KENNEWICK -- When I was a child, I heard the Ten Commandments as hard rules that were impossible to fully understand, let alone fulfill.
I concluded rightly or wrongly that they were for grown-ups and I told myself that I would worry about them later.
Yet there was that bit in the middle, "honor your father and your mother," that somehow stood out. My interpretation at 9 years old was: "Do what they tell you." This instruction was clear and practical, but to my current sensibilities, it feels pretty skimpy, more like humble compliance.
I'm learning a new kind of honoring now. My mom lives with Alzheimer's and is more dependent; I am distant geographically. I hired a team of Spokane professionals to substitute for my sister and me as neither of us can attend to mom the way we would like to now. They have become surrogate family and these caregivers are a blessing in disguise. Mom is safe, appropriately dependent and financially secure. I'm not to worry.
But is my mom being "honored"?
Of course I have guilt over too little time spent with her and resentment over too much time spent on tedious things done for her. The latter doesn't feel like honoring even though I can rationalize it as such. So I've had to reflect a bit more on administration and affection.
Last weekend, I conceived of honoring as giving mom my undivided presence.
There were precious moments, although fleeting, where my family and I were caring more about her than for her. It mattered. We returned to the Tri-Cities celebrating the trip and the memories. It could have been otherwise.
Our love for our parents changes as we both grow older. "Honor your father and mother" may mean simply being willing to be with them, to get to know them aschanging individuals, to let them know us.
When I looked across the restaurant table last weekend, I studied Mom's eyes and her hair. I took in her laugh. When she held my hand in church, I thought to myself, "I want to remember this. I don't want to get caught up in the bureaucracy of caregiving."
Perhaps I've learned something I never could have imagined as a child: honoring is more of a disposition than an action, more about who I am with Mom than what I do for her. From now on I'll try to live by this interpretation, a massive reframe of my childhood exposure to an important commandment. From now on, I'll attempt to honor my mother like this, words or no words. Even though it isn't as easy as it sounds, the gift of presence is a kind of honoring.
* Kirk Ruehl is a Presbyterian minister and board certified chaplain. He attends Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Kennewick.
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