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The Most Important Gift You’ll Ever Give to Your Parents

As I began teaching about the fifth commandment, I was amazed at how this commandment was touching a powerful nerve with adult children.

By Dennis Rainey

Many of us go our entire lives without fully understanding the “spiritual” connection we have with our parents. Whether you want to enshrine your parents on a pedestal or leave them stranded on a deserted island, one thing is certain: Their words and actions have shaped you. They live in you.

This is more than inheriting their mannerisms, their habits, or their values, and even more than DNA. You are Divinely connected to your parents at the deepest level of your soul.

You may be proud to call your parents Mom and Dad. You may revel in that relationship. And you may desire your relationship with them to be more authentic.

Or you may not know how to relate to them as you grow older. Sometimes you enjoy them, and sometimes they hurt and anger you. No matter what, you know you can’t give up on the relationship. So you yearn for that connection to also be deeper and more robust.

Or, like some adult children, you may feel nothing but pain when you think of your mother or father. You may have been abandoned … mistreated or abused. Perhaps you have a parent who is evil and unrepentant. And yet for some mysterious reason, though you may never admit it to anyone, somewhere in your heart you may wish you could truly connect.

That’s the power of a parent.

A fishing trip to Canada with my parents

Touching a nerve

During the early 1970s, I worked with teenagers in a ministry in Boulder, Colorado. One of my favorite messages I shared with these teens was “How to Raise Your Parents.”

Actually I camouflaged the real message behind the title. The real challenge was

for these teenagers to obey God’s fifth commandment found in Exodus 20:12,

“Honor your father and your mother,

that your days may be long in the land

that the Lord your God is giving you.”

As I spoke to those teenagers, I realized that I was touching a raw nerve. Many had such difficult relationships with their parents that the command to honor them presented a challenge of immense proportions, a major step of faith to truly honor them.

As I have worked with youth and adults of all ages since then, I’ve realized that the faith community rarely talks about what it means to honor our parents. We’ll talk about the need for children to obey their parents, but what does it mean for an adult child to honor them? The fifth commandment has become the forgotten commandment.

This is particularly puzzling because, for many of us, the relationship with a parent goes on for decades after we’ve left the nest. What does it look like to honor parents once you’ve become an independent adult?

Teaching about honoring