TREE FALL: At what age do we get to stop honoring our parents?


"Tree Fall" features college-focused stories, tips and inspiration for living Christian values in our broken world.


“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with a promise, “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” – Ephesians 6:1-3

The word “honor” has gotten lost in translation because it’s part of everyday life. Retailers honor coupons. Old ladies leave pennies in the jar at the gas station thanks to the honor system. I developed severe arthritis in my thumb playing Medal of Honor. The word can appear in a variety of contexts because of its multiple definitions. Heck, even the sound of the word can have a different meaning. Once, in the midst of a passionate monologue, I said to a friend, “I live honor, I breathe honor, I AM honor!” My friend, not missing a beat, said, “I bet she doesn’t like that.” 

Like “That’s what she said,” but less catchy.
The meaning of the word “honor” – in the biblical context – is probably at least familiar to all of us. Having gone through this myself, I can attest to the idea that honoring our parents makes sense when we’re little, but seems to have little relevance once we hit college.

And really, why would it?

When we’re children, we’re expected to present ourselves in ways that won’t embarrass our parents. We had to “honor our parents” through our behaviors, demonstrating good manners at all times. Fart noises with our armpits and eating our boogers were certainly not ways of honoring our parents. And we understood that.

In college, the connection to our parents gets a little more fuzzy. We don’t see them as often and certainly no longer require the same level of permissions we once did. Once you’ve experienced life in college, the same parent/child routine seems meaningless and very, very annoying. Sure, I was annoyed by my curfew in high school, but it reached a whole new level of ridiculous when my parents requested a curfew when I was home from college for the weekend. 

For context, this is what I looked like to my parents at my high school graduation.
As rich as the topic would be, the parent/child relationship isn’t where I want to focus. My point is that we associate the word “honor” with “obey.” In fact, several interpretations of the Bible lead us to believe those two words are the same. While I would say it is worth obeying your parents (especially if they are helping pay for school), once you’re on your own, that’s less of a concern.

Frankly, most of the time, your parents will have no idea if you obeyed them or not.

If you get trashed on a school night even though your parents specifically told you not to do it, there’s really no way they’ll know. But here’s the catch: you didn’t honor them. In that verse above, the word honor is an English translation from the Greek word “timaó,” which comes from the word “timios” or “to prize.” The implication here is that we’re being told to place value upon our parents, to revere. When you mess up, when you make a fool of yourself, you failed to honor your parents, not because you didn’t “obey,” but because you didn’t uphold the values instilled in you. You reflect your parents through your behaviors. This is always true, even if they’re not there.

When presented with opportunities in school, do a gut check. You have the capability of doing whatever you want, including using these moments to honor your values. Just like we read in Ephesians 6, doing this the right way comes with the promise that everything will go well with us and we’ll have a long life.

The term “YOLO” doesn’t apply if Christ is on your side.
I’m not saying don’t have fun, and I’m not saying you’re doing anything wrong. I’m simply asking, “Are you honoring your parents?”

We’ll never get old enough to stop honoring our parents. You don’t have to like everything about your parents or the rules they put on you. You don’t have to model your Christian walk after them. For me, a big turning point in my life came when I simply took stock in the fact that, like it or not, I am the person my parents made. I will respect them and live my life in a way that honors them.

My parents weren’t perfect, and neither am I. But the God-given values we share are.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

  • What values were passed down to you from your parents?
  • Is it really important to honor someone through your actions if there’s really no way they’ll know about it?
  • If God gave you a do-over on something you’ve done so far in college, what would you do?
  • What would you say to someone who is about to make a poor decision?

Bible Verses

  • Proverbs 10:1
  • Proverbs 23:24
  • 1 Timothy 5:8

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