Honor: to regard or treat someone with admiration and respect.
I had a problem as a child. I took God very seriously. I took church very seriously. I took the words of the Bible very seriously.
And every time we read aloud the Decalogue, there would be the words:
Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
As I said, I had a problem as a child.
No matter how hard I tried, no matter what I did, no matter what prayers I gave to God, I could not find a way to honor my father and my mother. I didn’t really care about how long my days would be upon the land.
But I did care very deeply that every day of my life I was breaking one of God’s holy laws.
My father was a man very much concerned with material things. And physical things. A brilliant man. A man who could think rings around anyone he worked with. But he was attached to the way people looked.
And he didn’t like the way I looked.
If I wore make-up as a young woman, you can be sure that I wore it so lightly that no one could perceive it. My father’s sense of womanly fashion dictated bright red lips, highly shadowed eye lids, and long eye lashes.
When I went out in public not in my “comfortable” clothes (holes in sweaters, and the like), I still dressed modestly: knee socks with loafers, pleated kilt, oxford button-down shirt, crew-necked sweater.
This was not to my father’s liking at all.
Instead I should have let the world have direct knowledge of my bosom; I should have let the skirt I wore reveal my legs, not hide them; and I won’t go into his problem of my shoes.
But the biggest problem I had with my father was that as I grew older I became increasingly aware that he neither saw nor valued me for Who I Was.
This awareness devastated me. He was a smart man. I was his smart daughter. All I wanted was some recognition. And perhaps a little understanding. Some tenderness would have been nice, too.
So in my wrongness, or even in my invisibility, in his world, I could not find any ability to honor him.
My mother was a stupid woman. A social woman, whose laughter over cards with her friends still rings in my ears after all these years. A woman whose focus was solely on her own little world, a world in which I did not exist.
Let’s just say that when I went to write an autobiography a few years ago, I entitled it, A Wrong Life.
I’m old enough now to know that many spiritual children have been treated as mismatches with their families, and my natural misplacement has not bothered me for many decades, but God mattered to me as a child and I could not ignore the fact that my accident of birth (except that it very much wasn’t) put me in the position of having to either ignore the command to honor my parents or to cry myself to sleep every night.
But it’s not like I could change myself.
Neither could I change my father and my mother.
Throughout this ordeal, there was a tender voice in my heart that intoned, you intend to honor them, and that is what matters.
Now you would think that a child like me, who spent every spare thought considering God and all that entailed, would take comfort from those words.
The truth is, I never did.
It wasn’t until I was old enough that I could turn around and serve my parents, even in small ways, that the pain began to ease. When I could face them as an adult, and talk things over, or defend myself with respect and equanimity, then I gave myself credit for honoring my father and my mother.
I still didn’t care anything about how long my days would be upon the land.
But it was still a long time until I listened to those tender words and considered their content: you intend to honor them, and that is what matters.
It was a lot to consider. Too much, at times.
Was I being let off the hook?
No, I finally realized.
I was being taught that when we are unable to treat someone with admiration and respect that we can hold them in the light of love for God, taking both our admiration and love for God and using that as a basis for a relationship with someone.
I may not like you, but I can love that you are here on Earth with me, a creation of God.
In addition, we can hold forgiveness in our hearts, keep it as a kind of breath, in ongoing problematic relationships. And in this way, even, we work to treat the other with respect, as difficult as that can be sometimes.
Putting our focus above the person, on Jesus, perhaps, we can hold that person in his light and keep our heart at peace in the light of love.
It’s quite a lesson to teach a child.
It’s a good thing God is patient with me.