On the final days of 2013, my wife and I reflected over dinner how our year had been. We reflected on our marriage, family, ministries and personal lives.
The 5th century BC philosopher Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Slowing down enough to reflect is a luxury for most and for that matter, we have lost the art self-reflection entirely. In fact for some, being quiet with oneself is unnerving, if not downright awkward. Maybe we are trying to avoid condemning ourselves for not doing enough. But if we don’t, by default we are perpetuating annually that holy discontent in each of us to live our life responsibly. Maybe others simply want to take time to just regain a certain measure of sanity in life by doing nothing at all.
The call for self-examination is also a common exhortation in the Bible. “What is your life? You are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) We are to do that regularly at Holy Communion: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Cor 11:28) We pray the words of the Psalmist “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Ps 139:22). We are to heed the call of godly men: “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.” (Lamentation 3:40) “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” (1 Cor 11:31)
In our evaluation of our family, let me share a thought. We do recognise that we are often quite harsh with our children, sometimes to the point of not being objective in our assessment of them. We need to also praise them for what they have done well, not just being corrected for what they did not. In fact, I think we should do more of the former.
If we look at the Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue, the first four have to do with our vertical relationship with God. The next six are related to human relationships and interactions. Interestingly, the remaining six biblical principles of the Decalogue on our horizontal relationship with others, honoring our parents was mentioned first.
“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you." (Deut. 5:16)
It seems to suggest that training a child to honor his parents has a long term effect for good, not just for the parents (obviously) but also for the child. It pleases God as well. If we unpack this further, we can confidently conclude that should we want to see how well a person will do in life, watch how he honors his parents. This has major implications in the way we parent our children. Often we look at the tangible successes of wealth, status and power, but we forget that these are not the things that bring significance, fulfilment and contentment in a person’s life. If that is so, we should see more of that in famous, wealthy and powerful people. But the truth is that we read about their downsides every day on the news.
Personally I have counselled many parents over the years grieving helplessly over their wayward adult children. Parents in their golden years are meant to enjoy the well-deserved honor and respect bestowed upon them by their children, but sadly the opposite is true. Maybe in our quest to do the best we can for them in what we think they want, we forget to train them in what they need. If children are to be trained to honor and respect their parents from young, where clear boundaries of discipline and relationship are drawn, the effect is far-reaching beyond their family. When the fifth commandment is taught well, there would not be a problem with the rest of the five horizontal commandments. It would have a backwash effect on the earlier vertical commandments of honoring God in their lives too.
We see the wisdom of God here that the root and foundation of a well lived godly life often starts in the home where our children spend the first 20 years of their lives in. As my wife and I reflect on our three boys, we ask ourselves the same questions, now that they are slowly one by one leaving the nest into the world: “Will they do well in life? Are they fifth commandment children?” If they are, it gives us a glimpse of what their life will be like, including our children’s children. Candidly among them, they have already discussed what role they will play in taking care of us when we are in our golden years. Ian will make sure we go on our holidays. Shaun will pay for our utility bills and Ashton offers to have us live with him. Not that we will tie them to it but Stella and I smile amusingly at their bantering but we have a glimpse of their hearts for us. This we know pleases the Lord.