by Kathy Howard
“Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise.” Ephesians 6:2 NIV
My father was hospitalized with a urinary tract infection and sepsis. Due to my mother’s worsening dementia, she could not stay alone. Each day we drove to the hospital to spend the bulk of the day with Dad, and then I took her home for the night.
During the drive one morning, I saw Mom rummaging in her purse in my peripheral vision. At a stoplight I glanced over in time to see her touch a mascara wand to her lips.
“What ‘cha doin’ Mom?” I asked casually.
“I need a little color on my lips,” was her reply.
Seriously, what do you do with this? I could let her walk into the hospital with black lips, setting her up for possible embarrassment. I could stop her with a quick rebuke. Or I could ask God to help me do the right thing, the right way. I quickly asked God for wisdom and words.
“Mom, I’ve got some lipstick in my purse that would look great on you. Want to try it?”
Mom dropped the mascara in her purse and used my lipstick. Her feelings were spared and she was satisfied. I’d like to tell you every encounter is similar, but sadly it’s not. Too often I react from my own resources instead of God’s.
As our parents age, as illness takes its toll, they increasingly require more help. It may require financial guidance, help at home, emotional support, or even constant health care. Whatever your particular situation, as the parent becomes more like a child in many ways, the child must take on the parenting role.
Although the specific circumstances will look different for each family, God’s Word leaves no doubt – caring for our parents is our God-given responsibility. When God gave the people His Law in the desert, one of the first ten commandments was to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20: 12 NASB). Doing this pleases God and should be a natural result of our relationship with Him. But is it possible to both care for and honor our parents at the same time?
Honor means to hold in esteem, or place value on someone or something. God wants us to respond to our parents as people of worth and to treat them in ways that best meets their needs. Whatever care they may require, we can do it in a way that demonstrates our value for them, treating them always with kindness and respect.
I’ve learned – the hard way – that so much depends on my attitude and tone. If my heart isn’t right with God, if I’m in the middle of a pity party, or if I’m all wrapped up in self, I end up doing exactly what Paul warned Timothy against: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father” (1 Timothy 5:1 NIV).
More than once I’ve caught myself trying to do the right thing in the wrong way. Impatience, selfishness, and frustration can easily foster harsh words. The end result isn’t all that matters. The words and actions we use to get there should comfort, encourage, console, and strengthen our parents.
Honoring our parents while caring for them is definitely not child’s play. But it pleases God and He stands by ready to supply everything we need to do the right thing, the right way.
About the author: Struggling to navigate the parent/child role reversal? Kathy Howard’s new book, 30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents, explores God’s Word to find hope and encouragement for the wide range of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual challenges the adult child caregiver may experience. Each of the 30 devotions – which can also serve as a guide for a daily quiet time – includes a Scripture passage, a real-life illustration, biblical commentary/application, and questions for reflection.
Join the conversation: Think about some of your recent interactions with your parent. In what ways, if any, could you have improved on the outcome?