Just Five Little Words

It's amazing what the Word of God can do to a smug, self-righteous heart. I certainly have my own story to tell in that regard. But, rather than talk about me, consider the experience of Myra Langley Johnson, who wrote of her own bitter resistance to the idea of "honoring" her mother. 

Years after her mother passed away and, with all the frigid bitterness still intact, Myra attended a Bible Study. Here we go!—that's all it takes! 

The group was studying the Ten Commandments and Myra was feeling pretty smug about the subject. "After all, I didn't worship more than one God; I didn't steal, commit adultery or murder. I didn't lie about my neighbors or plot to cheat them out of what was rightfully theirs." 

But, of course, that fifth commandment finally came up and Myra was definitely not ready for that! 

"Against my will, I began to think about my mother, who had passed away ten years earlier Honor her?—when I felt more relief than sorrow at her death? The tears I had cried at her funeral were those of an adult daughter who had never heard the words I most needed to hear from her: 'I love you; I'm proud of you.'" 

Myra's birth was her Mother's "midlife surprise", and at the age of four, when her father died suddenly, Myra became her mother's only friend, only hope, only reason to exist. Her mother strove furiously to protect such a great asset: keeping her little daughter under constant, critical scrutiny and sheltering her from all the dangerous forces and influences that she herself had encountered in life. 

Such 'protection' did more harm than good, of course. "I grew into an anxious, introverted adolescent, " Myra writes. "Complicating matters, Mother battled deteriorating health and depression, but because of the rigid faith-healing religion she adhered to, she shunned all medical intervention."

By the time Myra reached her teens, her mother had become so consumed and pre-occupied with herself, that nothing her daughter did could impress her. She got high grades, received academic awards, won interscholastic competitions; but none of it brought a word of affirmation. "During my senior year, I earned a major role in a drama production, but my mother never attended it. Her only explanation was, 'I didn't feel up to it.'"

At the age of 20, Myra met the man she would eventually marry. Her mother openly resented him. Later, when wedding plans were underway, she threatened not to attend. Myra found herself angrily blaming God for taking away her father and leaving her alone with a person who was utterly impossible to please. 

After the wedding, things just got worse. Visits to Mom usually deteriorated into criticism about raising the kids; reproach for leaving the church she grew up in (Myra's husband had led her to true faith in Christ), and of course, constant comparison to other members of the family who "obviously" loved her more than Myra did. 

When Myra's mother finally placed herself in a nursing home, Myra attempted to make family visits, thinking her mom mighty enjoy seeing her granddaughters. She showed little interest and often received them with such hostility that Myra would leave in tears. 

A few years after her mother's funeral, a job-related move took Myra and her husband to another city. There in the new home, she didn't even unpack her mother's portrait; just hid it away in a box in the attic.

But...then came the Bible study and that precious fifth commandment! Just five little words: 

"Honor your father and mother."  Ex 20:12

"I left the Bible class that night convicted to the core," she writes. She suddenly found herself face-to-face with her own bitterness and hardness of heart! "To harbor contempt and anger; to shut someone out of your life and memory, because of perceived hurt or injustice—these aren't the heart attitudes of forgiveness. I knew firsthand that this would punish the 'victim' far more than the 'villian'." 

Myra tried to obey the fifth commandment. But the question, of course, was 'how?' How could she honor someone who had been responsible for so much heartache? 

She began with the perfect first step! By humbly admitting her need for Christ. She needed God's help! That moved her instantly to confess her own sins: her anger toward God; her resentment and lack of compassion; the bitterness she had harbored and rehearsed over the years. 

Remarkably, the next thing to come was compassion. She suddenly felt gratitude that her mother had given her life; raised her as best she could. She began thinking of the factors that had shaped her mother's life, not the least of which were her own dysfunctional parents. 

The next step for Myra was to go to the attic! She brought down that picture, set it up on the table and sat down before it. "I'm sorry," she silently spoke to the picture but, deep down inside, she was praying to God. "I didn't honor you! I tried to push you away. I want you to know I've forgiven you, and I pray that you've forgiven me too. I want you to be a part of my life."

"After I made that prayer, an incredible peace filled me as God enabled me to do what I had never done before. By forgiving and honoring her, I broke the chains of bitterness in my life." 

Myra closes with a powerful thought: 

"My greatest regret is that I was unable to reach this place of forgiveness while my mother was still alive. For other adult children of 'difficult' parents, perhaps there is still time." 

Wow! Just five little words from this awesome Book of God! See you Sunday!          RAS 

 

1. Myra Langley Johnson, "Honor My Mother?"  Today's Christian Woman (5-11-07)

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