The scene is forever etched in my mind. It was August in Ozark, Missouri. I was 18 years old and about to leave home. In the driveway stood Dad and Mom, about to face an empty nest.
For the first time in my life, I remember feeling an enormous sense of gratitude and appreciation to these two people who had given me so much of themselves.
As I looked them in the eyes, the emotion rose suddenly in my throat. I swallowed hard, fought off the tears and said, with a breaking voice, “Mom, Dad, I love you.”
It was the first time I had truly acknowledged the love and sacrifice they had shown in raising me. For 18 years I had been, for the most part, a self-centered, ungrateful receiver of their love.
That day I began to take responsibility to honor my parents for who they were and for what they had done right in my life.
My father died in 1976 of a massive heart attack. There were no warnings, no goodbyes. Sixty-six years of life were summed up in a 30-minute memorial. It was meaningful, but it still bothered me — it seemed too brief a remembrance for all he meant to us.
Dad was a great man: Impeccable character. Quiet. Hardworking. The most influential man in my life. I wondered, Did he really know how I felt?
I had worked hard to express my love to him for several years, but words seemed so hollow. Had I really honored him as I should have?
I pledged then that I would not wait until Mom died to let her know about my feelings for her. So I began working on a written tribute — a formal document that publicly proclaimed my gratitude for what she did right, for the positive qualities and values she passed on to me.
As I jotted down memories, tears splattered the legal pad as I recounted lessons she taught me and fun times we shared.
I knew she would like it, but I was unprepared for the depth of her appreciation. She hung the tribute above the table where she ate all her meals. She shared it with family, the television repairman, the plumber and countless others who passed through her kitchen.
The results of honoring my mom with a tribute were so encouraging that I began to challenge others to write tributes of their own.
The verb “honor,” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, means to regard with respect. In Exodus 20:12, God commands, “Honor your father and your mother” (New American Standard Bible). In the original Hebrew language, the word for “honor” meant “to make weighty.”
That is what a tribute accomplishes — “weighing down” a parent with honor, respect and dignity.
God commands us to honor our parents regardless of their performance, behavior or dysfunction. For some of us, honoring our parents may be a spiritual barometer for our relationship with God. If we want to walk in His ways and experience His love and power, then we need to obey His commands.
Honoring your parents isn’t approving of their wrong choices, endorsing irresponsibility or denying what they’ve done wrong. But it is choosing to place great value on your relationship with them, taking initiative to improve the relationship and seeing them through the eyes of Christ.
If we honor our parents, there are the benefits of better communication, the possibility of peace with them and greater freedom in relationship with them.
“I never felt that my mother treated me like an adult,” says Diane. To Diane’s mother, there was only one way to do things — her way. So over the years, Diane began to withdraw from her.
Diane’s feelings began to change, however, when she heard about writing a tribute for her parents. As she wrote, God slowly gave her a different perspective. As her mother read the tribute, she immediately broke down in tears.
“I think part of the problem,” says Diane, “was that all those years, while I was feeling she didn’t respect me, she didn’t feel any respect and appreciation from her kids.” The tribute allowed Diane and her mother to set aside their differences and begin building a relationship.
The Bible declares that parents are worthy of honor, and honor gives hope and encouragement when parents need it most. You can never totally repay your parents for what they gave you. But you can try.
A written tribute can be an island of appreciation in a sea of form letters and impersonal communications. I have found that parents don’t care if you’re a gifted writer, grammarian or spelling-bee champion. They feel honored by the fact that you are speaking from your heart.
Here are a few suggested steps in writing a tribute.
Once you decide to write a tribute for your parents, spend some time examining your heart.
Ask yourself some questions: Are you willing to look at your parents through the eyes of Christ? Are you looking to God rather than your parents for approval? Are your motives pure? Do you expect anything in return? Are you prepared to honor them regardless of their response?
Think back over your childhood. Can you remember a favorite vacation? A funny episode? A lesson your parents taught you? What character traits typify your dad or mom?
Don’t worry about being fancy. Just tell the story as if you are talking to a friend. If you plan to honor both parents, decide whether you want to write two individual tributes or one to both.
Start with a statement telling why you have written this tribute. Then look over your memory list. This will help you capture your thoughts and statements of gratitude. Have another person — a friend or a spouse — read your tribute. He or she may spot problems you haven’t thought of or catch a phrase that, while clear to you, is unclear to an outsider.
When you’re finished writing your tribute, design the gift for your parents. Create a clean version of the document, suitable for framing. Use a computer with word processing, have your document typeset by a local graphic designer or hire a calligrapher. If you choose, add photos, artwork or other mementos.
Here are a few ideas to bring additional honor to your parents:
I wrote a tribute to my father nearly 10 years after he died. I have no idea whether those in heaven are able to see what happens here on earth, but I do know he would have been pleased. And I am certain of this: God sees, and He is pleased with the tribute I wrote because it honors my dad.
The only thing better would have been to have read it to him in person.
© 2014 Dennis Rainey. All rights reserved. Adapted with permission from “The Forgotten Commandment” (Little Rock, FamilyLife Publishing). For more helpful information on strengthening your marriage and family, please visit www.familylife.com.
Though we wish it were so, the reality of life is not always a Cinderella story. But during some difficult days, I learned there was something better than a magic wand to wave away my troubles.
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