6 Ways My Sister Taught Me to Honor My Parents

by Julie Barrier

How do you treat your elders? Do you respect your aging parents, your frail grandmother, your annoying aunt with dementia? Do you consider them an inspiration, an inconvenience, or both?



Here are just a few key examples:


·      The first commandment of the “Big 10” reads: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:11


·      Moses sternly warns the Israelites. If they fear God, they will respect their seniors: “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:32


·      The Apostle Paul promises God’s favor for honoring elders: “Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Ephesians 6:2-3.


Joseph and Ham are two Bible characters that shed light on honoring parents. Joseph took care of Jacob. Ham disrespected Noah.


Jacob was not a model father. The patriarch’s past was tainted with deception, favoritism, human trafficking and rape. His eleven sons lied to their father for decades about the death of Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son.

However, Joseph honored his father even if Jacob was far from perfect. He summoned his aged father to Egypt. He forgave his brothers and reunited the family. He protected and provided for Jacob in his old age. Even Pharaoh the pagan ruler, knew how to revere Joseph’s elderly father.

Jacob died in Egypt, full of years. The Egyptians honored Joseph’s father. They took forty days to embalm Jacob. His family and friends carried him back to his homeland:

“So Joseph went up to bury his father; all Pharaoh’s officials went with him—the senior courtiers of his household, all the senior officials of the land of Egypt, all Joseph’s household, his brothers, and his father’s household…the great entourage mourned his death with bitter sorrow.” Genesis 50:7-8

Joseph truly honored Jacob.


Conversely, Ham dishonored his father Noah. He suffered dire consequences from his blatant disregard for his father’s dignity as recounted in Genesis 9:18-23:

“The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now Ham was the father of Canaan.  Noah, a man of the soil, began to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of the wine, he got drunk and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers who were outside. Shem and Japheth took the garment and placed it on their shoulders. Then they walked in backwards and covered up their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so they did not see their father’s nakedness.

When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor he learned what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, “Cursed be Canaan!”

Ham’s moment of disrespect caused dire consequences for his offspring for generations!


No one is perfect. All of us are fallen and fallible. The longer we live, the more mistakes we make. We must honor our elders because it is the will of God. It is our privilege.


So what do we learn from a historical perspective?


“The Romans made use of their elderly and had faith in their wisdom and experience,” Cicero wrote “…there is assuredly nothing dearer to a man than wisdom, and though age takes away all else, it undoubtedly brings us that.”


Do other cultures honor their elders?


In Chinese and Japanese cultures, filial piety, a virtue of respect for one’s father, elders, and ancestors from Confucian philosophy – is highly valued. Japan holds a national holiday every year on the third Monday of September to honor and show appreciation for the elderly. “Respect for the Aged Day” is a paid holiday from work where grandparents receive gifts and share a meal with their families. Indian and Native American families deeply value the wisdom of their elders. Multiple generations of Mediterranean and Latin families live under one roof.


Pulitzer prize winner Jared Diamond observes:

“Our American culture cherishes the values of independence, individualism and self-reliance. Older adults suffer as they inevitably lose some of these traits. Our work ethic implies that if you’re no longer working, you’ve lost the main value that society places on you” causes depression and low self-esteem. Retirement means losing social relationships, which, coupled with America’s high mobility, leaves many old people hundreds or even thousands of miles away from longtime friends and family.”


So how do we honor our elders? How do we bless and encourage them? I have watched my sister Kathy honor our aging parents for many years. My Mom has mid-stage Alzheimer’s and my Dad had multiple strokes with vascular dementia before he died two years ago. These are the invaluable lessons I learn from her.




My Dad, “Poppa,” was extremely independent. He did not want to admit he had trouble taking care of his home, paying his bills or driving his car safely. Kathy allowed him to do as much as he could and praised him for his competency, but prepared to oversee more challenging tasks. Now she supervises the nurses who provide 24-hour care for my Mom.




Kathy celebrates everything and everyone. She is the consummate hostess. Mom and Dad came to every birthday party, anniversary and holiday. One of my most treasured possessions is the photo Kathy staged with “Cutie,” “Poppa,” and all of our extended family just weeks before his death.




My parents were wise, godly people. Kathy brought her grandchildren over to their home and encouraged them to ask every question on their young minds! She bought a toy box full of books and puzzles to play with “Cutie and Poppa.” The great-grandkids listened with glee as Poppa recounted his adventures.




My parents grieved over relocating from their family home in Dallas to the smaller East Texas town where my sister lived. She comforted them and worked tirelessly to involve them in church and community events. Daddy loved the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market when he was alive. Kathy took time out of her busy schedule to enjoy apricot fried pies with him!



Cutie now asks the same questions over and over again. “Where’s Poppa?” After 63 years of blissful marriage, Mom keenly senses the loss of her Other Half. Instead of getting frustrated, Kathy gently reminds her that Poppa is in heaven. She patiently finds Mom’s purse for the 67th time after mom moves it.




Kathy is a prayer warrior. She constantly prays for Cutie to have God’s peace in the loss of her husband. She prays for each one of Mom’s caregivers. She prays for wisdom and strength to love own children and grandchildren more each day.


I can’t tell you how much I admire my sister for honoring my parents!


For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’  Matthew 25:35-40



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