The journey of discovering how God made families to function as “us”, not “I”.
Is ‘home’ a country? Does ‘home’ have to do with a person: family, a significant other, or a close friend? Is ‘home’ a specific place: the roof over your head, which you retreat to daily or the church building you enter weekly?
While ‘home’ has encompassed all these definitions at one point in my life, it most significantly represents family to me. Growing up, I had little reason to complain simply because there was no lack. My parents cared for my brother and I with everything they had; they provided every need from meals to clothing, from toys to family holidays. Yet, as a result of escalating pressure in school and the lack of ability to cope, I carried unhealthy expectations toward my family and went so far as to think that my family owed me something that I deserved. Every car ride my father gave me straight to my school gate and every meal my mother cooked was my right as their child — also known as 理所当然的事 in Chinese. All I selfishly cared about was how I was being treated, how things were not in my favour and how I deserved better. I was trapped in looking inwards rather than outwards, and this opened the door for dishonour to enter my heart.
My mother worked as a full-time staff in my home church for a decade and retired in June last year. In her 10 years of faithful and dedicated service unto God, I had always wondered why she never seemed “interested enough” to attend prayer meetings after official office hours. Was it because she wasn’t as prayerful as I thought? Did laziness or weariness get the better of her? Or did she want to retreat and escape from the daily grind? Dishonour crept up on me and polluted my thoughts as these questions roamed like shifting shadows in my mind.
However, my main question was eventually answered and my assumptions were laid to rest one evening when I came home to my mother greeting me with dinner ready at the table. As I posed my burning question to her, my mother simply smiled and said, “As your mother, creating a stable environment for you and Kor Kor (brother in dialect) to come home to and putting food on this dining table is not just my responsibility, but also my priority. More importantly, I choose to come home for the conversations we have as we eat together at this table because what you are going through matters to me. I will do my job as a full-time staff but I also want to do my duty as a mother.”
My mind was set ablaze in an instant. I suddenly understood the measure of commitment, dedication, and sacrifice my mother had been making for my entire family. Apart from feeling terribly ashamed for asking such a ridiculous question, I experienced overwhelming love and was served humble pie for dessert; my mother had starkly modeled selflessness to me, yet I had been blinded all along. How could honour be given if I had been missing such a crucial revelation all these years? This humbling encounter taught me one of the most important lessons: The places I called home were never about me; family has never been about me.
In the Ten Commandments, it says, “honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16) Yet, it is extremely difficult to honour them many a times. I have come to see that self-centeredness blinds us from our parents’ heart and (mostly) good intentions for us. Even the smallest act of love will be overlooked if our focus is kept solely on what makes us happy.
For some, honouring comes a little easier when we look at our families. Yet, for others, we hang our heads low, ashamed because we have not yet seen anything honourable to credit our parents or siblings for. When separation or divorce tears the family apart, honour is broken. When physical and verbal abuse raids the household, honour is quickly lost. When differences in religious beliefs cause unhealthy tension, honour is seemingly impossible to give. Honour slips away like a thief in the night when no effort is made to get to know and understand you.
When honour has yet to be restored, may I urge us to do what Proverbs 23:22 and 24 says, “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him.” It may be insurmountable to obey what this particular verse says, but I want to encourage you to begin with baby steps.
My father and I never could communicate with each other too well, as I inherited his temper. Whenever either of us got upset or annoyed, we would both lose our tempers and begin speaking to each other in agitated tones, which usually escalates until either of us simply gave in or gave up. I never quite noticed how my short-temperedness wrought negative changes in my attitudes toward my father. Honour was sorely missing in my speech and spun webs around my resolve to do something, paralysing any good change to come through. Upon that realisation, I was convicted to be slow to speak, bended my mind to learn to listen, and made valiant attempts to speak the language of love in giving compliments rather than hurtful remarks for a change. I learnt that honouring my father was my choice. We are all left to choose whether we would like to honour our parents or not.
While my family today leaves me with a heart filled with gratitude, it hasn’t always been this way. We have overcome numerous challenges such as admitting faults, laying down pride, and needing to ask for forgiveness. I believe the same can happen in your family, where home begins to take on a new meaning where it’s not all about you. Give God the time and space to renew honour in your household, but for starters, why not let Him renew honour within you?
My cry for families in Singapore would be to see Malachi 4:6 come to pass in our generation, where “(God) will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” I pray you would begin to claim this verse with confidence that God can transform your “I” to an “us”. As you prayerfully turn your heart to focus on your family, may you witness great measures of God’s love and grace flooding into your home, allowing Him to be lifted above “us” and “I”.
P.S. Mom and Dad, I honour you both with this article. Without your tenderness, patience and heavy investment in my life, this article would not have been possible. Thank you for every gift of love!