Honor your father and your mother . . . (Exodus 20:12)
“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a dumpster.”
That wasn’t what I expected when I began reading the first page of Jeannette Walls’s gripping memoir, The Glass Castle. That opening line doesn’t turn out to be a weird image from a dream or some kind of metaphor with which Walls interprets her life story. What she says she saw, she actually saw: Her own mother scouring trash for discarded treasure, clothes bedraggled and skin weathered from life on the streets in New York City.
Walls remembers, “I slid down in the seat and asked the driver to turn around and take me home to Park Avenue.” But she couldn’t get the sight out of her mind; the comforts of her home stirred self-loathing. “I was ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.”
The opening scene of Walls’s story evokes questions that keep us reading. How was such a thing possible? What does she do? Walls spends the rest of the book answering those questions, unfolding the story of a nomadic childhood with parents who were always on the verge of striking gold but were constantly striking out. Striking out, packing up and running away to the next gold mine.
There’s always a story.
God tells us to honor our father and mother. But there’s always a story that makes this particular command far more complex than it sounds. And quite often we look to that story as a kind of exemption - the more painful the story, the less binding the commandment.
Jeannette Walls tells an unusually stark tale, taking us to scenes of genuine joy as well as experiences of profound pain. She remembers her parents with deep gratitude and deep heartache. She tells her story in such a way that we sense is she is being completely honest about the life her parents gave her, and yet she somehow manages to honor her parents. She couldn’t save them or fix them. But still she honored them.
This week we’ll be thinking about what it means to honor our parents. For some of you this will be simple and effortless. Others of you have claimed exemptions because the story you have to tell is hard one. The web of relationships between parents and children can be complex. Still, the commandment stands.
Before the week is over, identify a specific step you can take that will honor you parents. Maybe a good beginning today would be prayer. There is grace in every story. Even Jeannette Walls saw grace in the story of her Mom and Dad. Look closely. You’ll see it too in your story.
Pray for your parents. Give thanks for them. They are worthy of the honor God commands us to show.
We give you thanks, O God, for the gift of parents. As we think of those who raised us, give us eyes to see the grace in our story. Help us to show grace to our children. And grant us grace that we might obey your command to honor our parents, we ask in the name of your Son, Jesus our Lord. Amen.