"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” – Exodus 20:12
Of all the Commandments listed in the book of Exodus, “Honor thy Father and Mother” is the first to include a promise. It’s also one of the more divisive statements in the Old Testament. Families are complicated, and the relationship between children and their parents is one of life’s great mysteries. We typically view mothers and fathers as responsible for their child’s well-being, but what happens when the roles are reversed? What do we do when an adult son or daughter must assume responsibility for their elderly parent?
Benjamin Mast, author of Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer’s Disease, believes Christians need to carefully consider the role God is calling them to fill. In a recent piece for Gospel Taboo, Mast outlines a number of way Christians can honor their aging parents. He writes,
Be Willing to Make Difficult Decisions
Caring for an aging parent can involve decisions and burdens that we frankly wish we did not have to carry. If they become unsafe to drive but insist on continuing, we may need to take away their keys or even report them to authorities. If they are unable to live alone, we may need to move them into our homes, a nursing home or other continuing care community. If they can no longer manage money, we may need to step in to manage it for them. Worse yet, if they don’t recognize their need for help they may resist and legal steps might be necessary to gain the capacity to make decisions on their behalf . . . and they will not like it. Others face painful behavioral problems from parents who can no longer seem to control their behavior or words, and who can’t seem to be reasoned with.
It can be difficult to figure out what honoring our father and mother looks like. How do we honor them when doing the right thing is the opposite of what our parents want? How do we honor difficult parents when our hurt and anger tell us they don’t deserve it?
Be Sure to Recharge
Mast isn’t the only writer who believes the current generation can have a profound effect on the lives of their elders. Guy Hatcher, author of How to Parent Your Aging Parents, lists several steps for those who become adult caregivers. Above all, Hatcher advises readers to never take on this task alone. Instead, they should always be open to help from friends or siblings.
“Find a friend, clergy, counselor or support group that can encourage, pray, laugh and cry with you along the way. Set, for yourself, weekly times to work out, read or just take a nap. Ask other family members to share with time and/or money the load in caring for your parent. Remember you cannot give what you don't have — so recharging is necessary and hopefully staying charged is mandatory!”
Just Make Time
Sometimes, the answer is as simple as being present. Speaking from personal experience, both my parents are healthy and independent. However, my grandfather is very old, and rarely has the energy to leave his apartment. To ensure he never grew lonely, my cousins and I take turns visiting him. It’s a rather small thing, but my grandfather has remarked more than once home much he enjoys seeing his grandchildren. Taking the time to pick up a phone, compose an email, or even dropping by for lunch can make a world of difference.
The promises of God are never forgotten. Christ asks that we care for our parents the same way he has cared for us: with patience, understanding, and love. The new dynamics can be stressful, but God created the family for a purpose. It is through the family we learn to cherish and care for one another, and a bond such as this should never be abandoned.
What about you? What are your thoughts on honoring your elderly parents? How would you approach this situation?
**Ryan Duncan is the Entertainment Editor for Crosswalk.com