Christian Parenting and Family Resources with Biblical Principles

How Can You Honor a Parent Who Was Never There For You?

  • John Trent, Ph.D.
  • 2004 4 Oct
How Can You Honor a Parent Who Was Never There For You?

The Bible's pretty clear on something. In fact, it's the first of the Ten Commandments with a promise attached to it.

"Honor your father and mother that your days may be long on the earth and it go well with you." (Deut. 5:6) That's pretty clear. If we hate our parents, we're the ones who lose life and happiness! But how do you honor someone who wasn't there for you? Here's one thing I've done that might give you a "shadowbox picture" of how to honor a parent who wasn't always there.

Shadowbox Memories

It's not very big. Particularly considering how much it represents. It's just a medium sized shadowbox frame containing my father's faded army cap, two rows of campaign ribbons, a purple heart with clusters for being wounded three different times, and a bronze star.

The frame is hung purposely in a very special place in our home, right above the family piano. Why there? Because our precious younger daughter, Laura, is an aspiring pianist. She's following in her precious older sister, Kari's steps, dutifully practicing day after day. As they sit at the small upright piano in the formal living room, struggling through scales and sonatas, they can look up at that frame. And when they do, it provides an echo of Ralph Waldo Emerson words, "Every man is entitled to be valued by his best moment."

Truthfully, there weren't many "best moments" in my relationship with my father. He left my mother when I was two months old.

Years would pass before we met and even more years were spent trying and failing to build a strong relationship with him. I tried my best, and was there when he got old, and sick. I was holding his hand when he died in a hospice near our home. But I never really got to know him. We never had the chance to spend the kind of time a father should with his son. Playing together, praying together, (except on the day he died when he couldn't object), or even working on a single chore or project. He died not knowing our younger daughter's name.

But there's that shadowbox. It hangs above the piano because it's a picture of a time when my father was full of love of country and courage under fire. Not more courage then the many he served with who never came home. But a visual reminder that he endured his own share of horror and heroism captured in his ribbons and medals and that old faded hat. They're a "best moment" for the girls to look up to and remember their Grandfather at his best.

I share this "shadowbox" story with you for two reasons. First, as an encouragement for you to forgive your own father if he was less then perfect. In the Lord's prayer, most of us are familiar with the words, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." That's Matthew 6:12. But do you know what Jesus says immediately after He says "Amen" at the end of the Lord prayer? "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions" Matthew 6:14-15. Not only that, but there's the first of the Ten Commandments that carries a promise, "Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and you may live long on the earth." Even if you had a difficult time with your own father, have you forgiven him? And even more, what is there about his life - even if it was a "best moment" before you were born - that you can honor?

And then there are your own kids. What will your "best moment" be when your child looks back at your life? For you know, don't you, that every day you live with them, you're giving them moments, good and bad, they'll put in a shadowbox someday.

At the end of the Apostle John's life, the "beloved disciple" wrote three letters that are wonderfully personal glimpses of his three years living daily with His Lord. He begins his first letter with the words, "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, and our eyes seen, and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life... we proclaim to you also" 1 John 1:1,3. For John, his ears ring with the memory of the words Jesus spoke; he can still see in his minds eyes things they experienced together; and even remember the times they touched. For each of us parents, our children will remember our words, our deeds and our touch as well.

One day, Lord willing, when our Grandchildren are playing the piano and look up at our shadowbox... may it contain an entire wall full of blessed and "best" moments of our life with them.

© John Trent, Ph.D.

Dr. John Trent is President of Encouraging Words and, a ministry committed to strengthening marriage and family relationships worldwide.  John teaches and is invited to speak at conferences on across the country.  Over the past five years alone, John has spoken to over 100,000 people in over 65 major cities at his seminars, as well as speaking to over 500,000 men at Promise Keepers conferences!  He's recently paired up with Gary Smalley and updated his powerful, best-selling book The Blessing (Nelson Books). Visit for more information.