This morning I felt the impulse to recreate a talk I gave to Chinese youth in Scotland in 1997.
I spoke on Mark 7.
First the passage has the chilling words, “you honor me with your lips but your hearts are far from me.” When me is God there is no excuse, but what Jesus points out is the problem with parents. Children are not respecting parents in their hearts though they are taught a form of respect in their faces.
I had seen this from the outside. I was never taught the Chinese facial respect and I still don’t know how to do it. It’s invisible to me, but I have stubbed my heart upon its use.
A coworker at the Chinese travel agency where I was currently the only non-Chinese worker, said I wasn’t giving her respect. It was true that I didn’t interact with her much (she had come in to cover for my boss while he was out of town) but I didn’t disrespect her; I just did my work. Apparently she was expecting something from me that the others gave her but I couldn’t tell what that was!
This being a very recent experience to my talk, I told the youth how I noticed they are raised to show a face of respect at all times to their parents. But sometimes their hearts have a problem.
Sometimes the parents have done wrong.
The children can’t let on. Respectful face.
But the heart festers. Who can solve this problem?
You honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me. Who can heal the heart?
Then we looked at the Parent Side.
Mark 7 goes on to tell the story of the non-Jewish woman (I like to think she’s Greek since my mom was Greek) who came to plead for her daughter.
Jesus acts very oddly.
“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
Is Jesus being racially prejudiced?
What if he is?
It doesn’t stop her a moment. Her need, her love for her daughter, sweeps her past any barrier of prejudice.
Call me a dog?
Fine, let me have a crumb, the dog’s rights.
Oh the love for the daughter.
Oh the faith that a crumb will do.
She is commended for her faith and her daughter is well.
She knew she wasn’t perfect. She knew she couldn’t fix her daughter. She somehow knew, somehow had faith that Jesus could solve this overwhelming problem.
Her love for her daughter was so great she didn’t care a bit if he were prejudiced. He had what she needed! She could suffer anything to get what she needed for her kid.
Now, what I’ve observed in real life is that Chinese parents try to set an example their children can live up to. They set a high bar.
Chinese parents who do not know God have no way of letting themselves not be perfect. They have no way of apologizing to their children because they are trying to set an example of perfection for their children. They do not know forgiveness.
But under God we all fail and can point to him who is the Perfect One. We can confess our faults and be forgiven. We can take hurting hearts to God who can see and know what is festering. Once we have received forgiveness, we can give it. We can respect the imperfect parent. The parent who may or may not know God but is trying the best they can to love the child. We can give the love and respect that we owe to parents because God wants us to. God, who knows all, can both heal the hurt hearts and guide the aching parent.
Stumbling words, from long ago.
Remembered today I know not why.
Of course the application isn’t for Chinese only, but that was my group then.
I am the mother now, the one pleading for her daughter.
At the same time I am praying that her heart not grow separate from her face.
That her Lord will guard her heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
To fellow moms out there, thank you for your service to family for God’s sake. Do you have words of wisdom to share? Is it hard to let your kid confront you? Has the child learned how to confront respectfully? How do you teach that?
To God, all thanks and praise!