.

  6. “When the young woman obeys her parents and trusts God…”

    I too have seen girls obey their parents and disaster ensued. I believe the key is the trusting God part. One was to prevent a relationship that was clearly wrong, but the parents pushed her to marry someone else to ensure a clean break with the other, but the second choice was only ‘better’ than the first because of the correct ethnicity. Another ended in divorce after years of marriage because the father told his daughter that her misgivings were not to the point, marry the guy. She was obedient, but the guy wasn’t a real believer. Because I am in an ethnic community, I see more of this than in the general population perhaps, but I have seen enough of the down side that the unqualified obedience doesn’t fly. These were mostly girls who wouldn’t seriously consider flying in the face of parents wishes, so even in order to obey God rather than parents, trusting God was something they weren’t willing to do. I know of one case where the individuals insisted (seperately, not knowing each othr) that their parents find a real Christian for them to marry(they trusted God) and it ended well. (They were from India.) But for that one case I know of a dozen others that didn’t work. It must be the trusting God aspect that was missing in the others.

  7. The last two commenters refer to something my husband and I call hyper-patriarchy. Fathers (and Mothers) who do not know how to let the children grow up and move on with the Lord’s business. These are *children* who are not *allowed* to move out of the parental home, change careers, or marry even well into their twenties and thirties. So often those young people end up making bad choices in order to escape; others just plain miss out as they seek to continue to obey their parents instead of moving into an adult relationship of honor and respect. It is a downside that we see too often, and I am sad to say that it is often in the home schooling families that we see it. Lest I make anyone unhappy with that comment, let me state that I homeschooled (and still homeschool) my children. We trained our children in the important things while they were yet young so that they were as ready for the world as we could help them be. So far the results are pretty exciting:-)

  8. Looking at this blog I will first respond by looking at the biblical context in which “obey” can be translated. There are many, many versions of the Old Testament and we cannot expect them all to say the exact word obey. A very good translation in my opinion, the NRSV, uses the word honor taken from the Hebrew word ???. We might need to look at the root of this word to see the multiple ways that it can be, and has been, translated by scholars. Most versions choose to use honor, which should be compared to other translations and discussed so that people can see that there is a deeper biblical meaning to it. Honor of one’s parents is connected to blessing and longevity of life in the book of Deuteronomy. I think it more insinuates a need for a healthy relationship with one’s parent which includes honesty, communication and overall a respect.

    I can’t say, however, that I believe obeying one’s parents means that you should comply with everyday life decisions such as not wearing a skirt or choosing to go on a date. If a young woman doesn’t learn how to make those kind of decisions for herself how will she make them when she is on her own? How will a girl know who she is without making such decisions herself? Also, a problem that this article poses is on the side of the parent. It seems like a gamble what rules they choose to bestow upon their child. Is it fair to say that any parent has a right to make any rule that they choose (within reason) and ask that their child follow them? Young women need parents that have standards and rules, but also parents need to hear what their child is telling them and also see who they are and work alongside of God’s creation.

    I have known girls that have grown up with parents such as these. At a certain age they realized that they didn’t agree with some of the decisions that were being made for them. To this realization the parents of these girls dealt with them by making them feel outcast instead of hearing where their thoughts were coming from.

  9. Of course it is easy to go straight to the hard cases! Yes, I have heard of fathers over-reaching. If it is over something dumb that a daughter can easily obey, then she ought to just do it. And by dumb, I mean something in those categories I listed: clothes, makeup, etc. But if her dad is insisting that she marry someone for whom she has no interest, no respect, no desire to marry, then I think she should get help. I cannot speak to my sister-in-law Heather’s cases that happen within another culture. But in the circles I know of here in the USA, a girl has recourse. The first place I would suggest that she look would be to her pastor or elders. If they are just like her dad, or if her parents do not belong to a church, then I would suggest that she call a relative or friend who can act as a moderator. To tell you the truth, I have never in all my years as a minister’s wife known or heard of a dad requiring a daughter to marry someone she did not want to marry. I have only seen it the other way around, and that only seldom. And in all the cases where a daughter has been compliant, there has been a happy ending when the daughter obeys her parents.

  10. “In this I am not speaking of older, unmarried women. I do not think that a thirty-something-year-old woman living on her own across the country is still required to render obedience to her parents.”

    I guess I can’t think of a better solution, but it seems to me that this is a concession in our fallen world. I just can’t think that it was God’s intention in creation for a woman ever to be “headless.” Ideally a woman would pass from her parents’ authority to her husband’s, but that simply can’t always happen.

    The flip side of obedience is the blessing of protection.
    The need for that isn’t a childish need that goes away with adulthood, but a feminine need that’s a part of a woman’s nature. Assuming that the father in question is a godly and sensible man who doesn’t treat his 26-year-old daughter as if she were 16 or 6, why wouldn’t she want to stay under his care and protection…and yes, his authority? When a woman marries, is she called to be under her husband’s authority and protection merely a function of roles, because she is a wife, or is it a function of nature, because she is a woman? If the latter, why wouldn’t it be better for her to remain under her father’s authority and protection, when possible, until she is married?

    I’m sure I’m missing something. What is it? Maybe my perspective is just skewed because I’m so aware that independence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    (I am half asleep as I write this, so I hope it contains a scintilla of coherence!)

  11. Thank you for this post. It will be nice to have a well-written summary of what I would like to share with girls. My parents required me to end a courtship and really had no Biblical reasons (and no stated reasons to me.) They’ve since said they wouldn’t do it the same if they had to go back. They were influenced by fundamentalist thinking and heavy authoritarianism. Everyone said I should just leave home and marry the guy since I was an adult(including elders, etc.) but I couldn’t find a way to do that and still obey the Word (as much as I wanted to!). I’m afraid the obedience was not always cheerful or faith-filled, and it was a long 8 years until I got married, but the Lord has TRULY blessed. The Lord provided just the man for me and he was so worth the wait! And I think you are right: it resulted in a respectful relationship- years later- between me and my parents. The experience made submission in marriage easier, and gave me more respect for my husband. I know it doesn’t always turn out wonderful, but I am confident the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.

  12. And one more thing. Whenever I write about a topic here, it is impossible to cover all the bases in each article. Both my husband and I have written lots and lots about what women are to do when they are in a home where the husband/dad is too enamored of his own authority. I have cited Abigail again and again. So if you just read this one article, you may think that I think dads are always just swell. And if you read another one, you might think that I don’t think daughters ever do anything wrong. All this to say, it’s a fallen world, and some parents do awful things to their kids. And some kids do awful things to their parents.

  13. Valerie,
    In a perfect world I suppose a woman in her thirties and forties would be delighted to live with her parents as long as she was unmarried. But none of the women I know are in that category. Most are eager to make their own home, even if it doesn’t have a husband or children in it. So it would seem to be placing a heavy burden on women to require such a thing. But if a woman wanted to stay with her parents, then more power to her. She is free. I do think that good parents would continue to look out for her, take care of her, and protect her, even if she wasn’t under their physical roof.

  14. Five daughters for us has, by God’s grace, provided a huge learning curve.

    I think the snafu with the post might be better understood if “obey” were omitted and “honor” was the word used. Obeying parents is only for a time but God commands that we honor our parents for all time.

    Two of our daughters were basically under our continual care when they married, two had good careers and were living on their own. One is still a young girl living at home. The youngest at home still has to obey us.

    We set our daughters free from “obeying” but not from “honoring” when they left home We told them what our thoughts were on the young men, the timing of things etc. AND that they were free from “obeying” us. We would not hold it against them if they did not agree or comply but that as parents we had to give our honest opinion and advice concerning the relationships. They were too old to continue obeying but we are never to quit with honoring our parents.
    They in turn, honored us with their compliance. They honored our concern and love for them and whole heartedly complied. Just like my son does not need to call me from work at lunch break to see if he can eat his dessert, our daughters were beyond the “obeying” point too.

    That is the beauty of honor, it is commanded by God but not demanded by the parent. It won’t work if it is.

  15. Looking at this blog I will first respond by looking at the biblical context in which “obey” can be translated. There are many, many versions of the Old Testament and we cannot expect them all to say the exact word obey. A very good translation in my opinion, the NRSV, uses the word honor taken from the Hebrew word ???. We might need to look at the root of this word to see the multiple ways that it can be, and has been, translated by scholars. Most versions choose to use honor, which should be compared to other translations and discussed so that people can see that there is a deeper biblical meaning to it. Honor of one’s parents is connected to blessing and longevity of life in the book of Deuteronomy. I think it more insinuates a need for a healthy relationship with one’s parent which includes honesty, communication and overall a respect.

    I can’t say, however, that I believe obeying one’s parents means that you should comply with everyday life decisions such as not wearing a skirt or choosing to go on a date. If a young woman doesn’t learn how to make those kind of decisions for herself how will she make them when she is on her own? How will a girl know who she is without making such decisions herself? Also, a problem that this article poses is on the side of the parent. It seems like a gamble what rules they choose to bestow upon their child. Is it fair to say that any parent has a right to make any rule that they choose (within reason) and ask that their child follow them? Young women need parents that have standards and rules, but also parents need to hear what their child is telling them and also see who they are and work alongside of God’s creation.

    I have known girls that have grown up with parents such as these. At a certain age they realized that they didn’t agree with some of the decisions that were being made for them. To this realization the parents of these girls dealt with them by making them feel outcast instead of hearing where their thoughts were coming from.

  16. I have a question then – would you say that honoring one’s parents means doing everything they say if it’s within the realm of obedience to God in His Word? Because looking back when I was growing up in high school and college, I certainly didn’t do everything my parents said to do, but I still was able to honor them by asking advice and taking it into consideration. However, I did not always do what they suggested. Does that mean I wasn’t honoring them because I didn’t do what they said I should?

  17. I read something like this and wonder what I could have done differently in my own circumstances. I was about to graduate college and move to another city for graduate studies. My parents had been allowing (and at times encouraging) the attentions of a young man for several years. When that young man finally proposed my parents got upset at the idea of me marrying instead of “living up to my potential” and throwing myself into graduate studies. During that time a separate incidence (finally telling my mom to stop telling lies about me) ended with my mom telling me I needed to move out. My world was falling apart, and this fellow (along with my church) was the only stable thing in my world at the time. We got married and have (for the most part) lived happily ever after. I am still not sure what I should or could have done differently.

  18. Thanks, Nancy. I think I’m a little clearer now.

    As for “honor” vs. “obey,” the word used in Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20, ??????? (not sure if those characters will render properly…hupakouo is a transliteration), seems to be best translated “obey.” The word study I found here — http://www.salomoni.it/davide/theology/blog/2006/09/obedience-of-faith.html — indicates that the word conveys not just respectful listening, but responsive action. I think Nancy’s distinction between the requirement of obedience being limited to younger children and the requirement of honor being binding at all ages was pretty clearly stated and makes a lot of sense.

  19. Thanks!!! I agree with a previous commenter, this is a helpful summary of what most girls need to read. I’ll be passing it on to quite a few. :)

    I saw a very close friend obey some very wacky parents through a courtship situation, patiently respecting and honoring while her parents displayed lunacy to the point of sin. She waited patiently while receiving much advice to “just marry him” and God has blessed her so far beyond those difficulties with a wonderful marriage to that man, with her parents blessing. She started her married life with a superior understanding of submission and respect.

    Valerie, I can’t tell you how much I am encouraged by your understanding and love of headship and submission as a single woman. Your security in Christ and absolute lack of bitterness (at least that we see online) is such an example. Thank you!

  20. “Valerie, I can’t tell you how much I am encouraged by your understanding and love of headship and submission as a single woman. Your security in Christ and absolute lack of bitterness (at least that we see online) is such an example.”

    Bwahahahaha! Boy have I got you snookered!

    Er, I mean, thanks so much for your kind words, Morgan. 😉

  21. Wonderful advice, for daughters and for parents. And daughters would do well to remember there are always two sides to a story. I am the mom of one of your commenters, whose husband called off a courtship (against the advice of elders and friends). Some times it is difficult to completely explain a decision to others, especially in a way that does not besmirch the name of a suitor. Yes, we would indeed do things differently if the situation occurred today – but God was faithful then to work through our frailty and preserve our daughter for the man she eventually married.

    Our daughter honored us in almost every way, and because of that we were much more careful in what we asked of her. Knowing your daughter will do what you ask puts a great responsibility on a parent and most God-fearing parents will try their best to be worthy of that honor.

    One thing I would do differently, and am trying to do differently with our younger children, is to treat them as “fellow heirs of Christ”. I still have to make decisions they don’t appreciate or agree with, but I try to come alongside them in their disappointment with understanding and grace – just like I would want someone to do for me.

  22. To an extent, I can see the honoring your parents by letting them have a veto over your closet, your music and your friends.

    In most cases, with well meaning but imperfect Christian parents, that’s the best choice a daughter living at home can make. I know you can’t cover every extreme, every “hard case” in a blog post but you can and should be sensitive to the necessary caveats. You are writing for an audience of “good Christian moms / daughters / sisters” and I hope most of your readers never encounter the hard cases, but some probably will and it will serve to write with that in mind.

    What if your mom is bitter @ God and insists that you get rid of your Christian music? Perhaps you should submit, but perhaps not – especially if you are trying to hide the word in your heart and music is the best way for you to do that. What if your dad wants you to get rid of all those “frumpy” hyper-modest clothes and wear something a little more suitable for serving drinks to his buddies from the office? You probably shouldn’t submit if dad says, “well of course it’s okay to be modest but there’s nothing immodest about wearing your swimsuit and serving drinks poolside – my friends might look but they won’t touch…” What if your parents insist that you not be friends with that girl because her family is poor or of the “wrong” ethnicity? There motives are clearly wrong and there comes a point where you can’t just shun your friend because your parents are racists or snobs – that wouldn’t honor God at all because your authority figures have very sinful motives.

    At least w/ the mom who insists on dresses / skirts, we can assume her motives are good, even if she lacks wisdom and is tempting her daughter to exasperation. In some cases though, parents don’t have good motives and their direction may need to be disobeyed because they go against the conscience of the daughter (or son) who is living at home. Albeit, one can disobey respectfully – in a way that communicates a desire to honor them even if you can’t obey them in a given instance.

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