Did your mother teach you to respect your teacher, the school principal, your pastor, your grandparents, others? What words did she or your father use to communicate what respect even meant to you as a child?
I grew up in the Midwest, in northwest Indiana, as a baby-boomer child who, along with all my peers, learned to address adults with a deference that acknowledged their greater life wisdom. Teachers were always spoken to with a surname first: Mr., Miss, or Mrs. I never even knew any of the adults in my life had first names, except my parents’ friends Rita and Bud. But of course I never called them those names: they were still Mr. and Mrs. McFadden to my brothers and me.
Years later when Dennis and I raised our kids in the South, I taught my little ones to say “yes sir and yes ma’am” like other parents did as a way to demonstrate honor to adults, though I didn’t demand they say it all the time. I just wanted the concept to be in their vocabulary. And I’m glad I did.
I can say with confidence our national concept of respect for others has changed dramatically. I’m reminded of it especially today, President’s Day.
It used to be said that we respected the office of president and therefore spoke with dignity about the person in the chair, even if we didn’t agree with everything said or done. Today that standard has been diminished dramatically. It doesn’t help that our current president doesn’t always model respect for others with his choice of words.
On social media, news outlets, and in places of power, we see boasting, arrogance, rudeness, and selfishness that insists on its own way, which 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 plainly says is not becoming: “Love does not boast, is not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own way…” Love one another is not on the national radar.
How then do we adults who belong to Christ counteract this disrespectful cultural drift and treat others as God desires?
How do we model this valuable character trait with our children when we can guarantee it’s not being taught or modeled outside of our homes?
God answers this daunting question with a simple requirement. He calls us to always love one another. His love produces respect for people, even people we don’t like, don’t trust, or don’t enjoy.
February is the month we think about love because of Valentine’s Day. Looking to Jesus, who is Love incarnate and the author and perfecter of our faith, we choose to imitate Him as we relate to others. Jesus respected the woman at the well who had five husbands by talking to her. Her peers would have looked down on her as inferior for her serial marriages, and so would we. But Jesus wants us to show common respect just the same when we encounter those unlike us or those who seem unlovable.
Here are some questions to help you evaluate how you are currently modeling respect:
1. As parents are you modeling respect every day at home in your marriage? What kind of tone do you use with your spouse? Do you speak with contempt? Are you flippant or coarse or impolite? Are you arrogant or rude? Your children will copy what they see and hear.
2. Do you relate to adults in your everyday life with respect? For example, the checkout person in the grocery store, your neighbor who always parks his car too close to your driveway, or the parent of the always-in-trouble child in your daughter’s first grade classroom. What do you say that your kids hear? What kind of disrespectful facial expressions to you use that they see? Eye rolls or sighs, anyone?
3. Do you take time to respect those who aren’t like you? Do you look them in the eye, show kindness, listen if they have a story to tell? Recently we received a comment from a mom of a four-year-old boy who told us the story of watching the news and seeing a man shot by a police officer. Her little boy was terrified and asked if it was his daddy because she said the man actually resembled her husband from the camera angle. She shared how, as a black woman, she feels alone in their mostly white church and she fears for her husband and son.
I have a friend who told me she too fears for her son’s life who is in his thirties. I can’t imagine being afraid every time my husband leaves home wondering if he will get randomly pulled over by an officer and something go terribly wrong.
Love seeks to understand another’s point of view. Love sets aside our personal plots to understand pain in someone else’s eyes. Listen to others as individuals. Refuse to treat those who are different from you as all alike because they are in a different culture.
4. Do you respect your neighbors or coworkers who may not share your faith or values enough to open your home with hospitality? Jesus showed consideration and compassion, especially to those who didn’t deserve it. This is hard for us because we resist moving outside our comfort zones.
Remember how He treated a greedy, hated, thieving tax collector named Zacchaeus? Jesus ate dinner with him. In his own house. As his friend! And we know Jesus didn’t agree with Zaccheus’ life choices. He still showed honor and respect—love–to this person.
It’s easy to show love and respect to people who believe like you, vote like you, look like you, or dislike the same things you dislike. Real love, God’s genuine love that we are commanded to bestow on our hurting world, treats every person with honor and respect. Love says age doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t matter, status doesn’t matter, race doesn’t matter, theological differences don’t matter. Real love treats every person with dignity based on every individual’s innate worth as an image bearer of God.
As always, to show respect in every relationship start with what you can control. In your marriage, with your children, with your coworkers, extended family members, remember you can’t change the other person, but only yourself.
Author G.K. Chesterton was once asked, “What’s wrong with the world?” His reply was both profound and true. He said simply, “I am.” Chesterton respected his individual depravity enough to claim his own part of the problem.
We must respect the truth of God’s Word that says we are all wicked. None of us is good on our own. Look to your own fault, your own wrong first, instead of pointing the finger in blame at someone else.
Love came to us to teach us to respect one another. Only Jesus can help you do this by the power of His Spirit who lives within believers. Ask Him to help you today.
Prayer: God help me recognize that my heart is incapable of loving as I want to love, as Jesus wants me to love. I cannot love and respect others if I think I am better than them. Being good only on the outside will never fix the problem in my heart. Amen.
P.S. I’d love to hear your story of what your parent or even a grandparent taught you about respect. I’ve always felt respect is something I can recognize easily, and disrespect in a kid I can spot a mile away, but I’ve found it difficult to describe this trait as clearly as I’d like in words. So help me out if you’d like!