Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud,abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…
2 Timothy 3:1-2
honor (n) 3. high respect, as for worth, merit, or rank
honor (v) 13. to hold in honor or high respect; revere
“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatsoever about that.” I love the way Charles Dickens begins “A Christmas Carol” because it establishes the key facts up front. So let me begin again, after the fashion of Dickens…
My parents are not perfect. They are not perfect people, and they were not perfect parents. But then again, I’m not perfect. I’m not a perfect person, nor am I a perfect parent. And my children are not perfect (none of them are parents yet, but I have every confidence that they will not be perfect parents either).
Still, God calls us to honor these people. Like other commands, this one is not contextual. He doesn’t say “Honor your parents if you like them, or if they gave you what you wanted, or didn’t abuse you, or …” As with God’s other commandments, obedience is for the sake of your relationship and standing with God, more than anything else. By obeying God in this matter, your conscience is clean and your heart is free of the bondage that comes from resentment.
I have mulled over this concept of honoring our parents with many people. It seems to me that the best ways to honor our parents is to do for them what they have already done for us:
- Time – as children, we often crave our parents’ time and attention. Once we leave the nest, our parents crave our time and attention. Spend time with your parents. If you aren’t nearby, get them set up with Skype, or send e-mail. Or (gasp) pick up paper and pen and write a letter.
- Listen – again, as children we want an audience as we narrate our lives. Our parents are also looking for someone to show an interest in their stories. Make sure that their stories are heard by the next generation. Allow them to revisit the same stories multiple times.
- Tell – have you ever heard your parents bragging about you? Even if we are slightly embarrassed, it’s a great encouragement to hear them singing your praise. Tell your parents stories to your children. Be their living legacy.
- Accomplish – Make your parents proud of you. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a CEO or live in a big house or drive a big car. Most parents have much more modest aspirations for their children. Something I learned many years ago is that my goal as a parent was to raise Biblically responsive, morally responsible adults. I am honored to have children who are themselves honorable.
- Pray – I know many people who have profound memories of a parent or grandparent praying for them. And God knows that as we grow, we need help/wisdom/guidance to navigate the minefields of our own impetuousness and naive self-sufficiency. By the same token, our parents are facing this terrifying abyss of aging, and ultimately, death. They also need God’s help to finish well.
Most of us have a hard time perceiving our parents as human beings; rather they are icons, godlike figureheads in the timeline of our memory. But were we able to travel back in time as adults and talk with them when they first learned of our impending arrival, I think we might have more compassion on them (see the first point). For some, parenthood came as a shock, an unwelcome surprise. Some were still children themselves. Some were still wrestling with the scars and baggage of their own upbringing. Some welcomed the news with great joy. All had no idea what the future held for them (you!).
If we could also travel through time as to see ourselves as elderly people, I think we would have much more compassion on the frailties and fears of our aging parents. It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, the judgement. But the time between now and death is filled with increased physical limitations and ailments (lots of doctor’s visits), decrease in ability (physical and mental) and increasing isolation. Furthermore, as our society becomes ever more narcissistic, there is decreasing value on the wisdom and experience of the elderly. Fundamental questions of worth (do I matter? am I contributing) may plague our parents.
Even if all of society forsakes our parents, we children have an obligation to affirm their worth and significance as we honor them.
Now, I have been blessed to have pretty good parents. I love my parents, and I even like them (most of the time). So I come to holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with none of the emotional baggage that some do. I’ve talked with several people about their relationship with their parents and I understand that it’s not always pretty. These imperfect people whom God has chosen to give us life and guide our development sometimes make a mess of it, and we bear the scars of their mistakes and misdeeds.
But I would like to encourage you now, regardless of your past relationship with your parents to take this opportunity to honor them if for no other reason than because God commands you to. If your parents are living, pick up the phone and thank them for what they have done for you. If they are dead, thank God for their role in your life. If there is hurt, offer them forgiveness.
Remember, God’s commandment comes with a promise. As with so many things, ignoring God’s plan comes at a cost, while following it results in blessing.
Happy Mother’s Day!