Keeping the Fifth Commandment

I’m in Frederick, Maryland, today, honoring my father and mother by taking care of them while my brother Scott and his family prepare for his daughter’s wedding at their farm in West Virginia. 

It’s been a pleasure.

This morning, for example, Dad came in to breakfast with a memory about sacking oats in his boyhood with a fellow named “Willie T.”  Dad said, “There we were, sacking oats in that little shed with the tin roof on it, on one of the hottest days in the summer, and boy, did Willie T stink!”  I had never heard that story before, and I had to look for a place to file the mental picture it created.

And then Mom spread out all her family photos on the dining room table while I was doing some reading for Sunday’s sermon.  One after another she would push them across to me and ask me if I remembered this or that event.  There they were: pictures of me and my brothers, my grandparents, some of the places we used to live.  Most of them I had seen before, but some of them were new.  Again I looked for places in my brain to store the images. 

The mental file cabinets are overflowing.

I’ve cooked meals for my folks, washed dishes, helped Dad get a shower, helped Mom find a pen—all those things they used to do for me without grumbling or complaining.  And it really is that endless stream of “little things” that flows into the pool of family love.  They did them for me, and now I get to do them for them, and the pool gets deeper and wider. 

If there were a theme for this Fifth Commandment Retreat it might be “Abundance”: an abundance of memories, an abundance of love, an abundance of care once received and now given with gratitude.  “Honor your father and mother,” God said.  Today it strikes me not so much as a command but as an offer, as a way of entering into abundant life.  But those of you who have cared for your aging parents know how it goes:

Tomorrow may be another story altogether.

Self-Centered Service

work-glovesI told the congregation on Sunday that I would be going to South Carolina for a few days this week on a “Fifth Commandment Mission Trip.”  I could see the blank looks on some faces and so I reminded them that the fifth commandment is the one that says, “You shall honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land” (Exodus 20:12).  A Fifth Commandment Mission Trip is one in which you honor your father and mother by driving to their home in South Carolina with your toolbox and work gloves and doing whatever needs to be done around their house. 

I don’t know yet what needs to be done.  I don’t know if I will be able to do it.  But I hope that my very presence with my aging, ailing parents will honor them.  I will probably offer to cut the grass and trim up around the place if that hasn’t been done.  I’m sure there will be some small repairs I can make and some painting I can do.  I’ll probably make a trip to the grocery store, bring back something really yummy, and offer to cook it.  I’ll get Mom to play the piano and we’ll sing a few old hymns.  I’ll sit by Dad’s bedside and tell him about my work.  At night I will lie down on clean sheets in the guest room, exhausted and grateful for this time with my parents.

Before you click on the “comment” link to say, “Oh, Jim!  What a sweet thing to do!” remember that this is a Fifth Commandment mission trip: it’s completely self-centered.  I’m honoring my father and mother so that my days may be long in the land, so that when I’m 108 my children will have to pack up their toolboxes and work gloves…

…and come see me.