Building a culture of honour within families
As my eyes gently creaked open, I saw a blurry sea of red — dangling ching chong decorations and containers of cookies, tarts, and bak kwa. The spring winds, carrying the fragrance of flowers and mandarin oranges, kissed my skin, befittingly ushering in the Chinese New Year. I immediately lifted my head, slid my hand under my pillow and found paper — paper sleeves filled with money to be exact. Akin to tooth fairies, my parents would leave ang paos (red packets) under my pillow, and await my glee when I wake up the next morning.
After the excitement, I would return to my room and begin the process of putting on new clothes, dolling up with new make-up and accessories, and slipping on new shoes.
However, whenever I opened my bedroom door, there would be tension and mild frustration in the atmosphere — my parents would be in disagreement. My dad prefers to be punctual for house visitations, whereas my mom would take her time, knowing that our relatives will be late for valid reasons. I would play the peacemaker, getting both of them to calm down. While this repeats every year, I have learnt the important lesson of honouring my parents the way God has individually wired them to be.
After all, Chinese New Year is all about reunion (tuan yuan): coming together with people who matter, celebrating family, and learning to honour each other. Unfortunately, for some of us (even Christians), we outwardly display dread and reluctance to meet our extended families. We express disgust at hypocritical relatives, who only care for gossip and small talk rather than to have genuine interest in our lives. But we also tend to forget that such thoughts are dishonouring to God and our relatives. I’ll admit that I have failed in this area many times. However, I am convinced that in order for a family to function according to God’s design, a culture of honour must be established and intentionally up-kept in the family.
Honour was a commandment given to us. Deuteronomy 5:16 says, “Honour your father and mother, as the Lord your God commanded you.” As such, I believe God is calling His disciples to practise and learn true honour, so as to lay godly foundations for the future generations.
Here are some lessons I have learnt while on the path of learning to honour my grandparents, parents, aunties, and uncles:
Humility comes before honour
This lesson seems tough to learn, but it is foundational to one’s understanding of why we need to honour others. Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honour.” Understanding and accepting humility is the basis for honour. Before we learn to honour someone else, we need to recognise that honour isn’t simply about or for us. Honour prioritises others before self; sees greater needs above selfish ones; gives when there is nothing to be received in return. If we fail to live from humility, we will often fail to see beyond ourselves, creating self-centred beings out of us.
There will be moments when we are challenged to pardon the mistakes our family members make or to forgive them for imposing unhealthy expectations upon us, but humility and honour treat people as God sees them and empowers us to love. As Danny Silk wrote in his book, Keep Your Love On, “Love comes from God, who is always working to heal and restore your connection with Him and other people and bring you into healthy, life-giving relationships.” Honour is due even when it is undeserved.
May each of us learn to pray humble prayers as Jesus did when He was on earth, to say, “yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39, NASB). As we respond to God in the same manner, He will have room to transform our dishonourable heart postures and renew our wrong mindsets about honour.
When you choose honour, you choose family
We are all too familiar with the quote that goes, “You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.” Ever so often, we find ourselves groaning about having to live with our families because we are “stuck” with them and cannot swap parents with someone else. However, in the same way we choose to love our significant other in a romantic relationship, we can also choose to love our family. The way to intentionally choosing to love our family is to commit to honouring them.
I had to learn what honouring my parents meant the hard way. When I was young, I struggled to respect them; to understand that God has given them authority over my life; to submit to their leadership. God only began turning my mindsets around when a series of unintentional events hurt my parents and they had a heart-to-heart conversation with me. The biggest lesson drawn out from that conversation was that careless words can reach unexpecting ears, causing honour to be stripped away in an instant. I vividly remember seeing the hurt in my mum’s eyes and hearing the pain in her voice as she lovingly addressed my lack of honour for her in my speech around family and friends. After that incident, I grew conscious of honouring my parents in my speech and actions, even when everything in me wanted to disobey them.
Today, I have become more aware that honour isn’t just found in the big things; it is in the small things as well. Sometimes, honouring our parents looks like coming home for dinner, or dropping them a text message to say that you’ll be home late rather than to have them stay up worrying about you, or taking the initiative to do household chores. The most heartening thing for us to know is that where honour has been lost, honour can also be restored. However, it begins with your intentional decision to love your family regardless, and sometimes at high cost.
As we gather around our dinner tables this Chinese New Year, let’s put to practice what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong encouraged us to do: “Pause and remind ourselves of what truly matters in life, of what it means to belong to a family.” May you come to find that the investment of honour creates a virtuous cycle; may your family ties bond and not break!
To all our SELAH readers, family, and friends: 新年快乐, 家庭美满 , 万事如意!