There is an Old Testament command that warns, “Honor your father and your mother.” As I grew up, I heard that a lot. Perhaps that was a commentary on how poorly I heeded wise advice!
The fact that, millennia later, a New Testament apostle was repeating the same injunctive gives me the idea that my failures put me in the company of many.
That is not a dreary rule, though, but as Paul writes, the first commandment with a promise. That promise is for long life—that things “may go well with you.”
Most everyone wants a life where things go right instead of going all wrong. But how do you honor your parents?
When I was a teenager hearing those words, I thought about that a lot. I always thought of honoring as something you do to celebrate a person: throw a party—for their anniversary, or job promotion, or even a milestone birthday—or make great speeches about how wonderful the person is.
In that stage of my life, those options were not even possibilities. When I’d ask, my mother couldn’t even remember her wedding anniversary. My father was self-employed, so no possibility for a promotion! Neither one of my parents enjoyed celebrating getting older. And I didn’t have any platform to jump up on and shout out rousing phrases about their greatness.
So I never could figure out what “honoring” meant.
Now, I think I know.
I got my first clue from the last verse in the Old Testament, about a prophet whose main job when he gets on the scene will be to turn “the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
I found my first example in a story about ancient Israel on the brink of a devastating war, when God told the prophet Jeremiah to invite a certain family over for a drink. The family came, alright, but told their host they couldn’t, under any circumstances, indulge. Why? Because their “father”—actually, a generations-removed ancestor—had left them instructions on how to live a successful life, which they had followed to the letter for centuries.
Do we remember what our parents have told us? Most teenagers can’t remember five minutes after they’ve been told. On the other hand, many parents haven’t shared substantial instructions on life with their children. What’s there to remember?
Yet, regardless of whether our parents were Fortune 500 company CEOs or gutter drunks in the Bowery, our responsibility is to honor.
We honor by remembering.