Thursday August 13, 2009

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.)

Proverbs 27:17
Iron sharpens iron,
   and one man sharpens another.
Ecclesiastes 10:10
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”. 🙂

6 Replies to “Thursday August 13, 2009”

  1. I definitely agree with you on all counts except perhaps one….

    “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? “

    In this instance, I would be more inclined to think that it would be honoring them more by agreeing to their wishes. Esp if they kept insisting that, each time I saw/speak to them.

    I know that every circumstance is different though.

    Amen to the paragaph before the last… It’s an honor to be called a Christian for Christ is our Head!


  2. well certainly if it was truly important to them, then yes, I agree. if they were simply trying to be nice to me though (as is most often the case, I’ve found), I simply say something like, “oh thank you, that’s very sweet. would it bother you much if I continued to call you Mrs. Jones, though? I just respect you so much and would love to set a good example for my children. would that be a problem?”
    so that’s what I meant.
    and I don’t think I’ve ever had someone be offended by that response.
    and yes, there *are* a few women my mother’s age to continually refer to themselves by their first name to me. and that’s fine. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the clarification! I suppose I did read through things a bit hurriedly and should have taken more time to thoroughly read and “chew” on it for a while. 😉

    I do agree with you that a lot of poeple are simply wanting to be nice to me too when they insist on a first name basis and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to ask if we could go ahead and called them my Mrs. Lastname.

    Thanks for the intersting discussion!

  4. I do love discussions like this. Thought provoking for sure. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years of starting my own family, its that I appreciate the friends that allow Jason and me to be our own family. Respecting our wishes with our kids, not correcting the things we do and understanding that what’s important to one family, might not be the same to another. Because the Bible never talks about calling someone by a specific name or title, I’ve never thought its an issue to get too worried about. 

    Its kind of each family’s own personal preference. I have had people that even hear me refer to myself or Jason as Mr or Mrs Arnold. I’ll say “Oh, would you give that to Mr. Arnold for me” and their parent will say “She wants you to give it to Jason.” I think for me to correct them or ask them to change their rules to suit me, would be rude. I also like when my kids get to learn in these very basic ways, that every family is different. Its good for Ethan to have to ask “why doesn’t so and so do that?” and then I let him know that what’s ok for one family, might not be allowed or ok for another. I think its good training for when they get out into the world, later in life. 
    I just think the over all respect for our elders (especially with our small kids) is SO very lacking in the world these days. So Jason and I personally like to encourage it in these simple areas.  

  5. For the most part, Stef, I concur.
    Definitely living with overflowing grace towards one another is the key — no matter which side of this discussion (practically speaking) you are on at a given time. Loving our neighbor more than we love ourselves. We must live that out in our speech and actions. Again, respect and honor and Christlike neighborly love is the whole point.
    As far as the Bible never specifically talking about specific titles, that’s true — and very well & good. But then again, the Bible never talks about what specific bad words not to say, it simply tells us to have pure words; it doesn’t define modesty as wearing clothing that covers our midriffs and cleavage, it simply says to be modest; it doesn’t say to follow the speed limit to a T, it simply says to honor the government God places over us. Etc, etc, etc. Scripture is all about gaining wisdom. And then using that wisdom. So when Scripture simply says to respect and honor those who are older than you (especially when they have gray hair, as that is pretty specific in Scripture), we must apply wisdom when seeking to do that. What does it mean to respect and honor our elders?? Use wisdom to figure it out. And sure, I grant you, that may look different for different families. But sometimes “personal preference” isn’t the point. (Sometimes it is.)
    And we must also learn to sharpen iron with one another. Joyfully, gracefully, lovingly. Never accusingly or cruelly or condescendingly. That would not be Christlike. But I think that rudeness is not necessarily involved when sharpening iron, even in situations like we’ve been discussing. (else God would not encourage it amongst the brethren)
    If we don’t encourage one another, hold one another accountable, and share wisdom we have acquired with one another — how will we continue to grow in godliness and grace?

  6. My 21 year old sister would love that you consider someone with gray hair to be shown respect and honor. She started graying around the age of 16 and doesn’t seem to elicit respect from it… just gets teased by her friends. 🙁 

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