Still thinking about this subject of addressing elders with formal titles, which shows respect and honor. As Christians we are not egalitarians like the world. And no, I definitely do not believe that once you hit 18 years old suddenly you get the privilege of being on a first name basis with everyone. There is not a point like that where you suddenly “attain.” And there are no exams for getting graded on your wisdom, experience, knowledge, and insight — so nope, you will never be able to compare grades with others to see if you or they better deserve to be called Mr./Mrs./Miss.
The point here being: yes, I definitely believe that as a 25 year old married woman & mother, I have a great responsibility to call others by formal titles. And not only because I know that my children are sponges and will mimick what Mommy does. That’s part of it. But not the whole story. The other important part of it is that I am not above showing respect and honor. If someone is older than I am, I am called (especially as a Christian) to render them due honor and respect. Even in such small ways as addressing them by Mrs. Lastname, in lieu of simply Firstname. (Scripture is extremely clear about rendering honor and respect to older people–and notice that Scripture does not say, “if you are under 18… or under 35… this applies to you.” It is a blanket statement.) Now, I grant you, there is obviously a gray area in there somewhere. Do I call a 30 year old by a formal title? How about 28? Or 38? Where is the line? Well, we must use wisdom in showing respect. So I am not going to give a blanket answer here, as I do not believe there is one. I do however believe that as we age, we will be gaining wisdom, and the lines will be less gray.
But definitely, if someone is old enough to be my mother or father (so, say, 20 years older or more…), they command my automatic response of honor and respect. Therefore, a title of Mr./Mrs./Miss it is! And yes, I am saying that the grayer the hair, the more the wrinkles, the wobblier the hands–the more respect and honor is owed. This is counterintuitive in our modern American culture where youth is worshiped and glorified. The culture where we have surgeries and botox and dye to cover up age–this is folly.
Now, of course, we don’t go around with our date of birth printed across our foreheads, so figuring out someone’s age can be tricky. Especially when we live in a culture (see three sentences prior) where age is not easy to detect by attire–we’ve got 16 year olds dressing like they’re 36, and 45 year olds dressing like they’re 21. It can be quite confusing! So again: we must use what wisdom and discernment the Lord has given us in figuring out these sorts of things. Simply keep in mind: it isn’t all about age alone. It is about respect and honor. That’s the whole point.
So what about when other kids call me, and others around me, on a first name basis? I definitely have the right to request that someone (especially someone younger than myself) call me Mrs. Lastname. If I were having a four year old over to spend the day, I would probably gently and kindly instruct them (if their parents had not) to call me Mrs. Lastname. If I had an eighteen year old over, the line would be more gray. Small kids can be taught rather quickly, and can be corrected fifty times a day if necessary (with a smile and a wink of the eye, perhaps).
Now, you’re correct in what’s crossing your mind right now: what if that child’s parents specifically taught them to call me Melissa? Would I then be usurping the parent’s authority in retraining their child? If you believe that is the case, the proper route would probably be to speak with the parent and ask them if we could please consider using Mrs. Lastname. Again, I love being called by my husband’s name. And not that I don’t like my first name. It’s fine, familiar, and dandy. 🙂 I have been called it for over 25 years! But again, that’s not the point.
True, it isn’t the child’s fault necessarily if they are a youngin’ and have never been taught to use respectful titles like Mr./Mrs./Miss, so they are not necessarily trying to be dishonoring or disrespectful. I 100% grant you that. But then the responsibility falls upon the parents of that child. It is they who have dropped the ball. Perhaps it would be appropriate (again) to speak with them about the matter. Maybe they’ve never thought of it. Maybe it would be a blessing to them if you brought up the subject, especially if they are Christians and you could sharpen iron together. (And if they are not Christians, what a wonderful way to show the world how we train our children to bestow honor and respect to elders.)
Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another.
If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
he must use more strength,
but wisdom helps one to succeed.
How about if one of my close friends asks me to have Gabriel call them Firstname? Or even Aunt/Uncle Firstname? We would simply smile and explain that no, our children use titles of honor and respect. Historically speaking, too, it has only been in the most recent century that this has fallen away (notice the timeline correlation with the church falling away). Your children are your responsibility, before God and christendom and the world. Your friend, especially if they are close enough to you to make such a request, will probably understand and love you for that.
Now, what about when an adult asks me to please call them Firstname? Again, that requires wisdom. I don’t think I want to go into it too much here. If someone says, “oh just call me Firstname,” is it then showing more respect and honor by obeying or by continuing to refer to them as Mr. Lastname? This may be an instance where one should say, “oh thank you, that’s sweet. But really, would it be all right if I continued to call you Mrs. Lastname? I just respect you so much, and definitely want to instill that into my listening children. If you mind this of course, we could discuss it together.” I don’t know… there are plenty of such scenarios that could be created. Just wanted to open a little can in your head so the worms could wriggle around. 🙂
Another side note: we are called Christians. Why? Because Christ is our head. Therefore we are called by His name. I find that really and truly interesting. I think there’s something to it, too. Just as I love being called by Christ’s name, I should love being called by the name of my earthly head (be it Miss Lastname before marriage or Mrs. Lastname after marriage). This is appropriate and it is beautiful. And I think it is very Christian. 🙂 We are the part of the world that proclaims headship and submission more than almost anyone else. (well, maybe Muslims, lol…) But we SHOULD proclaim it, for the King proclaims it throughout His Scripture. Christ is my head. Steven is my head. Both of those are a great honor.
Remembering that the issue is about respect and honor, not conforming to the world, loving our neighbor… we should generally use the idea of falling in the error of doing this too much. It is better to overstate one’s respect and love than to occasionally bring it out of the depths of your back pocket. Err on the side of both teaching “too much” respect and showing “too much” respect. I think you’ll find that it’s extremely hard to actually do “too much”. 🙂