June 4, 2019

Commandment with Promise

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Exodus 20:12 KJV).

Exodus 20:12 is often taught to young children to show them to respect, listen to and obey their parents. However, as a commandment-keeping people, we must understand that while God’s law never changes, how one honors one’s parents must change as you both grow and change.

Last month, my maternal grandmother turned 85. I praise God for her every day. Unfortunately, in this sin-afflicted world, her health is deteriorating and she is suffering from dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Dementia slowly destroys the connections in our brain which allow us to make new memories and remember old ones. It affects everything, including remembering where we put things, who people are, and how to brush our teeth. As the disease progresses, people can do and remember less and less.

During spring break, my mother and I had the opportunity to travel and help care for grandma. While diseases like these are heart-wrenching as we see the ways our loved ones suffer, my mother’s care (and that of my aunts as well) taught me so much about how our understanding of Exodus 20:12 must tangibly change as we, and our parents, age. The practical ways to honor our aging parents are not the same as when we were children, developing teenagers, or even as young adults, because during many of these stages our parents are still the ones giving advice and caring for us. Honoring our parents must be very different when our roles change, and we, the children, are the ones caring for our aging parents. 

Some ways I’ve learned to honor our aging parents is to:

  • Meet them where they are. Grandma cannot always remember who her children are, but they honor her by not getting upset, understanding that this is part of the disease and she is still loving them the only way she can.
  • Respect what they are still trying to contribute, especially in the early stages of the disease. Many want to continue doing things like cooking, cleaning, or paying the bills. My grandmother can no longer reliably do most of these things, but mom would find one simple task with which she could help and let her do it. She honored for what Grandma could contribute and found a way for her to feel useful and needed.
  • Treat them with dignity. A visiting nurse came to see how she could help with Grandma’s care. Mom had to tell her all of the things grandma could no longer do for herself, like bathe, dress, or sometimes she even had trouble eating. Mom would discreetly ask the nurse to go into the living room to share this information to avoid ever making Grandma feel incompetent or ashamed.
  • How we honor our parents may very well be showing our children how to honor us. By following God’s command to honor our parents at every stage of their lives, may we enjoy the promise of many days in the land the Lord gives us.