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When Parental Obedience Brings Rejection

by Hillary McFarland

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy...
1 Tim. 3:1-2

Have you ever had this Scripture quoted at you? With ominous emphasis on last days and disobedience to parents?  I have.

I often hear from ostracized adult daughters who have made life decisions their parents believe are in disobedience (rebellion) to them and their teachings. Most of these women report that the difficult choices they make are a response to God's calling for them. Parents counter that God wouldn't ask them to do something that contradicts what they have taught and their understanding of Scripture.

Yet these same parents teach their children to obey God first, regardless of the cost, regardless of the suffering and sacrifice, regardless of what other people think. These same parents generally encourage their children to stay in the Word and ask God for wisdom. To grow in the knowledge of Him, take up the cross, and follow.

When these women obediently do so, they are condemned, emotionally (and sometimes physically) severed from their families, and rejected.

Disobedience, Really?

Scripture teaches that children are to honor their parents, but there is a difference between honor and obedience. Honor itself is not always a feeling. This article is not a criticism of parents who want to raise a godly family but it is a pointed look at the highly-confusing message some women (and men) struggle with in their adult life: which is that living life differently, having alternate convictions, or even reaching a different understanding of Scripture is equal to backsliding, rebellion, deception, or rejection of faith. For those who have prayed, studied, and carefully sought the Lord regarding their conclusions, this can be absolutely crushing.

Part of walking with God means to be bare before Him, asking Him to reveal sin in our lives and lead us in the way everlasting. Only the Lord knows the true motivations of our hearts. If there is an adult daughter who is in true rebellion and disobedience, there is still hope! However, honor and obedience notwithstanding, I submit that there is a lot less disobedience happening than some would have us believe.

Did your parents raise you to obey God? Did they teach you to follow Jesus? It's a hard life. Can a parent ever be truly prepared for this? Can we ever be truly prepared for this? Because this is the reality of a cross-bearing life:
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them,  “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?  Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.  So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. Luke 14:25-33
Did they raise you to seek first the kingdom of God? To be willing to go against the flow, to sacrifice? To take a stand? To question? To test all things and hold fast the good? To love God above all others, even when it hurts?

Encouragement for Living

Transitions are rarely easy, especially when it comes to issues of family and faith, individual (yes, individual) relationships with God, relationships with those we love, and sometimes the simple matter of growing up. It's hard for everyone. For women, especially those who do follow the Lord faithfully despite opposition, may I offer some humble encouragement?
  • Keep your words sweet, like the saying reminds us, because someday you might have to eat them.
  • Seek to be humble in all things.
  • Stay open to correction, because we can learn from everyone despite disagreement.
  • Find safe and trustworthy people with whom to fellowship, even if you meet for coffee once a week.
  • The art of boundaries takes time to develop, but ask the Lord to show you how! And keep firm, but gracious, boundaries.
  • Listen well. Pray without ceasing.
  • As much as depends on you, live peaceably with all. But follow Jesus first.
  • Trust God. Trust His love for you and His love for the ones you love.
  • Remember that parents and others sometimes respond like they do because they are genuinely afraid for you. Honor them and be thankful for their love. Take their fears to the Heavenly Father and ask Him if there is anything He wants to show you through them, and ask Him to comfort them also.
  • Endure.
  • Don't let the rejection you feel cause you to reject others ~ or to even reject yourself. Don't reject your sadness. Don't reject your pain. Don't reject your anger. Let God use these things, and the God-of-all-comfort will bring life in ways you've never expected. 
  • Do not return "evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing."
  • Love.
It can be confusing and deeply hurtful to experience emotional or physical rejection, especially when you have ultimately done what was asked of you. It's hard when you reap 'punishment' for obedience, rather than disobedience.

But take heart that you are not rejected by the One who matters most.


  1. i am so glad i read this. so glad. and if the tears are any indication, this is *exactly* what He wanted to speak into my spirit today.

    thank you, sweet friend.

    thank you.

  2. An excellent point. I never thought of the contradiction involved when a parent says, "Read Scripture and listen to God so that you can follow Him better" and then turn around and say, "Your interpretation of Scripture and what God wants you to do is disobedient because it disagrees with my views." Well put!

  3. Great article..why is it that some parents and churches focus on sin so much? Do they not truly believe that Jesus covered our sin? If they did, they wouldn't be so focused on it..they would be focused on Christ.

    And if they believe with all their heart, that they have taught their children to the best of their ability, then why do they not trust those grown children to now walk out their faith? If they reject these adult children's choices, then they have to admit they went wrong somewhere. But I would say the child should be let go..to discover who God is to THEM personally, not who God is to their parents.

  4. Excellent post, Hillary! This is something I know SO well from personal experience. It is such a painful thing to face parental rejection, judgement, labels of rebelliousness, prodigal, etc. just to follow Christ, especially when your parents follow Him too and should be the ones who understand.

    And yet, in spite of the pain, I would do it again...follow the Cross, for the JOY set before me.

  5. I've been struggling a lot lately, trying to find who I am as compared to who my parents are. And when I find that my point of view on something differs from my parents, it confuses me - especially when it's something of spiritual or life-changing importance. Thanks for the encouragement! I think I need to do a lot more praying, and a lot less kicking myself for being different.

  6. I remember questioning this in the late 80s to a friend starting down the Patriarchy/Quiverfull trail who held her toddler up before a plague on the wall every time she was disobedient and told her "See, honey, the 10 Commandments and God says you must OBEY Mommy and Daddy." Admittedly I WAS butting in, but it seemed wrong [and YES I did wait till the kid was asleep]. I was not the least bit surprised to hear daughter # 2 rebelled BIG TIME many years later!!!

  7. Kimberley...{{hugs, dear friend}}

    Jay, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

    Pianissimo, I understand what you mean. I'm glad you found encouragement! It's so hard sometimes to hear only the Father's voice, isn't it?

    Jeanette, {{hugs}} You are an inspiration.

    Sisterlisa, you are so right. Focus on the FORGIVER of sins.

    Hopewell, thanks for stopping by! I hope your new year is off to a great start!

  8. This post is exactly I needed to read...thank you so much. Parental rejection to my obedience to God is something that I am going through at the moment actually...and has been dragging on for months. It's so sad...my parents do so unwittingly...they don't realize what is going on here.

  9. Thanks for this post Hillary.

    I too know this from personal experience. It is so confusing to ask questions and be labeled as rebellious. My parent reject me over and over again and it is so hard. I feel like as 36 year old it (married with 3 kids) I should be past feeling wounded by their parental rejection of me their oldest daughter. It so confusing for most of my life I have thought they were spiritually wise and now I realize the fruit of their life does not measure up. But, since I feel they have been blessed by God with material blessings and spiritual positions and community respect I doubt where I know God as well as them and if my walk with Christ is a spiritual as theirs. It is painful and confusing.

    ~ Ali

  10. Katherine and Ali...{{{hugs and blessings to you}}}

    Ali...It can be such a difficult and confusing place, yes? May our heavenly Father show you how much He loves you and show you the way you should go. While we see the outward successes (spiritual and otherwise)the Lord looks at the heart. Stay strong in Him!

  11. As a first-born daughter who always tried to please her parents, it's been hard for me to step away from some of the teachings I was taught (for example, King James Onlyism and hymns-only singing). My parents stressed that the Bible was to be our authority. It has been reading God's Word that has led me away from some of the teachings given me by my parents. Their disappointment is hard for me to handle, and it's so strange to me that they've reacted so negatively, because I really do desire to please Jesus in my life and to follow God's Word.

  12. Dear Mom and Dad,

    All I wanted to do was obey God with my life. You told me that's what you wanted me to do. But now you won't even acknowledge me as your daughter.

    What happened?

    I miss you so much.

  13. Dear Anonymous,

    I hear you and am sorry for your pain. Your situation sounds familiar. I have been thrown out of my family (by parents, siblings) for simply questioning their behavior and for changing myself to follow good and rational thought patterns I learned in ALANON! How ironic, isn't it, when you try to be a better person and the people you trust most reject you for being GOOD. My family, whose behavior I put up with for years (there's a lesson here), have isolated me instead. And, they set any ethics I thought they had aside to do it. Is it sickness? Is it evil? Does it matter? My friends think I'm better off without them. But families like mine don't prepare you to be on your own. I am struggling also. Every part of my life was enmeshed with them including a job. Gone. It's like they all died in a plane crash or something. They couldn't care less about me, and I have stopped reaching out although I am open to contact. I still miss them, which makes me feel insane because IT IS insane to miss people who throw you under the bus. Denial would actually be a lot more tolerable than this. There's no going back, unfortunately the shred of self esteem I escaped with takes that option off the table. To top it off, I have neglected to take care of my self, husband and daughter while overwhelmed and grieving. I am praying to just be able to function and absorb this loss. And to forgive. Good luck to you in your quest. Let's pray we both find peace and a way to move on.

  14. Your friends and sister in ChriatMarch 22, 2012 at 11:36 PM

    Dear Lord Jesus,
    You were the one who protected the "sinful woman" from the religious stone throwers...and please take these daughters under your wings. They have been rejected by the religious legalistic structure that has their parents heart. Please turn these ashes in beauty...and comfort these sisters who mourn in Zion. They have been lied to...for many years...many of us were, but you can heal hearts. I lift up every sister who comes to this page. Let them see this situation from your perspective. May your love, comfort them. May they walk in freedom. Please be their new family...let them receive the "spirit of adoption" to be in your family. Amen.

    Much grace and love to you all!


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