What role do your parents play in your life today? Are they still with you? Do you honor them?
As I progressed through the 10 commandments lessons for my Sunday school class, this one was a hard lesson for me to teach. Not because I don’t honor my parents. But because I feel like I don’t have any.
I was 16 when my dad died and 17 when my mom died. They both died from bad lifestyle choices. My dad was diabetic and simply didn’t take care of his condition. My mom was alcoholic, anorexic, and bulimic. She was also brokenhearted after losing my dad a year earlier. For the last few years of their lives, they both spiraled downward in health and spirit. It was a tough time for us all. I am forever scarred because of it.
God redeemed that horrible situation, and I’m ok. I’ve moved on from that tragedy, I committed my life to Jesus Christ, I had a wonderful career as an engineer for NASA, and now I’m married with 2 kids of my own. But I sometimes still struggle with the whole mom/dad thing. I don’t feel qualified to teach about honoring parents, because I’m not convinced I learned how to, because I was so young when they died. Intellectually, I know that’s not true. But in my heart, I still struggle with it. So, instead of pontificating on the theology of this commandment, I’ll just express my feelings and reflections. Warning: This post is decidedly more me-focused. Yet, I hope you consider my thoughts and weight them to see how you can learn from my experience.
Teenagers shouldn’t lose their parents. I know they raised me as best they could, but they didn’t finish the job. I had to figure out a lot of things on my own as I continued to mature. My older sister and her husband took me and my twin brother in, and with their support, I did ok. But I still lost my parents way too early in my life.
When I tell people that my parents died when I was in high school, their first reaction is sympathy, empathy and compassion. “Oh! That’s terrible! What a tragedy!” they’ll say. Yes. It was. It was horrible. It was painful. It scarred me deeply, and affected me in ways I still don’t and may never understand. We certainly are a product of our past, aren’t we?
But I often reply, “It’s ok. It’s just my story. Everyone has a story. That’s part of mine. God’s been good to turn it all into something beautiful.” And I really do mean it. In 2005, one of the teens in my Sunday school class suddenly lost her mom to a heart attack. It was a devastating tragedy. But while many people could pray with her and cry with her, I was able to stand in her pain with her and say “I know how you feel.” I really did know. That was a holy moment that helped me see how God redeemed my teenage loss to help someone else through something similar.
God is in the business of redeeming the pain of losing a parent. No matter how old you are.
I think I had it easier than many. I think it’s much easier to lose a parent when you’re a kid than when you’re an adult. In 2003, I watched my husband Jim endure the ripping pain after his dad died following a long hospital stay. Dad had heart surgery that did not go well, and he never left the hospital. Jim adored his dad, and even though Jim may not have been the ideal son in his teen years, he and his dad built a close and intimate father-son bond. They had years to build a wonderful relationship filled with mutual respect and admiration. Losing Dad was devastating for Jim. I was helpless to stop the pain. I felt the pain deeply too, for Jim’s loss as well as my own. Losing a parent when you’re an adult…it HURTS! There’s so much more history together. So many more mature moments…a much deeper connection.
I had it much easier. I didn’t have the decades of memories to mourn over.
So, as I reflect on this 5th commandment, “Honor your mother and father” I feel like I’m talking a foreign language. I don’t really understand completely what it means. I know what I WANT it to mean. I’m now a parent, and I want my kids to honor me. Mostly I want them to obey me. But I think the commandment goes way beyond “Obey.” I know it also means to respect, admire, love, appreciate, include, and support them.
My kids never knew their maternal grandparents. That stinks. But it is what it is. It’s part of my story, which is part of their story. And although they never knew them, I’ve introduced them through photos, stories, traditions and principles. I guess in some way, I do honor them. It’s just a little different than simply obeying them.
The speaker/writer in me wants to leave you with a takeaway, lest I feel selfishly or unforgivably indulgent for making this post all about me. What can I give to you? Three thoughts: