Words from the Wise: Honor your father
Director of Strategic Alliances Greg Leith shares his story
Some days, my dad and I had a rocky relationship. I remember a conversation he and I had while he was at the top of the stairs in my new home. I was 26, married, good job, Biola degree in hand and convinced I was a pretty wise young man. We’d just had a major disagreement about how I was not happy with his involvement in writing about whether UFOs existed or not. He loved writing about it. I thought he was wasting his life in useless pursuits. Tears welled up in his eyes.
“I’ve lost my son! I’ve lost my best friend!” he said. The next morning, driving him to the airport for his trip home, he was still teary. He knew that I was not connected to him deeply and that the issue of his writing had created a giant wall between us.
Flash forward 15 years. The scene is my dad’s hospital bed in the cancer ward. My dad is 70, dying and in a coma. I’m 41 and sitting in the chair by the bed day after day. Toward what would be the final days of his life, God prompted me to write down in my journal all the things I was thankful for that my dad had taught me over the long haul of our lives. I’d run with him for 41 years and I could feel the weight of the baton being handed to me. The journal pages filled up quickly as he lay motionless and pale and his breathing became heavier. Here’s what I wrote.
“I’m thankful for his teaching me:
to love others
to give generously even when you have almost nothing to give
to be faithful to my spouse, as he was to my mom, no affairs, just faithful
to have a spirit of adventure in life (like writing about UFOs!)
to believe in your kids and to be their champion in a world that is negative.
to accept others for who they are, failures and all
For too many years, I didn’t believe in him, because I didn’t believe in his [UFO] cause or activities. But Jesus believed in us no matter what we had done or were doing. I must always remember to accept and love people just like [my] dad accepted me. Lord, please take all the faith I’ve ever had and let my dad wake up so I can talk to him.”
God heard my prayer. Fifteen minutes later my dad woke up and said he wanted to go home — to heaven — and that he didn’t accomplish what he wanted to in life.
“Dad, let me tell you what I just wrote down about you in my journal, and why your life was a success. You left a legacy of character for me,” I said. I picked up my journal and read him the list. He heard every word. When I got to the final point about believing in others because of his belief in me, I apologized for not believing in him and for not loving him for who he was, not what he was involved in. Then, in a profound moment, my 70-year-old father whispered to me, his 41-year-old son.
“No forgiveness necessary pal, it’s all part of growing up. You were always there for me and you’ve done everything for me. I love you.” Those were the most lucid last words he spoke, and then he went back to sleep. He had just elevated the concepts of forgiveness and acceptance to the most important things he would ever say to me. That moment was ordained by God to restore my lack of honor towards my dad.
Maybe you’re angry at your mom or dad, maybe they hurt you, even abandoned you, yet they did create you. Your parents’ love for each other in physical union created you and God tells us that we must honor our father and mother. When we honor and value them, we also honor God. This fifth command is the first command with a promise attached. You get a reward for obeying it. Your days will be “long in the land” says the Old Testament verse and “it will go well for you” says the New Testament passage. We don’t outgrow this command, it lasts from birth to death.
There are some negative consequences for not honoring your parents. You may end up being too focused on yourself and your own needs and if you don’t correct the state of dishonoring prior to the death of your parents, you’ll clearly have some guilt and sin to work through for missing God’s best.
Recently, I was meeting with a young leader who shared that he was struggling to figure how to do something meaningful to honor his dad. He had in mind an event or party with family and friends. There would be plane tickets to purchase, great food and maybe even an anniversary-type cake to honor dad and mom. He was wondering how to make all this happen when his parents lived far away. As he was talking, my mind was slowly drifting back to that hospital bed in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1998 with my dad. There were no friends, there was no food except the melted ice cream in the little cardboard cup and there was no cake. Just my dad, me and my journal.
It seems no party is necessary to honor your parents. It can happen anywhere at any time as often as you want. I also am pretty sure the command does not end when you walk out the front door of your house and head to college. The lesson from my heavenly father regarding commandment number five — I know, commandment is such a tough word because it means we have to do what it says even if we don’t feel like it — says that we should honor our mother and father.
A few weeks ago, my afternoon work activities were interrupted by a phone call from my 24-year-old son. He was riding his bike to Western Seminary in Portland where he’ll get his Masters in Theology and Biblical Studies and another one in Psychology — yes, I’m proud!
“Dad,” he exclaimed as he took quick, deep breaths navigating the rainy roads, “I just wanted to say thanks for all you’ve done for me in my life. Without you, this day of beginning my Master’s degree would not be possible.” Wow, did I feel honored. There was no party needed, no special ceremony, no cake, no speech from a podium, just pure honor.
Isn’t it time? Go ahead, jam the cell phone space right now with 6,000 outbound calls from Biola University. No matter how old you are, pick up the phone and make the call … and don’t worry, you don’t need a fancy cake.