Do you remember TV families when you were a kid? There seemed to be more extended ones then there are now, you know more families with several generations living under one roof. The Waltons had their Grand Parents living with them, the Beverly Hillbillies had Granny, the Munsters had Grand Pa and the Adams family had Uncle Fester and Cousin It. And if the grand parents weren’t living with the family they at least dropped in for a while like Endora in Bewitched.
My father grew up with his grandfather living with the family and as children he would often tell us stories of what it was like with Grampy Guptill in the home. My mother lived next door to her grandparents and spent as much time with them as she did in her own home.
And yet with the changes in society we see less and less of that, and on television we only see the parents of adults as serious disturbed individuals who are the reason their children are the way they are. Seriously next time you are watching television check out how the parents are portrayed.
On a more positive note the other day I commented to Angela on the number of multi-generational families we have attending Cornerstone, Parents, Grand Parents and Children.
We started this series the first week looking at the Puzzles of Family and then we looked at the Puzzle of Marriage and then last week it was the Puzzle of Parenting. And while week one was kind of broad and sweeping and covered everyone the past two weeks have been a little more focused and I’m sure that there were folks in weeks two and three that might have felt there wasn’t anything there for them because they either weren’t married or weren’t parents.
I would suspect that this one has something for everyone.
This week my message is called “The Puzzle of Childing” and I know that’s not a word but I couldn’t think of anything else. And I would suspect that it has a broader appeal because we are all someone’s child. Anyone here who never had parents of some kind? Anyone found in a turnip patch? That’s where my folks said they found me, as my sister was fond of reminding me.
The more astute amongst us will have clued in to the fact that this week’s scripture reading is the same as last week’s. Last week I focused on the last part of this scripture, the part about adults not provoking their children to anger, not exasperating them and I had a couple of parents ask me if their kids had been talking to me. And I may have noticed a smirk or two on the faces of some of our younger folks. But there has to be a balance here. And that is the first part of Ephesians 6 where Paul writes Ephesians 6:1-2 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honour your father and mother.”
And that is a direct reference to the fifth commandment of the “Ten Commandments” which of course are found in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Exodus we are told Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
It’s interesting that the child parent relationship is the only relationship that makes it into the Ten Commandments. We don’t see any reference on how to treat our spouse, other than the obvious “do not commit adultery” in the seventh command, or how to treat our siblings, other than the obvious “do not kill” in the sixth commandment, but we are told here that we must honour our parents.
But what does it mean to honour your parents? Not sure in 2012 that is even on the radar and if it is if we give much thought to the concept of honour. I was talking to someone last week and we spoke about being afraid of our folks. And not a fear because of physical punishment but a fear never the less. We were afraid of disappointing them, afraid of letting them down and certainly afraid of disobeying them. That doesn’t mean we didn’t disappoint them, let them down or disobey them but we certainly thought twice about doing it.
Now I realize that there are probably some of you here who are all knotted up inside, the stomach acid is boiling and you’re thinking, “Like that’s ever going to happen, after the way they treated me.” And unfortunately that is the reality of today that whenever you speak about parents there is someone in the group who was abused, physically, emotionally or sexually while they were growing up. Some of you may have grown up in the homes of alcoholics or workaholics, abusive or neglectful parents. Perhaps you had parents who were distant or cold and uncaring. And you want to cry out “How can I honour people who are un-honourable?” “How do I honour someone who never once honoured me?”
What is God asking of you this morning? Is God asking you to put on a mask and pretend it never happened? Is God demanding that you push your feelings out of sight and go about the duty of honouring these people who have betrayed you and hurt you severely? Will God settle for pretend honouring? Nope, he does not want make believe honouring and I don’t want to minimize the hurt that you’ve felt or negate it in any way and before I’m done this morning we are going to deal with that issue. So please bear with me.
Obviously the command to honour our parents means different things at different points in our lives. We often think that our relationship as children and parents takes a parrael path through life. But often times it looks more like this, when we are young we are dependent on our parents and it is their responsibility to take care of us, when we become adults that relationship changes and comes closer together as we are more like peers, never quite peers but more like peers and then many times as our parents age their children take more of a role in the caretaking department. Assuming responsibilities and making decisions. And that isn’t easy for that transition to happen. For either party. Sometime children don’t want that responsibility and sometimes parents are eager to give it up. And as more couples are putting off their decision to have children until they are older the consequence is that often times they end up dealing with children on one end of the spectrum and aged parents on the other end. Another one of those perks of having your kids in your twenties.
And so to honour our parents means different things at different times in our lives.
As children to honour your parents’ means to Obey Our Parents, just do what they say. That’s what’s behind this commandment when we are young. That’s why Paul wrote Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do.
Regardless of what the pop psychology of today says obedience is still something that we need to expect of our children. God knows that there is a rebel streak inside the heart of every little kid, and God knows that parents are going to have to carefully and consistently confront that destructive force or they will eventually lose their children to spiritual shipwreck. Throughout the scriptures God gives guidelines for parents on how to establish boundaries for their children and how to discipline their children and how to nurture them and love them.
We have swung from the extremes of two or three generations ago when parents, (especially fathers) were unreasonable tyrants or the place today where parents, (especially fathers) have abdicated their place of authority in the home. The pattern of authority is all one piece and you cannot expect to break it in one spot, i.e. the home and then expect it to work in the rest of society. So if children don’t obey their parents then there’s a pretty good chance they won’t obey their teachers and ultimately will find it hard to obey the civil authorities. And so God says to the children, Children at this point in your life you honour your parents by obeying them.
As children become teens and Young Adults they begin to exercise more independence and make more and more decisions on their own. It’s at this point in our lives to honour our parents’ means that we need to Respect Your Parents and cooperate with them. During this phase in their lives young adults don’t need constant supervision and long lists of do’s and don’ts in their lives. Those teen years are the time when they begin to make some of their own decisions and well they should, it’s a part of growing up. In saying that let me add this warning to the teens out there, some of the decisions that you make now, that seem right for today will have ramifications on your entire life. And as much as we as parents wish we could make those choices for you we can’t. And in this period of your life the carrying out of the fifth commandment would be “Stay respectful, stay cooperative with your parents.”
Adolescence is the only time in your life when a person believes that they know it all. It’s at that point that they become convinced that all adults have suffered irreparable brain damage, and at that particular point in life nobody knows as much as a teenager, and if you don’t believe that just ask one of them. They know all the answers. When I was a teen I had answers to questions that weren’t even being asked.
When we were in Australia a friend put a sign on his son’s door that read: “TEENAGERS! Tired of being harassed by your parents? ACT NOW!! Move out, get a job, pay your own way while you still know everything!”
By the way, that isn’t anything new, listen to what Mark Twain wrote well over a hundred years ago “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned.”
And God says to adolescents, “Even during this troublesome turbulent time: Honour your parents.” Yes, children during this time are supposed to begin to differ and disagree with their parents, that’s a part of separation process, often times it is simply them saying “I am my own person with my own opinions.” I was brought up by a Ford driving, Tory voting, Leaf’s cheering father. By the time I was 18 I was voting liberal driving a GM and cheering for the Habs. But all through this agonizing era teens are called to be respectful and cooperative toward their parents so these changes can be negotiated within the context of the family community and not isolation.
But most of us aren’t children anymore, nor are we teens or even young adults. We have moved on in life to being adults ourselves and with that come a whole new series of challenges. It’s at this point in our lives that we’ve established our own families and households and careers but our parents are still alive and a part of our lives.
For most Boomers their parents are at least in their early seventies and most are older than that, what is our responsibilities to our parents in this stage of our lives?
And so this commandment does not stop when we leave the home, the fifth commandment is binding on all us until both of our parents have passed away. And for adults the way you honour your aging parents is very simply to Treasure Your Parents. How do we Treasure our parents?
Once we have come through that turbulent period of our lives called adolescents, once we have got out on our own and had a family of our own, we start to realize that our parent’s brain death was only temporary, if it happened at all, and then we start raising kids of our own and we begin to realize how much service and sacrifice went into raising us. How much love time and energy went into raising you as a child. And your heart begins to soften toward your parents, and you have those golden years to treasure your parents and to be there for them.
If I was to ask you to name the most important things in your life what would your list look like? Children, Parents, Spouse, Friends, Career, Home, Hobbies, Sports.
So what would happen if say you no longer had your Career? If your friends were dying, your parents were gone; you were unable to play your sports or enjoy your hobbies and had to move out of your own home. It would sure shorten the list up, wouldn’t it? That’s why as parents get older their children become more important to them. Often it is all they have left out of all that was important to them.
Because the older our parents get the less love and respect and esteem they receive from the world they live in. For many of our parents the brightest spot, the flame that burns closest to their heart is their children, for many of them that is the most important part of their lives. But their children are in the busy years of their lives, having children and raising them, climbing ladders and you know what I mean
And sometimes we need to just slow down and say “thank you” to our folks and give back to them some of what they’ve given to us. And if we don’t show that we appreciated what they did for us how will they know? And that cuts, that’s why in King Lear that the Bard wrote How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child
Many of you people have taken time to send cards, share holidays and include your parents in the special times in your life, call them and send gifts letting them know that they are treasured. And every time you do that type of thing you are honouring your parents.
And all of this goes beyond the bumper sticker that said “Honour your parents: they haven’t written their will yet”. As our parents become older we may find them more and more reliant on us. And society tells us to shuffle them off somewhere where they won’t be an inconvenience, where they won’t cause us undue hardship. And there are times and circumstances where that is the only viable option, but not always. And that is no excuse for children to ignore their parents during their time of need.
I don’t think we need to return to the concept of the extended family home with three or four generations living under one roof but I do believe that we as adults that we need to make sure that our parent do not lack for the necessities of life and that they aren’t left in need or loneliness.
And as the demands on us becomes greater we need to realize that if we are to honour our parents it will necessitate some sacrifices on our behalf. In the New Testament the early believers were instructed to take care of the older widows in their fellowship and then Paul qualifies the instructions with these words: 1 Timothy 5:4 But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God.
And many of those sacrifices are the same ones that our parents made for us when we were growing up. How many times did they put their plans on hold to drive us somewhere? How often did they clean up after us, or run errands for us. How often did their lives, their wants and their needs take second place to ours. You say sure but they are our parents. . .exactly.
Christ himself gives the example. When he hung on the cross, and those of you who know Christ personally can imagine what was on his mind as he hung on that cross between heaven and earth, he’s there paying the price for your sins and mine. He’s taken on the totality of sin and he’s in agony, dying an excruciating death on the cross and there are only seven things recorded that Christ said on the cross and one of them was when he looked down and saw his mother and used a little bit of the strength he had left to ask His friend John to take care of his mother. Is it any wonder the command to honour our parents ended up in the top five.
Giving up precious time to visit or serve or minister to our elderly, or ill or dying parents needs to be seen as a potential blessing and not an imposition.
A very practical part of this is the entire concept of reaping what you sow. You realize of course that the example that you set in how you relate and deal with your parents will be the one followed by your children. We cut a groove in our children by the way we treat our parents. It was the philosopher John Locke who wrote “Parents wonder why the streams are bitter when they themselves poisoned the fountain.” Or what goes around comes around. The Greek philosopher Euripides (er-rip-e-dees) observed “Unblessed is the son who does not honour his parents; but if reverent and obedient to them, he will receive the same from his own children”
If you’re wondering about how confused your parents can get, well maybe Sam Levenson had the answer when he said, “Insanity is hereditary. You can get it from your children.”
And so God is saying if you honour your parents I will honour you. How are you doing in honouring your parents today? Is this something you need to pray silently about right now or make some amends?
Let me take a few moments right now to speak to those ones who are at a complete loss over how to honour parents who have dishonoured, abused and in some cases almost destroyed them as children. What does God expect you to do? And right off I want to assure you that God is not asking you to ignore the pain you feel, God is not asking anyone here to deny the pain their parents caused, and God is not asking anyone here to gloss it, to pass over it lightly or to forget it.
To one degree or another we have all been failed or hurt or disappointed by our parents, some very minimally, by God’s grace I fall in that category, very minimally disappointed by my parents, almost not at all. I have really great parents, and I don’t have bad memories of them nor am I disappointed in how they raised me. But others have been devastated by their parents and God is not asking you to block that out, he’s asking you to identify it and own it and grieve over it. And if you are going to come out of the other end you are going to have to deal with it and ultimately you are going to have to discuss it with your parents. And that isn’t going to be easy. But you do need to clear the air about your grief and your disappointments with them.
How long can we carry the anger and place the blame? How long can we define ourselves as an “Adult child of a . . .whatever” It probably was wrong, and you probably were hurt, but some people are as angry as if yesterday was today. You cannot continue to allow what they did to determine who you are, and if they can make you stoop to their level then they win.
Nowhere in the Bible are we specifically commanded to love our parents, we are told to love our spouse, to love our God, to love our neighbours but nowhere are we told to love our parents. The interpersonal dynamics between children and parents are just too intense. Some of us come out of it intact and some just barely escape. Sometimes too much has transpired for the child to love the parent. God, strangers and neighbours don’t put the same demands on us that our parents do, and so we aren’t commanded to necessarily love them but we are commanded to honour them. And sometimes that means we need to forgive them and get on with making the life that God wants us to have. You say, “Denn, I’ll never be able to forgive them.” Then they win! Because the New Testament teaches us that we will be forgiven in the same way that we forgive.
My mother grew up with a very abusive mother. How mom raised the kids she did is a credit to her not to her mother. And I did not know the extent of that abuse until I was an adult, my mother did not poison how I viewed my grandmother as a child.
In the late eighties my grandmother began to suffer from Alzheimer’s and could no longer live alone. My mom moved her to Saint John, not to our home but to a senior’s complex nearby. And for the last three years of my Grandmother’s life my mother honoured her by visiting and taking her out to lunch and bringing her home for special family times and attending to her personal needs. Dr. Laura Schlessinger made these comments “It is possible to maintain cordial contact, assist a bad parent with such basic needs as food or housing and medicine, and not spend a lot of time marinating in negativity in front of them or behind their back. It may not be ideal, and it may not salve your feeling, but that small something you do ennobles your soul anyway.”
So, where are you at?
Thanks to Bill Hybels for many of the ideas in this message