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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Greenberg

5 Ways to Choose Honor as a Child of Divorce

After the holiday season, I know a lot of people are dealing with the after effects of spending time with their families. For those of us in ministry, we know that the month of January is usually one of the hardest. So we end up doing a lot of “triage” during this season. But I wanted to share some thoughts that might be more like preventative maintenance than emergency surgery.

In this week’s Torah portion, the Children of Israel have approached Mount Sinai and are encountering the God of their forefathers for the first time in 400 years.  

I love to think about what God’s voice from Heaven sounded like when Moses was commanded to ask the newly freed Hebrew slaves of Egypt to approach Him at the mountain of Sinai – this week’s story during the yearly Torah reading cycle.  The reason this idea captivates me is because I think about how much they had been through: waiting so long, surviving the plagues, leaving their homes, chased down by Pharoah’s chariots. Now their“new” leader is introducing them to the God they chose to follow.  That’s right!  They chose Him – just like when we choose to leave our old life and follow our beloved rabbi of all rabbis – Yeshua, the Messiah.

God’s thunderous voice from Heaven shook them to the core. We can tell because Scripture say that they fell on their faces before him. Although I’ve never heard God’s thunderous voice myself, I understand that experience.  How?  Because I remember what it felt like to have my parent’s voice shake me when they would demand my obedience, because they were my ultimate authority as a child.  

Mistakes Made

I’m not sure how old I was when I began to notice my parents’ frailties, their humanity, but I know that they lost their moral authority when they divorced and put me in the middle of their emotional battle. They were both hurting so badly, they loved each other but just could not make it work.  Drug addiction and alcoholism were at the root of their pain, but as a child I don’t know that.  I only knew that they were mad, and I was sad. Somehow, I felt forced to pick sides and keep secrets and divide my heart in two.

It is so very hard to stay married.  There are so many times when the idea of divorce seems like a solution.  And I am by no means saying an easy solution.  People divorce because of pain, real or imagined, managed or ignored.  My heart is so tender toward divorced people because it’s like an emotional car accident in the middle of your life and just surviving it is tough enough. But the aftermath – especially for the children – is like crossing a minefield.  Why? Because the commandment to honor your parents is STILL IN FORCE, even after divorce.

Mistakes Avoided

Here are 5 ways you can honor your parents and avoid compounding the trauma:  

  1. First off, don’t listen to them complain about one another. It dishonors them both.  

  2. Second, let them heal without feeling responsible to make them heal.  This was their decision, they need help from family and friends other than you to verbally process their pain.  

  3. Third, trust God that He created you through them, knowingly or unknowingly, as the fruit of His love for them.  God can still bring limitless joy into their lives though you and help them rebuild their future in ways that will surprise and delight you.  

  4. Fourth, build a life, by embracing Messiah, that honors their decision to bring you into the world by learning from people in your faith community who work at having a healthy marriage.

  5. And last, honor God by continuing to honor them as your parents – so that it may go well with you.  

Living the Commandment

The commandment to honor your parents is the example your children need to see – to keep honoring you so that it may go well with them, too. Honor begets honor.  I can say with surety, that I honor my parents – even their memories – as a NOW act of love for them.  They are the ones who fed me, and clothed me, and hugged me, and taught me to walk, and sing, and play and to love.  They loved me first.

But, they did not teach me to love God.  That was taught to me by my Grandparents, even though I had VERY little time with them. They also taught me that loving another person, regardless of circumstance, was possible. I don’t remember when I exactly figured this out about them. They seemed to speak so emotionally to one another, yelling and emphatically gesturing as old world Italian families do, by arguing over breakfast!  Watching their marriage year after year, while living through my parent’s divorce, taught me that marriage was supposed to last a lifetime.  And, even though I only went to mass with them a few times, I know they prayed there to God because they believed He heard them and could help them.  

And, even though I don’t remember praying with my Grandad outside of church even once, I knew how to respect my parents voice because I never saw either of my parents EVER be rude to their own parents.  And finally, even during my rebellious college years – which God miraculously saved me from – I never once disrespected my parents by yelling at them, or laughing at them, or swearing at them, or stealing from them, or ignoring them while they were in the room.  

Honestly, that is not something you teach children with lectures about respect – it is a inter-generational faith transfer. Respect for authority is learned by example instilled in children before they even reach grade school.

The Role of a Lifetime

With sincerity I tell you, amen and amen, parenting begins in the womb and lasts beyond the grave.  Good moral character begins in early childhood by the tone of your parent’s voice.  The ‘Children of Israel’ heard the tone of the Father’s Voice for themselves and it made them shake in their boots.  If you want to follow a God you can trust – a God who has the power to defeat death and save your life even after divorce has destroyed trust and hurt the people you love the most – start looking for a God you can RESPECT.  Respect is due to the one who has the power over your future.  I fear God because I know His power is at work in my life everyday.  And, I am so grateful that He loves me enough to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are loyal to Him.  God really is the best Father ever.  May His great name be blessed forever and ever! Amen!

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