“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.”
Still in the Ten Commandments and I come now to the command to honor my parents. This is also part of the pivot from my relationship with God to my relationship with other people.
It fascinates me to see how society is just catching up with God’s truth. This command has been on the books, as it were, for centuries, but it is only within the last century or so that the issue has been researched.
First, God’s command implies something without stating it directly, viz. single-parent households are not God’s preferred setup. He commands me to honor [my] father and [my] mother. The implication being that both are present to receive that honor. I note this because, during my California teaching credential program, I took a class on adolescent psychology and there was, nestled in amidst all the other factoids, a bit of research which said that children in two-parent households do better in school and other measurable outcomes than those who come from single-parent households. There are outliers, most certainly, but the rule that emerged from the research was that two-parent households were the best for children. I could keep going down this rabbit trail for a while, but it is sufficient to note that God’s preferred setup — one mom and one dad —just so happens to be the one that is healthiest for children and best for their success in life.
Second, anecdotal evidence — I am sure that there is research somewhere to back this up, I just do not have it ready to hand — indicates that those who have issues with either or both parents will have issues in other relationships throughout their life. When I was a teacher — I am not, at the moment — it was often the case that students who had the least respect (honor) for their parents were also the most difficult students in class. The last five commands given all have damaged or inappropriate parental relationships as potential contributing factors. Murderers often have troubled relationships with parents. The promiscuous and thieves likewise. Are parental relationships always involved? Absolutely not. But this relationship between child and parent is capable of impacting every other aspect of our lives.
Why command the children to honor their parents?
First, I think, because God calls Himself my Father. It is much more difficult to honor God if I have not practiced by honoring my earthly father. My da is by no means perfect, but he has many admirable traits that I should emulate and I should liberally apply grace to his shortcomings, as I would like others to do for me. I do not need to understand everything he does, but I should seek to understand as much as I am able. The emulation and understanding translate directly upward to how I relate to God.
Second, because how I interact with my parents is indicative of how I will interact with authority. Parents are the first authority with which a child interacts and learning to respect authority, even when it is wrong, is a survival trait which might explain why God adds the comment about honoring my parents that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. While I have not been promised a literal parcel of land, the premise holds true that my life will be longer if I am not defying authority at every turn.
Third, because how I interact with my parents colors my friendships. My experience has been that my relationship with each of my parents as a youth has colored my relationships with people of that gender as an adult. My friendships with other men are difficult and require a great deal of effort from me to maintain. Deep down, I lament the effort required. Part of this, I think, is because my da and I did not have a great relationship all the way through my youth. Our relationship was strained and respect was given, but more out of obedience to a command than for any other reason. As he and I have both grown, the relationship has grown better, but both it and other male friendships have been, I think, diminished by the lack of a model on which to build. Conversely, I often had friendships with women as I grew and those required very little effort on my part. My relationship with my ema as a youth was pretty great, so there was a solid template on which to base other friendships. I do not blame them for the way my friendships are, I am an individual and capable of making change, but note that my interaction with each parent or lack thereof provided me more or less material with which to understand how relationships with that gender operate.
Fourth, because family is the basic building block of society. If one wanted to tear a society down to nothing, no war or monumental change is required. Undermine the family and everything will crumble. It may take time, but it will happen. I am seeing the results of that very thing happen all around me in America. Media portrays fathers as inept and bumbling and much of society has lost respect for fathers. Too late has the society that spawned such narratives learned that teaching boys that fatherhood is undesirable if one wants to be respected and honored undermines solid families, undermines children’s chances of success, and destroys a nation. It sounds ominous as I reread it, but it is true. The America my grandparents describe to me is gone and something new and ugly is rising to take its place.
While all of that is a wonderful intellectual workout, it needs to be applicable to me today. And it is. I do not stop honoring my father and mother because I am an adult. I may stop obeying them, as I am now responsible for my own actions. But honoring them keeps going. I should listen to their counsel — they have accumulated some years and learned a few lessons along the way — the same is true for my grandparents. I should try to live in a way that is in keeping with the values they taught me and with which I agree. If they taught me that murder is great (they did not), I obviously need to purge that notion from my head, but if they taught me to treat others as I want to be treated and to fear and love God and so on, then I should live out those values. Jettison the wrong and live out the right. And I should speak well of them. To honor someone also means to give them credit for the things they did right and to publicly praise them.
Father, thank You for parents who teach so much more than walking, talking, and tying shoe laces — though those are all useful life lessons. Thank You that they are given to me to practice so that I can better relate to You. Thank You for their instruction. While not always perfect, it has helped lead me to You. Please show me ways in which I can honor them and give me what is needful to follow through.