Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Fifth Commandment

I've been thinking about the Fifth Commandment a lot lately. "Honor thy father and thy mother..". What does it mean? When I was a child it's meaning was clear. My parents were the authority in my life. They fed me, clothed me, and provided a roof over my head. My mother, through the pain of childbirth, brought me into this world. My father taught me right from wrong, the value of hard work. They both instilled in me a feeling of well-being, that I was loved and cared for. My job was simple. "Honor thy father and thy mother". That meant no back talk, do what I was told, show them proper respect, try not to embarrass them in public.

Now, I'm a father. I have two kids whose job it is to honor me. They do so in amazing ways too numerous to list here, but in summary, they never back talk me, they follow my suggestions, for the most part, and they have never embarrassed me in public or private. On the contrary, I am always eager to inform people that Patrick and Kaitlin are, in fact, my children, if for no other reason than to see the shocked expressions on their faces when they realize that someone as goofy as me could have produced kids with such intellect and refinement.

But, although I am a father, I am still a son. My parents are both in their eighties. They have reached a hard season, a time of  struggle, a time of need. How to honor them? How much time is the proper amount of time to qualify as suitably honoring? What is the correct amount of deference I should show to them when their ideas and wishes are the wrong ones? In the past two years it has occurred to me that it's very much easier to honor your parents when they are happy and healthy. When pain comes, bringing anger and fear with it, honor becomes illusive.

Declining health and the inexorable march of time often conspire with each other to rob us of our dignity. Our parents become entirely different people than the ones who raised us. But I find in scripture no dispensation from the fifth commandment, no time limit, no bail out provision. So, I must find the middle ground between telling them hard truths that they don't want to hear, and giving them the respect that they still are owed. I must honor the commitments I have made in my own life while still finding time to be there for them.

The odd thing about this is that there are two conflicting truths doing battle within me. The first truth is that I have not done enough to fully honor my parents during these years of pain. The second truth is that no matter what I do in the future, it will never be enough to satisfy them.

And still I'm left with the clear and plain words from the second chapter of Exodus.."Honor thy father and thy mother, that your days may be long upon the land that the Lord thy God is giving you." I just pray that my days aren't too terribly long.