“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
I recently spent a few days in Oregon visiting my elderly parents. This annual trek always come with a mixed bag of emotions.
I did not have a particularly happy childhood growing up in a very dysfunctional family. My parents were ill-equipped to raise five sons, and made a lot of mistakes along the way. My brothers and I carry the emotional scars that bear witness to this fact. For years, it was incredibly difficult to live out the Fifth Commandment to honor my parents. Selecting appropriate greeting cards on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays was always emotionally challenging.
Hallmark doesn’t make cards that say,
“Thanks for screwing up my childhood. Have a nice day!”
It may sound like a cliche, but my parents got wiser as they aged, and they finally acknowledged that they didn’t do such a great job at raising us. But they also claim that they did the best that they could. I accept that, and have moved on, putting the pain of the past behind me.
As they have aged and fallen into poor health, I have started to look upon my parents with pity more than anything else. Regardless of how you feel about your parents, if you have any level of compassion or empathy, you will find it difficult to watch them decline in their physical and mental capacities. My mother is confined to a nursing home with dementia, where she will spend the rest of her life. My father is on his second pacemaker, and is barely able to care for himself. He lives in solitude at home, after having spent 57 years living with his mate. He visits mom every weekday for a few hours, which takes all of his energy. Being blind in one eye and having limited vision in his other, he shouldn’t even be driving to see her, but it’s the last vestige of freedom that he has. I figure his guardian angels work overtime every time he makes that trip to see mom.
I used to think that the commandment to “honor your father and mother” meant that we had to act as if they were wonderful people and we could only think good things about them in order to honor them. I no longer hold this opinion. Now, I see honoring my parents as accepting them as they are, flaws and all, as children of God and as the people who brought me into this world. I honor them by giving them a few days of my life once a year (it would be more often if I didn’t live so far away). I honor them by not speaking evil of them or wishing ill on them. They have enough of their own demons to battle — I don’t need to add my own. I also honor them by not bringing up their past mistakes — there is nothing to be gained by doing so.
Much of what my parents are going through now is self-inflicted. My parents were never very keen on taking care of their physical health. They shunned doctors and preventive health care. Mother never took an interest in activities that would help keep her mind sharp. They both struggled with weight issues, but never watched what they ate or got proper exercise. Now they are restricted to diets they do not enjoy. They take multiple medications to keep they alive. Mom is confined to a wheelchair and can’t remember what day it is, or how long she has been at the nursing home. She is trapped in a virtual “Groundhog Day” where every day is a repeat of the one before, and there is no passage of time. She knows that she isn’t at home, but she doesn’t know where home is.
I have learned a lot from watching what my parents are going through. I learned how important it is to take care of myself, physically and mentally. I have learned the value of maintaining a good diet, watching my weight, and getting plenty of exercise. Perhaps part of honoring them includes taking better care of myself so I can enjoy my senior years when they come.
Parent/child dynamics are complex at best, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you how you should honor your parents, whether living or not. But Ephesians 6:2 reminds us that this is the first commandment with a promise, that we will enjoy long life when we honor our parents. And frankly, life is too short to carry grudges about things over which we have no control. If you experienced pain or abuse as a child, know this: you did not cause that to happen, nor did you have any control over it. The only thing you have control over as an adult is how you will respond to that pain. Let it go. Find a way to honor your parents that works for you. And leave the rest to God.
DAVID COOPER is an ordained minister of the Word of God, in between pastoral assignments. He has been actively involved in various aspects of ministry, including pastoral leadership, since 1984. He considers himself a fun-lvoing kid at heart, a hard worker (when motivated), creative, and a jack of all trades, but a bit of a practical joker. He is a life-long student of the Bible, and loves to share the insights of his journey with anyone who will listen. He’s also a group coordinator with the Gay Christian Network. He is active on Facebook, and blogs at Sunday Dinner with Pastor David. David lives in Phoenix, Arizona.