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God commands us to “honor our father and mother.”
But what does that mean?

For children in the home, it means to simply obey their parents and to do as they say. But what does it look like for us as we leave our parents’ home as young adults? Or as we get married and start a family? As our parents become grandparents to our children? Early on in our marriage, my husband and I realized it was easy for us to pick apart our parents’ sin. What they taught us, what they didn’t teach us, and the sins we didn’t want to emulate all became clearer as we got older (as you probably know, it’s easier to diagnose someone else’s sin than our own). I want to look at a passage in the Bible that speaks to this.

In Genesis 9, we read about Noah and his sons during their life after the flood:

“Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.”

Noah sinned.
There’s no question about that; drunkenness is a clear sin in scripture. All three sons knew it, but look how different their responses were to it:

Ham viewed his father’s sin and shame as something to dwell on, something to call attention to, and even something to mock.

Shem and Japheth were equally aware that their father sinned, but rather than calling attention to it and magnifying their father’s shame, they sought to remove it; they literally covered it. They didn’t ignore the sin or avoid their father, but they covered his shame in such a way that they weren’t exposed to it or reveling in it. Later on in scripture, we actually find that Ham was cursed for the way he treated his father!

So for us, when we see the sins of our parents, we have a choice in front of us. We can dishonor them by calling attention to it, complaining about it, mocking them, stewing over it, and simply holding onto it. Or we can be patient with them, give them the benefit of the doubt, extend grace, and forgive them. So ask yourself:

• Do you love to dwell on the sins of your parents? Are you still upset about things that happened 5 or 10 years ago?

• Do you confess to your friends the anger you have towards your parents, but then go on to justify it because they’ve sinned against you?

• Do you seek advice from many people about your parents’ sin, but really just want to vent about them?

• Do you complain to your husband in front of your kids, on the way home from the holidays about the ways your parents (or his) irritate you?

Rather than complaining and dwelling on their sin, we should seek to cover their shame. We should speak well of our parents to our husband, our kids, and our friends. When we need advice, we should seek counsel from wise older women, not from friends who may encourage us in our sin. We should confess our anger towards our parents and repent. And the ultimate way we should cover their shame is by forgiving them – just as Christ did for us!