Following Jesus, Honoring Our Parents

What keeps Asian Americans from being fully committed to Jesus and experiencing the joy of total devotion to him? We recognize three major factors: our parents, Asian American culture and idolatry. 

Following Jesus, Honoring Our Parents

Parental expectations and hopes 

What they expect from us regarding our education, career, monetary success, status and marriage is ever-present. Our succeeding is often a condition of our parents’ approval and love. At the very least, it feels that way.

The impact of failure goes beyond the individual; it shames the whole family. This causes at least two problems.

First, it forces us to choose between our parents/family and God. While all parents carry hopes and dreams for their children’s lives, this is usually a more painful decision for Asian Americans. When an Asian American child chooses a path decidedly different from her parents’ wishes, it can bring her immense shame.

Secondly, it leaves us with a fear of failure that can hinder us in risk-taking and trusting God. When an Asian American fails, he not only lets himself down, but senses he has let his community down.

Parental authority

Many of us feel like we must obey our parents without question in order to please them or even to be acceptable to them. Sometimes, we project this same dynamic into our relationship with God, viewing him as a stern taskmaster whose main concern is to make sure that we are fulfilling our duty and obligation to him.

As a result, the emphasis of our relationship with God is serving him, almost as a slave or hired hand. There is little of a love relationship with a Father who loves us unconditionally or who works for our best. 

Non-verbal communication 

Compounding the two problems of parental expectations and hopes and their authority in our lives, is the lack of verbal affirmation in many Asian American families. 

The language of love spoken by many first and second-generation parents is providing the material needs of their children and to sending them to a prestigious university. 

As we watch our non-Asian friends embrace, confide in and joke with their parents, our relationship with our parents often comes up lacking. Our parents do love us…it just feels so different. As Asian American children, we may find ourselves without a category for a love relationship, especially with an authority figure. 

Honoring vs. obeying our parents 

Many of us who have committed our lives to Christ find ourselves in a double bind. In the Scriptures, we are commanded to honor, even to obey our parents. But, at times, what they want seems to conflict with other commands of Scripture. 

How do we reconcile the command to put Jesus first and “hate” our mother and father together with the admonitions to honor our parents and look after their welfare? Especially difficult is the fact that many Asian parents invest in their children as their retirement plan. If the children take a different career path, it’s more than an embarrassment to the family—it may put their means of future support in jeopardy. 

Because each person’s family situation is different, we cannot give a standard across-the-board answer. Here are a few guidelines we suggest:  

  • Study various Scriptures that relate to family life. Don’t cast the whole weight of your decisions on one or two verses. See our Resource section at the end of this chapter for suggested passages to study. Try to study them in a group or with another believer instead of just on your own. Lean on the body of Christ to help you understand the Scriptures clearly and in applying it to your situation. 
  • Along similar lines, have one or two valued mentors who will help pray and think through your specific situation. Be sure they have some understanding of Asian parent/child relationships. 
  • Be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Listen and look hard for your parents’ care for you. If they speak a different language of love than your “Western” side is used to hearing, work hard on your “translating skills.”. Try walking in their shoes, appreciating their past and their hard work on your behalf, even if their dreams for you don’t seem to square with Scriptural values. 
  • Choose your disagreements wisely. Some are worth “going to the mat” for more than others. If you fight over every difference, your voice on the real important issues won’t get much of a hearing. Look for “win-win” solutions. It may mean you don’t get everything you want, but it shows your attempt to honor them as you try to follow God. 
  • All that said, there may be one or two major issues you sense would be disobeying the Lord if you followed your parents’ wishes. Pray hard, check it with your mentors, pray some more, approach your parents with the love of Jesus in your heart, choose your words carefully so they don’t come back to haunt you 10 or 40 years later, keep praying.

Developing Asian American Leaders

Asian American Coordinating Team
1994-1998 Version: Sam Barkat, Susan Cho, Van Riesen, Paul Tokunaga, Brad Wong, Collin Tomikawa, Jeanette Yep

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