We’re all familiar with what Exodus 20:12 says: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” Children typically see this verse as a command to obey their parents, as well they should. Obedience is one of the primary ways kids can extend this honor.
However, this command does not have an expiration date. We are to honor our parents during our childhood and in adulthood. That’s not to say that as grown children we need to obey our parents or always heed their advice. But we still need to honor our parents. So what exactly does that entail?
The Hebrew verb that is translated as “honor” is the word kabed, which means “to make heavy” or “to weigh.” The command to “honor your father and mother” could be reworded as, “Recognize the God-appointed positions of parents, and give them the weight and priority they deserve in your life.” To honor them means to value them, and show esteem and respect. If you are married, this command includes honoring your spouse’s parents too.
Now you might be tempted to say, “Oh, but you don’t know my parents. You don’t know how they treated me as a kid!” Or, “You don’t know how difficult, domineering and manipulative my mother-in-law is!”
But there aren’t any exceptions to this command. We’re not excused from having to honor our parents if they don’t seem “worthy” of our esteem. Regardless of our parents’ shortcomings (perceived or real), God has commanded us to honor them. Remember that God is the one who established the roles of “father” and “mother” and determined that these positions are to be respected. Therefore, when we honor our parents, ultimately we are pleasing and honoring God (Colossians 3:20), because we are obeying Him.
[Note: There are certainly many cases, sadly, where parents go far beyond just having “shortcomings” or making “big mistakes,” to being physically, emotionally or sexually abusive with their kids or neglecting them in extreme ways, or even abandoning their families. In these situations, the parents are still to be honored, but not in all the same ways as in a well- or moderately-well functioning, non-abusive family situation. In a nutshell, honoring abusive or toxic parents primarily entails extending mercy or forgiveness to them, along with praying for them. That is a whole other topic all by itself and beyond the scope of this particular article, but may be covered in a future post.]
If you’ve always had healthy relationships with your parents, it may be totally natural to honor and cherish them. But even if they’ve made some significant parenting blunders or they’ve got some idiosyncracies that aren’t exactly endearing, there’s still a lot you can and should do to make them feel honored. Here are seven practices we should all take:
1. Make them a part of your life as much as possible.
One of the best ways to demonstrate that your parents mean a lot to you is to make time for them. If they live relatively close to you, visit them regularly and also invite them over to your home; even if they can’t come they will feel special having received an invitation. If you’re separated by long distance, make the effort to regularly communicate with your parents via whatever means they’re comfortable with, whether that’s by phone calls, cards and letters, emails or texting, or using a video chat service like FaceTime, Skype or Zoom.
What’s important is that you don’t get so busy with your career, classes, social life, recreational activities, etc., that you let your relationship with your parents slide. Realize that your parents may not have nearly as much going on in their lives as you do, especially if they’re retired. Loneliness can be a real problem for seniors, who may literally ache for contact with their kids and grandchildren. Parents want to know that their grown children love them, and treasure any communication they have with their kids. Most also want to get to know their sons- and daughters-in-law, and build close relationships with them too. Many young adults do not realize the incredible power they have to bring happiness and a sense of purpose into their parents’ lives.
2. Express your gratitude.
Another way to show honor to your parents is to express your appreciation to them. Thank them for all their patience and sacrifices when they were raising you, their unconditional love and support, the life lessons they taught you, the unique opportunities and enjoyable family activities, and so on. Even if they made a lot of mistakes, surely you can think of something to thank them for.
You could thank them casually in a one-on-one conversation, in a handwritten card or letter, or more formally. I know people who have presented special “thank-you” tributes to their parents at anniversary celebrations they hosted in their honor. I have also been to weddings where the newly married couple gave thank-you speeches to their parents during the reception. When you show appreciation in this way, you are acknowledging how much your parents mean to you.
3. Seek their advice.
Show your parents that you value their wisdom and experience by soliciting their input when you’re facing major decisions or challenges—for instance, if you’re contemplating a job change or relocating to a new area, about to purchase your first home, struggling with childcare issues, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed by a trial and aren’t sure how to proceed.
The Bible makes what should be an obvious point: that those who are old have had a wealth of life experiences and generally have accumulated a lot of wisdom (Job 12:12: Proverbs 20:29). Your parents will feel appreciated and respected if you look to them for guidance. You might also avoid some costly mistakes. Of course, in the end, you might not take your parents’ suggestions, but as Proverbs 1:8-9 notes, their advice is definitely worth considering.
4. Show empathy and patience.
Always treat your parents with the utmost respect, patience and understanding. That goes countercultural to Western cultures, which tend to focus on youth and disregard or disparage older middle-aged individuals and seniors. We have to be careful that we don’t allow societal thinking to influence how we treat our own aging parents. We cannot possibly be honoring our parents if we’re impatient with them.
One 60-something woman told me how her 20-something sons habitually “roll their eyes,” make heavy-sighs, or get short with her when she forgets something they told her, can’t read the small print on labels, or isn’t aware of a particular computer app. “They make me feel like I’m less of a person just because I’m getting older,” she related.
The Bible tells us to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). Being patient and longsuffering with your elderly parents could certainly be included in this command. That might mean: If they’re telling you a story you’ve heard before, let them repeat it and give your full attention. If they’re unfamiliar with a new technology, don’t snicker at them for that. If you think their views are off-base or outdated, try to understand where they’re coming from and refrain from challenging them in a condescending way.
5. Do well by them.
There are many reasons to strive to live uprightly, but an added reason is that when you do, you are a living tribute to your parents. Your parents want to see confirmation that they did a good job raising you, and that as an adult, you are making constructive and moral life choices. So when you are wise with your finances, work hard, act with integrity, practice self-control, treat others with respect, etc., you are honoring your parents as you are an extension of them. Even if your parents didn’t teach you the best life lessons, if you are able to overcome a difficult childhood, you are well-representing your family name. If your parents are deceased, you can still honor their legacy by living in a way that reflects the values and principles they taught you.
6. Pray for them.
When my father entered his 70s, he’d tell me, “It’s not easy getting old.” There is a lot of truth to what he said. Depending on your parents’ age and the lifestage they’re in, they may be struggling with empty nest syndrome, loneliness, retirement blues, poor health, financial problems, life regrets or the loss of a spouse—all of which can be very disheartening. As their children, you should be regularly praying for their health and overall well-being, and then letting them know you are doing so. This tells them that they are important to you.
7. Provide practical assistance.
The Bible makes it clear that grown children are to take care of their aging parents. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not doing this (Matthew 15:3-6; Mark 7:9-13). In 1 Timothy 5:4, the apostle Paul urged brethren to support their parents in their old age, as a way to repay them for all the sacrifices they made. We also have the very positive example of Ruth, who sacrificially provided for the needs of her mother-in-law, Naomi (Ruth 1-2).
In practical terms, if your parents are elderly and live close by, you might offer to help them by running errands for them, driving them to doctor appointments, performing household repairs, doing yard work or major household cleaning projects, preparing occasional meals, or solving computer problems. At some point, you may also need to help them financially.
If neither you or your siblings live near your parents, there may come a time when one of you may need to either move closer to them or have them move near you. One middle-aged couple I know recently bought a farm with a “grandparents” cottage on the property where the husband’s parents now live. They’ll post pictures on Facebook of the three generations together on the farm, riding the tractor, feeding the chickens, working in the garden, etc., and it is very heartwarming.
Honoring parents is mutually beneficial
When you honor your aging parents, you are providing them help, hope and encouragement when they need it the most. But you may also benefit. Deuteronomy 5:16 states that honoring your parents can bring longevity and prosperity to your life. It’s also an opportunity to practice God’s way of life and experience firsthand the joys of looking out for the needs of others. Maintaining a strong connection with your parents creates opportunities for them to have more communication your kids, allowing your kids to learn about family history and the aging process, and create understanding between the generations. One other very big personal benefit is that when your kids see your concern for your parents, they will likely learn from your example and someday treat you with the same honor and respect when you become old and gray.