“Honor your father and mother …” may be the fifth of the Lord’s commandments delivered in Exodus 20, but it’s the first to instruct us on our relationships with each other, rather than with Him.
Does that imply that it’s more important than His commandments against murdering, committing adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting? Or might it imply that it’s foundational to commandments six through ten?
“Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails.”
This petition from King David’s Psalm 71 was directed at God Himself, but it could have been addressed by an elderly parent to his or her children. And it’s a common plea today, even if it’s often left unspoken by parents who have learned that it does no good, and may even turn disinterest into hostility.
In some cases, these mothers and fathers are still living on their own; in others, they’re kenneled in facilities where not even the most loving staff can make up for a family’s neglect. The common denominator: an unmet longing to be included in the lives of children and grandchildren who acknowledge them only on special occasions.
And it can get worse: Some children have nothing to do with their parents; they refuse to even send a card at Christmas, or call to acknowledge a milestone birthday. This may seem unbelievable, but check it out: There are a growing number of books and websites out there to help abandoned parents cope with this loss.
Psychiatrists have even given it a name: “Parental alienation syndrome.” It often seems to follow in the wake of divorce, but not always; sometimes we kids are just too wrapped up in our own lives to be bothered with mothers or fathers who have outlived their usefulness.
“In the last days, perilous times will come.”
In his second letter to his protégé Timothy, the apostle Paul listed 18 characteristics of people in earth’s dangerous last days. Here are the first six: “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents.”
Disobedient to parents?
Think that means only those out-of-control kids at the next table at your favorite restaurant? Or might it also refer to children of all ages who treat their parents with disrespect or indifference?
And, increasingly, with something more chilling than disrespect and indifference, more chilling even than neglect and abandonment. Witness the rapid growth of elderly euthanasia in Europe; we’re already seeing the early stages of it in the United States.
Of course, active euthanasia is only needed for those stubborn old folk who linger on and on, refusing to die. For the rest, there’s always the withholding of medical care. Higher co-pays and fewer benefits are on the way for senior Americans. And it’s not difficult to see that reimbursement cuts will lead to even more doctors opting out of accepting Medicare patients – this, just as the elderly population begins to swell with the arrival of us Baby Boomers.
Lower supply and higher demand ordinarily means higher prices. But not when Uncle Sam has slapped on price controls and the demand is unrelenting; in that case, the supply is bound to suffer, both in quantity and quality.
“Even to your old age, I am He.”
One thing has not changed, however, and will never change.
“Even to your old age, I am He,” the prophet Isaiah quotes the Lord as saying in chapter 46 of his Old Testament book. “And even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”
The God who created this universe and everything in it has always been our only hope. A fair proportion of today’s nursing-home population acknowledges this fact; I have run into relatively few who deny Him entirely, anyway.
But I tremble to think what the situation will be a decade or two from now, as the newly elderly take their place, with relatively few even certain of His existence, and their children and grandchildren living in blissful ignorance of the divine command to honor their parents.
In Galatians 6, the apostle Paul warned, “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” Perhaps there’s an application here for today’s parents: If you want your children to acknowledge you in your old age, it would be wise to sow the word of God in their hearts today.