I’m home from work; I shift mental gears as I change clothes and head outside with my dog, Sunny. Dad and Mom have 160 acres of field and forest, and I love it out here. We walk down the short path through the field until we reach my parents’ long gravel drive. I let Sunny mess around for a while, then walk about a quarter-mile back to my parents’ house, where the three of us spend a little time talking about how our days went.
Even though I see my parents nearly every day, sometimes I don’t realize what I’m seeing — that they are aging, slowing down, and becoming less able to do the things they used to do with ease. When you see a person every day, sometimes it takes a bigger sort of event to finally realize what’s been happening all along.
It was a winter day, oh, five years ago or so. I love winter. It’s a great time for hiking in our woods and really enjoying the beauty of nature without worrying about ticks crawling all over you or walking through a big spider web and realizing the spider is now in your hair.
This was a wonderful, crisp Saturday. Mom thought it was cold (we’ve always disagreed on how cold “cold” is), but she was still ready to head up the hill on a walk with me. We had to take it a little slower than I’d expected, but we were in no hurry. We made it to the top and walked the ridge along the southern border of the property, crunching through fallen leaves and just talking about little things.
We came down and started walking back to my parents’ house. I can’t remember the details exactly, but suddenly she stopped, in pain. She had jerked her neck the wrong way … something painful enough to bring tears to her eyes, but at the same time, not serious. She looked so distraught, and I stepped over to hug her.
I felt the bones of her shoulders as she huddled forward, and I felt a cold stab of shock inside of me. She felt frail!
By no means was my mother frail in the medical sense of the word, nor is she now. But that day, it really hit home: Mom and Dad are getting older.
Deuteronomy 5:16 says, “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” This is God’s fifth commandment, and it has become an important focus in my life over the past few years as I watch my parents change and try to find the answers to a continuing stream of questions that runs through my mind.
Questions like the ones that struck me that day …
What do I do when I see Mom walking slower and slower, when she used to match strides with me? That answer is easy: I slow down and match strides with her.
What do I say when I see the sadness in her face as she realizes she is slowing down in more ways than one? That answer … not so easy.
What I’ve (belatedly) come to realize is that there is one overarching answer to any question I may have: obey God’s fifth commandment to honor my parents. It’s that simple. Whatever questions may arise, whatever problems may develop, the answer is to do whatever it takes to help them, respect them, and honor them.
As I turn this commandment over in my mind and really take it into my heart, I learn something very important: there really is no such thing as “elder care.” I don’t believe I should wait until my parents need assisted living, a nursing home, or long-term medical care to make room in my life to help them out.
Truly honoring my parents means a lifetime of commitment and love. It means being there for them whether they need help or not, just as they were for me as a child, and as they still are there for me today. It’s all a part of the continuum of being a family.
It was a hot summer evening but wouldn’t be dark for hours. I was inside, cleaning up the kitchen and getting ready for work the next day. I heard the rattle of a loud engine and looked out the window. There was Dad on the tractor, mowing the large field in front of my house. I went out to the porch and waved my thanks to him as he made circuits around the field.
The really amazing thing about this is that my father is disabled and in constant pain from a spinal cord injury. He really does enjoy bush hogging, but he used to enjoy it a lot more in his younger, pain-free days. He continues to keep the place up, because that’s part of being a husband to his wife and a dad to me even though I’m grown.
We all share the load, but that load is shifting. It’s part of my duty as their daughter to constantly seek more ways to help my parents. Maybe they don’t absolutely need my help yet, but to tell the truth, it’s fun. Sometimes we discuss what needs to be done; other times I surprise them. And yes, they still surprise me quite often, too.
I’m glad God has made this journey fun so far. I’ve felt my relationship with my parents grow and deepen, just because of the small ways I’m able to help them now. It’s been very satisfying as we spend more and more time together. No matter what the future may have in store for us, I believe God expects me to serve my parents as long as I am able.
There will always be sacrifice— involved that’s what love is all about. The decisions will become harder as my parents’ health declines, but if I truly honor them, most of these decisions won’t be sudden or unexpected. In fact, as their daughter, I will already have helped them to prepare.
My parents have not yet reached this stage in their lives. However, I’ve witnessed how some of my friends have helped and cared for their parents through illness, dementia, and finally death. Yes, they experienced deep sadness and exhaustion as their parents declined, and sometimes frustration as they dealt with the complex legalities that go with such life change. But I’ve also seen my friends grow stronger as they live out the love they have for their parents.
Not everyone has a good relationship with their parents, and some have deep scars from a difficult childhood. Helping a parent in these situations is hard. But God is all about relationships with family, and with Him. I think that whatever our circumstances may be, when we choose to obey Him and honor our parents, He will draw us closer to each other, and to Him.
In Mark 7:10-13, Jesus set the bar pretty high:
For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”
These words tell me there is no acceptable reason not to help my parents. Whatever needs to be done must be done. No matter what, I will honor my parents as long as they are in this world, and I will honor their memories when they pass away.
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