As a middle school math teacher, I have heard many groans from teenagers about their parents. I’ve also heard a growing number of complaints from millennials, my peers, lamenting the shortcomings of their parents. Their stories primarily fall into two general categories: those who parents profoundly sinned against their children, and those whose parents are profoundly annoying. I have written an open letter to each one. I pray they are both helpful.
To the adult child whose parents wronged, abused or abandoned you:
I’ve heard you say, “I hate my parents.” The brokenness in this world filters right down to the two people you should trust the most. They betrayed you. Maybe you endured abuse, neglect or even abandonment. There can be lots of good reasons for you to hate your parents. To you who suffered because of your parent’s sin I want to say a couple of things:
One, your pain matters to the Lord. He sees you, and He is far angrier than you over the sin of your parents. This was not how the world was meant to be, and you feel it with every fiber of your being. You have every right to be upset and hurt. You don’t have to “be okay” with the situation.
Two. God does give us things we can’t handle. I’ve heard just the opposite: “God doesn’t give his people things that they can’t handle.” That is straight up not biblical. The Lord gives us extremely challenging and difficult situations we are not supposed to handle—they are His. Our trials drive us to Christ and create more dependence on Him.
James echoes this idea:
“for you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3 ESV).
This steadfastness is the faithful endurance of the Lord in our suffering— a dependence on Him for all your provision, comfort, and grace. This does not mean He expects us to overlook abuse. Instead, you and I can call sinful actions sin, since God does. But Christ did not enter a broken world to leave it as it is. He came to make His blessings known, “far as the curse is found.”
The fruit of Christ’s blessings is forgiveness. When we are filled with His love, the Lord will give you His courage to forgive your parents. In doing so, you are not saying what they did was okay. Instead, you transfer the debt owed you and place it upon Christ. Your folks still owe a debt, but it is one you no longer must carry—He does.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
So, yes, the Lord gives you things—psychologically and spiritually impossible things you can’t handle— like forgiving your parents.
Third, you might have to keep a healthy distance from your folks even after you have forgiven them. This particularly applies to those in abusive situations. Please take precautions to protect yourself. Your parent(s) may even try to make you feel guilty about this—but don’t let them. Distance does not mean you haven’t forgiven them or don’t love them. It means you won’t put yourself back in harm’s way.
This side of heaven, forgiveness alone does not always lead to a restored relationship. Paul writes in Romans, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). Sometimes, it’s just not possible.
Continue to seek the Lord’s face my friend; He is the only true comforter in this world.
A Sister in Christ
To the kid that hates their parents because they are annoying—profoundly annoying:
It can be frustrating to have parents who don’t listen, are ultra-controlling, or who are manipulative and petty. Perhaps you thought those habits would improve on graduation day. After you got a job and moved out you thought, they would finally get it. Now things are much worse, and every conversation ends in a fight. It is all so tiresome. Maybe you are considering cutting off contact because you are annoyed. But before you do, there are a couple of things I wish to say to you:
First, cut your parents more slack than it feels like they have given to you. They are your parents and deserve your respect. Scripture is littered with admonitions to honor and obey our parents. In Romans 1:30, the ungodly are described among other things, as, disobedient to parents. Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land the Lord Your God is giving you.” Honor means to treat someone with proper respect due to the person and their role. There’s no unless-they-make-you-crazy-opt-out clause. Impossible you say? That may be part of God’s plan to drive you to the cross.
Second, remember the difference between something that annoys you and a sin. Social media encourages us to be outraged by everything. The least little infraction sends us pounding out rebuttals on a keyboard in a rage. We need to ask ourselves the question, “Is this behavior spilling over into relationships?”
You may feel very hurt by how your parents sinned against you. That is a different situation than when your parents call you every day and get upset when you don’t answer. Or perhaps they ask you questions you feel are none of their business like, “Are you dating anyone new?” Please ask the Lord to help you see these things through your parent’s eyes, just as you long for them to understand your point of view.
Third, check your heart with the Lord before you go and talk to them. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our hearts lie to us, convincing us we’re in the right when in fact, we may be wrong. David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24). Do we have the courage to pray this regarding our relationship with our parents?
Finally, whatever conflict you may have with your folks, remember most likely there will come a day when you will bury them. It may be hard to visualize that moment but talk to someone who has lost her annoying Mom and Dad. They will often tell you they would give the world to have their phone ring just one more time, with Mom or Dad waiting on the other end of the call to talk with them.
A Sister in Christ.