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Honoring Your Parents Keeps Their Legacy Alive

By Dennis Rainey

This is the third post in a series on honoring your parents.


I heard a story about a teenage grandson who was visiting his grandmother. The teenager began discussing male/female roles with his grandmother, and he argued that her ideas were “old-fashioned.”


What really hurt the grandmother, though, was watching her own daughter and son-in-law encouraging their son. “It felt to me like they were cheering him on,” she said. Her concluding comment illustrates what happens when we fail to honor parents: “I feel no link to him.” 


That is tragic, because the link between generations is a precious thing. As I look at Scripture, it's clear to me that God's most important structure for passing along timeless spiritual truths is the family—parents teaching their children and grandparents teaching their grandchildren, and so on. 


Read these words from Psalm 78:5-7:


“For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children, that the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments . . .”


God calls each generation to pass spiritual truth on to the next. For the family to carry on this type of spiritual relay, they must maintain a multi-generational connection. And when you honor your parents, in accordance with Exodus 20:12—the fifth of the 10 Commandments—it allows the legacy of one generation to continue unbroken to the next.


If you read through Proverbs, you'll recognize the priority God places on the connection of children to their parents. Through this connection children learn the discipline and wisdom needed for life. Proverbs 3:1, for example, says, “My son, do not forget my teaching. But let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life, and peace they will add to you.”


When the elderly are ignored rather than honored, when we start believing there is nothing children can learn from parents—or from grandparents—then we cut ourselves off from the wisdom of the past.


The legacy your parents left you


Here’s something to ponder: If you died right now, how would your children, your friends, and family describe the legacy of your life? What would they say about you? Chances are you’d like them to remember you for your faith, for what you did well, for the positive impact you had on other people. 


Now stop and consider your parents. What positive statements could be said of their lives?  What kind of legacy have they left you? What is worth passing on to the next generation? What could you honor them for?


By honoring your parents for their positive contributions in your life, you highlight the legacy of their lives. You bring value and dignity to them—for what they did well, in spite of their flaws. In doing so, you pass on to succeeding generations stories of lessons learned and wisdom gathered.


Honoring parents keeps a legacy alive in three ways:


First, honoring your parents allows you to keep learning from your parents. If you have godly parents, this is not difficult for you to understand. But if your parents are not believers, or if they have failed in their roles as parents in the past, you may have a hard time believing your parents have something to offer you.


It could be, in many areas, you have gained greater wisdom than your parents. But can you say with honesty that there is absolutely nothing you can learn from them?


Perhaps there isn't much, if any, spiritual legacy in your family, but is there something about God you learned from your father? Your mother? I have found even those who came from “non-religious” backgrounds still learned something of God's character from each of their parents.


Second, honoring your parents allows them to remain connected to your children. I'm concerned with the way many grandparents are becoming isolated from their families. Why is it so many older people are so bored? Why are they underchallenged? Why are they so disengaged with their grandchildren, their legacy?


Here they are at the end of their lives, and many don't have any compelling vision to focus on, let alone pass on to the next generation.


Something tells me the problem in many cases may be their relationship with their adult children. If you were to say to me, “I wish my parents would start making time to be a grandma,” I would ask, “If your parents are still living, are you taking the initiative to communicate with them?  How much time are you spending with them? Are you pursuing a relationship with them?” Perhaps if we value the older generation by honoring our parents, they will value the younger generation by getting involved in their grandchildren's lives.


Do they feel close to you? Do they feel loved, appreciated, and needed? And if they are needed, is it for something other than just babysitting? If they did, perhaps they would make the effort to be involved.


God gives grandparents a special role in a child's life. A child may learn some character qualities more from his grandparents than from his parents. That's the type of vision I'd like to give grandparents—helping build another generation. 


I realize not all grandparents will be able to do this. I also realize your parents make their own choices. Even if you do fulfill your responsibility to honor them, they may not take on the role you'd like them to. But by honoring them you are making an attempt to connect your kids to the family legacy.


Third, honoring your parents may result in your children honoring you.


Do you want your children to regard you as wise when you are older?


Do you want them to listen to you when you're as old as your parents are now?


Your children are watching you, and they will follow your model. If you aren't honoring your parents, then you run the risk of having your children do the same to you.


A friend was sitting on his sofa one night when his wife said with a weary sigh, “I guess it's time to go call my mother ...”


Then she stopped, looked at her oldest daughter and said, “I guess 20 years from now Amy will probably be saying that while sitting on the sofa with her husband.” She realized she was teaching her daughter to dishonor her parents.


Five ways to honor your parents by keeping the family legacy alive


1. Encourage your parents to tell your children stories about the past. People love to talk about the past and children often love hearing the old stories. It gives them a connection with their parents and grandparents. 


Why not interview your parents and let your children hear their story?  Consider developing a list of questions you can ask your mom or dad the next time your family gets together?  And don’t forget to record that interview.  


Our daughter did this with my wife Barbara’s dad, who was a World War II veteran, for a school history project. We all sat around the kitchen table and listened as he described his experience in the war—the confusion, his fears, and the satisfaction that came with being a part of pushing back against evil in Europe. It was an unforgettable moment for him and our family.


2. Develop an audio or video history of your family by interviewing your parents, grandparents and other relatives. Family stories will disappear unless you record them. If you capture them before a parent dies, those will become some of your most cherished possessions.


3. Organize old family photos and produce photo books for the family. You and your parents may have boxes of old photos; go through them and choose the best. Set your scanner at a high resolution and scan tiny old photos into your computer—you’ll make them look better than ever. Then use online services to create photo book for your parent’s birthdays, anniversaries, etc.


4. Transfer old home videos to digital, then either post them online or and give DVD copies to each family member for Christmas. Better yet, edit the movies first to highlight the best sections and to eliminate the parts with bad focus, shaky camera, etc.


5. Revisit their childhood homes. Most parents love to return to their old neighborhoods. I once drove with my mom and my daughter, Ashley, to look at mom’s old homestead. The house was abandoned and taken over by cows, weeds, and critters. We walked inside and talked about what life was like there. She remembered where they used to slaughter hogs and render the lard, and how they made “cracklins” to eat.


We talked about where the barn used to be and how she gathered eggs as a little girl. We talked about what her mom and dad were like. Mom enjoyed the trip, and it was a great way for Ashley to catch a glimpse of her heritage and my mom’s legacy.


Even if they don’t say it, your parents want to be remembered well. They want to leave a lasting legacy with their children and grandchildren. You can help make that possible.


Be sure to look for the next two posts in this series on honoring your parents.


Adapted from The Forgotten Commandment, by Dennis Rainey with David Boehi. Copyright © by Dennis Rainey. All rights reserved.

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