God is Eternal
I have been carrying the fifth word of the 10 commandments in my heart and my mind all week. My focusing passage is Exodus 20:12. “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Before even beginning to write this blog, I have fretted some. All the reasons why escape me. I only know that when I begin to talk about family passages, mom and dad biblical texts, I find myself struggling a bit. I do not want or intend this reflection to be a downer, but as always, I want it marked with truth and transparency.
“Honor” is the central word in the passage. This word, as some of you know, literally means to “give weight to” or “show proper respect toward.” I suppose that definition is not hard to grasp. The difficult part comes in the application of the word “honor.” I believe I have spoken enough about this over the years that it is not hard for some of you to know why I struggle with passages and words like this one.
I was never close to my parents. I think I truly wanted to be. There are pieces of my family narrative that remain confusing to me, even hidden. My mother and father struggled with their own relationship with each other, and if we add to that the seven children they brought into this world, it is even more complicated. Just this week I was pondering the stress that filled my home life when financial strains surfaced. They always surfaced. The house in which I was brought-up seemed built with the brick and mortar of debt and bills. My father would shout and my mom would cry. I wince as I think back to some of those volatile days. Suffice it to say, my parents were fractured people who could not express the kind of tenderness their children wanted and needed.
I too am a fractured person who must own my part of our broken story. I have confessed and repented of the role I played in the mess of my home life. I have sought to live at peace with my family and especially to reconcile with my father. He passed from this life to the next one in 2008, after a very long struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. His journey was not an easy one. For whatever reason, he could not own or admit his abuse and his emotional distance from my family.
My mother, now in her 90’s, no longer can talk, walk, or realize her surroundings. Late in her life, my mom realized her struggle to love others and be receptive to receive love in return. She openly shared with me her angst to want to undo much of her life and especially as it related to my siblings and me. It is now excruciating for me, and my siblings, to see our mother linger longer, a victim of strokes and dementia. I pray most days that this day would be her last day here and her first day in heaven. None of this seems to fit the eternal nature of God and Thanksgiving.
Perhaps the parallel passage to Exodus 20:12 can help. The second giving of the Law in Deuteronomy records another motivation to honoring parents that goes beyond “that your days may be long in the land.” Moses declares to Israel (and to us) that honoring parents is essential for another reason, “that it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). This is the only “word” among the 10 that is welded to a promise, one filled with God’s presence and blessing. Do not miss this. God’s presence and His blessing is an eternal one. Because of His perfect timeless nature as the eternal God, my relationship with an imperfect mom and dad matters. I cannot ponder this and not have my mind race to Psalm 90:2. The only Psalm attributed to Moses among the 150 in the Psalter includes this magnificent statement about God from the lips of Moses. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or even you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” This one quality, God’s eternal nature, is the just-right framework for parental respect, even when those parents are incapable of warmth and affection.
God knew exactly what He was doing when He ordained and carried out His plan with regard to my family. Though I struggle, even today, with understanding the why, God perfectly placed me in the family that ultimately made it possible for me to seek God, discover His gift in Christ, love God, worship God, witness to God and want to serve Him forever. This Thanksgiving I praised Him for His eternal beauty, perfection, and plan.
All the mess of my family is now fertile ground for me to want something different with my wife, children and grandchildren. Sue, my beloved wife, has shown me, taught me, modeled for me, and encouraged me to be the affectionate and kind father that I never had. I am, because of God’s eternal quality, eternally grateful that He gives me a second chance. This Thanksgiving, around our table, was not just Turkey, Ham, rolls, yams, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables and desserts of various kinds, but love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All possible because God’s eternal presence and promise are new each day.
Praise Him. Take the time to thank Him. Blessings