One night as I went out for a run, I thought about the thankless task of parenting—raising children is a tough job. Barbara and I had six kids in 10 years. Changing diapers, wiping runny noses, and hauling kids back and forth was a way of life. As I rounded the bend in the road, I felt the fresh air jogging a new thought in my mind: Someone did this for me growing up. In that moment, the value of what my folks had done for me finally dawned on me.

Come to think of it, as a baby I never rolled over and thanked my mother for changing my diaper. I don’t recall thanking her as a toddler for mopping the floor after I spilled my milk—for the third time—during lunch. I never thanked my mom for being there for me when I was running a fever in the middle of the night. And yet, my mother and father’s thankless labor of love has forever shaped my life.

Years ago, Barbara and I visited some of the old cathedrals in Great Britain. One of the things that we noticed in those great cathedrals was the tributes to mothers and fathers by children who wrote about them after their parents had died. These tender words of praise had been carefully carved into marble, permanently displayed on the ancient walls. As I read some of the tributes, I wondered, Why wait until death to celebrate the life of a parent?

The legacy my parents left is more than writing etched in marble; it’s the permanent etching on a little boy that will never be forgotten. My mother and father, Ward and Dalcie Rainey, were incredible influences on my life.

My father was a man of impeccable morals and had more influence on my life than any other man. He taught me character and integrity. He showed me how to be successful and how to compete fairly. He left me with a thousand memories of playing catch, camping, fishing, and living life.

My mother was tenacious, a leader, and impressed upon me that family life was to be treasured. That’s why her home was more than four walls, a roof, and a street address. Mom made sure our house was a place that embraced relationships. What’s more, I’m eternally grateful that she led me to Christ as a 6-year-old boy.

When was the last time you thought about the sacrifices that your mother and father made for you as a child or even an adult? Have you evaluated the impact they’ve had on your life? I want to encourage you to consider how you can honor your parents with more than just a store-bought card, candy, or even a new tool or appliance.

Give them the honor they deserve.

After all, honoring parents is close to the heart of God. He said, “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). Think about it. His command is radical in an age where we’re encouraged to look backwards to blame, throw stones, and find fault with our parents. Instead, the Lord wants us to appreciate and esteem our parents as human beings created in His image. Let this spring be the beginning of an era of honor, starting with four practical steps.

First, spend time with your parents on their agenda, not yours.

That may mean visiting or calling them regularly. That was one very important lesson I learned from my father. I can still recall watching him on numerous occasions get up after dinner and a hard day’s work, say goodbye to my mother and me, and walk a few blocks over to his mother’s house. I went with him on more than one occasion. I would sit there and listen to the tick of the cuckoo clock and the creak of my grandmother’s rocking chair. There wasn’t a lot of conversation; there certainly wasn’t any “entertainment value” for a young man. There was only the sense of my dad honoring his mom.

In today’s fast-paced society this kind of commitment may be too much to orchestrate. As a matter of fact, there was a time in my life when I found it very difficult to stay in touch with Mom. Our kids were young, Barbara had several medical problems, and there were high demands on time. Still, I tried to call her at least once a week to keep in touch. We made trips to Missouri to visit her several times a year. We made an extra effort to pass through my hometown as a family and stay with her a couple of days on our way to or from ministry assignments.

A second way to honor your parents is through handwritten letters.

If you’re like me, you quickly go through the mail to find the stamped pieces, and then carefully inspect those to see any handwritten addresses from a friend. In this junk-laden world, nothing shows appreciation like sitting down and taking the time to write out a lengthy letter—on paper, not e-mail.

My father died unexpectedly before I had the chance to tell him everything I wanted to say, so I promised myself that I would not let that happen with my mom. Looking back on our relationship, I feel like I did everything I could to make sure my relationship with Mom was kept alive and that she felt appreciated and encouraged. After she died, however, I realized I really could have done more.

As Barbara and I packed her keepsakes, and after going through the top drawer of her bedroom dresser, I noticed there weren’t enough handwritten letters. Mom had saved every letter I’d ever sent. Standing in her room, I wondered how many times those letters were read and re-read. There were notes from my kids stuffed in her drawer along with pictures that Barbara and I had sent. To me, that’s a statement of how lonely the latter years of our lives can be and how important it is for us as children to keep that relationship intact.

A third way to honor your parents is to never underestimate the power of saying, “I love you.”

Can you ever say, “I love you,” enough? Almost all of us love our parents, and we often take it for granted that they know. When was the last time you said, “Mom [or] Dad, I love you”? If the relationship between you has hardened, his or her heart may not be able to receive that message. Don’t let that discourage you. Your words of love are exactly what your mother or father needs to hear.

I understand that you might not have had the kind of relationship with your parents that I had with my parents. Maybe there was some abuse or neglect, and you aren’t ready to take bold steps of love at this point. Perhaps the mere thought of saying, “I love you,” to a seemingly unworthy parent makes you angry. You don’t want to express love. You don’t want to forgive.

But you and I are commanded to forgive. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” If you are having a difficult time honoring your parents, take baby steps. That’s all the Lord requires of us. Step out in faith from where you are and depend on God to give you the strength to do the right thing.

Finally, a great way to honor your parents is by writing and presenting a tribute.

Within the next couple of weeks, sit down for an extended period of time and write out a tribute. List the things you appreciate about your parents; the way they have provided for you, cared for you, or showed love to you over the years. Include the traits you admire about them. Is your father a hard worker? Is your mother hospitable? Is she a great cook? Does your father have a wonderful smile? Your tribute doesn’t have to be long; what matters most is that your words flow from your heart.

When you’re finished, type it and have it professionally framed. Then read it to your parents on a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary, or holiday. (For more information about writing a tribute, read the article “The Best Gift You Can Give Your Parents.” You can also see examples of tributes at the end of that article, including the ones I wrote for my parents.) I promise, a tribute is a gift your parents will treasure for the rest of their lives.

I first wrote a tribute to my mother in 1988, and I’m glad I wrote it when she was alive instead of writing it for her eulogy. As I sat in her funeral, I felt satisfied, knowing that I had told her everything that I ever wanted to say. No regrets.

I’ve heard many stories over the years about the healing that can take place in a relationship with parents when a child makes the effort to honor them. I’ve even received letters from folks who have written tributes to unsaved relatives; the heart-to-heart expression of love in a tribute has cracked open the door, making it possible to be able to explain how Jesus died on the cross for them. Often Christians run home with the truth before running home with love and honor. I wonder sometimes if our parents are waiting for us to honor them before they receive our Savior.

Whether your parents are saved or still in need of a Savior, there’s not a better opportunity to begin the process of honoring your parents than right now.

Copyright © 2004 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.