Written By J. T., Singapore
Every night, I would come home to see my parents hunched over their dinners, eyes glued to the television screening the latest Korean drama serial. It’s always the same story-line: two love birds entangled in a web of secrets waiting to be discovered. Think affairs, illegitimate children, business feuds, and corruption.
One night last month, I came back to my family’s own Korean drama.
It was midnight and I was just about to shower and turn in after a late night out. That’s when I heard my parents quarreling in the kitchen. Usually, I don’t pay much attention as their tiffs are quite frequent. But as the mudslinging continued, I overheard my mother saying, “Well, you visited a prostitute in the past.” My dad retorted, “Oh, so now you want to bring up the past . . .”
I did not stay in my bedroom to hear the rest of the squabble. Those few words changed everything, and yet nothing. Everything, because I had no idea how to relate to my parents (especially my father) after that. The following morning, I could not look at my father in the eye as I passed him on the way to the toilet. Nothing, because while this piece of information was new to me, they had long lived with that knowledge—now I know why they sleep in separate beds and why my mother does not travel with my father.
As a writer, I have spoken to prostitutes and reported on the local vice scene several times. But when this struck so close to home, it shattered whatever concept I had of a protected family and a sacred marriage.
My heart became unbearably heavy; I cried myself to sleep and could not function at work. Up to that point, I was already hardly talking to my father. We grew apart when he was battling mental illness, and I was still trying hard to reconnect with him. Then, this happened.
The “secret” weighed heavily on me because I did not know if they knew that I knew. Friends advised me against bringing it up so as to avoid causing them further embarrassment. I could not confide in my siblings, because I wanted to protect my younger brother. And I saw no point in telling my older brother since he had just become a young father.
So I turned to mentors and friends. They listened to me, gave me advice, and shared their own stories. What they shared reassured me that I was not alone. One told me how her father had discovered his wife was having an affair. Up till today, the other man has continued to be in contact with her mother, sometimes calling her two to three times every day.
Another friend told me that from a young age, when she was six years old, her parents had stopped being intimate. Each time her father disappeared for a few hours every Saturday afternoon to take a walk, she worried about whether he was having an affair. When she was young, she would ask him where he was going, and he would joke that he had another family outside. More than two decades later, she still worries about her parents’ marriage. A male friend also shared with me that he had lost his virginity to a prostitute in Thailand during his time in the army. He now has two children, and his wife does not know about it.
After hearing all those stories and having experienced firsthand the pain of broken relationships, I realized how prevalent family brokenness was. What then can we do about such situations, and what does God have to say about it?
1. Honor our parents
Before you roll your eyes or gloss over this section, hang on and hear me out.
As we grow older, respecting or obeying our parents becomes harder when we see their frailties and weaknesses. I grew up looking up to my father as he taught me English, recommended good books, and brought me cycling. His stature became less awe-inspiring as the years wore on. He battled mental illness, withdrew into himself, retired early, and now spends most of the day at home watching television or reading newspapers.
The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 6:1-3, “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.”
But many of us struggle to do this, especially when our parents don’t seem to deserve our respect. When I asked a friend why she stopped trying to improve her relationship with her father, she said, “Respect has to be earned.” She recounted the “pathetic” sight of her father stealing money from her piggy bank to gamble when she was young. Till now, he has largely been absent in her life.
Yes, it takes two hands to clap to make a good relationship. But God, through Paul, has commanded us to obey and honor our parents because it is right and so that we will continue to receive God’s blessings. In Colossians 3:20, the same instruction is given for children to obey their parents in everything, “for this pleases the Lord”.
We ought to respect our parents simply because God has given and set them above us, and it pleases Him. Whether or not that relationship achieves depth or not depends on how much we want it and how much we allow God to heal the hurt in our hearts.
2. Talk to others and pray about the next step
Is it time to do something about it or is it the season to just pray and wait?
I asked my friend (the one whose mum is in regular contact with another man) whether she has brought up the issue with her mother or the man. She said she recognizes his number and has even memorized it in the event she needs to confront him. But she decided against doing anything because she fears that her mum would not be able to take it.
Sometimes, the burden is not for us—as children—to carry. A friend once asked a former teacher whether she worried about her husband having affairs or flings overseas as he traveled often. She replied, “I don’t have to. This is a matter between him and God.” In Ezekiel 18:20, we read that the one who sins will bear the punishment. Children do not share the guilt of their parents, and vice-versa.
If you are afraid of getting out of your comfort zone or rocking the boat, seek God’s leading through prayer and take things one step at a time. If you are dissatisfied with the way things are, or fear that you will have regrets when your parents die, ask God to help you discern how to change things for the better and to give you the courage to do it.
3. Ask God to guard us against repeating sins that hurt us.
As flawed human beings, we are innately sinful and are naturally inclined to falter or sin (Romans 3:23). And sometimes, we seemingly repeat the very sins that have hurt us before. For instance, family violence and divorce are (at times) transmitted across generations.
What then can we do about this?
We can ask God to guard us against repeating the sin that once hurt us. The Bible also tells us to confess and repent of that sin in the family line (Leviticus 26:40-42). Let’s stand in the gap for our loved ones.
God can redeem time and repay losses. For those with broken families—treasure them and the time we have with them. For those who have been hurt by the very people who are supposed to protect or love us—accept God’s love and ask for His strength and grace to forgive them.
May His love overflow in our hearts and give us the capacity to love others. For love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5). We are also instructed to “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)
I still don’t know why God allowed for that “secret” or new bit of information to be revealed to me at this point in my life. But I trust His heart that He will use it for good. The hurt is real in today’s world—rejection, depression, guilt and fear are rampant. So perhaps there is value in tracing the pain back to its source. When we know where the wounds are, healing can begin.