When God spoke to Moses on the mountain and gave him the Ten Commandments, He included the commandment to honor our parents. He said: "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Exodus 20:12).
What did God mean when He commanded us to "honor" our parents? I believe that God meant for us to bring honor to our father and to our mother. We can honor them by showing our appreciation for them and for what they do for us. We can bring honor to them by showing respect to them by the way we speak to them and about them. We can honor them by asking for their counsel and following their advice. We can honor them by simply listening to them and acknowledging that they are important to us. We can honor them by following their good examples. We can honor our parents by living righteous lives.
The love of parents for their children and children for their parents is one of the strongest influences for good in the world. Many people - myself included - have been motivated to live good lives because of their love for their parents. Our lives may bring honor or shame not only to ourselves but to our parents as well. I suggest that each of us make a commit to ourselves right now that we will bring honor to our parents by living righteously. Living righteous lives brings honor to our parents whether or not they are still living.
The following story illustrates how Abraham Lincoln honored his mother long after she passed away.
"Abraham Lincoln, who became the sixteenth president of the
once traveled in a stagecoach with a military man, a colonel, from the state of
. "After riding a number of miles
together, the colonel took a bottle of whiskey out of his pocket, and said,
`Mr. Lincoln, won't you take a drink with me?' Kentucky
"Mr. Lincoln replied, `No, Colonel, thank you, I never drink whiskey.'
"They rode along together for a number of miles more, visiting very pleasantly, when the gentlemen from Kentucky reached into his pocket and brought out some cigars, saying, `Now, Mr. Lincoln, if you won't take a drink with me, won't you take a smoke with me? …"
"And Mr. Lincoln said, `Now Colonel, you are such a fine, agreeable man to travel with, maybe I ought to take a smoke with you. But before I do so, let me tell you a little story - an experience I had when a small boy.' And this was the story:
"`My mother called me to her bed one day when I was about nine years old. She was sick, very sick, and she said to me, "Abey, the doctor tells me I am not going to get well. I want you to promise me before I go that you will never use whiskey or tobacco as long as you live." And I promised my mother I never would. And up to this hour, Colonel, I have kept that promise. Now would you advise me to break that promise to my dear mother, and take a smoke with you?' …
"`No, Mr. Lincoln, I wouldn't have you do it for the world. It was one of the best promises you ever made. And I would give a thousand dollars today if I had made my mother a promise like that, and kept it as you have done'" ("Abraham Lincoln Keeps His Promise," A Story to Tell, comp. Primary Association General Board and Deseret Sunday School Union Board , 256-57).
We should honor our parents because they care about us, probably more than anyone else in the world cares about us. Our parents love us and want what is best for us. Our parents make a commitment to help us live happy and healthy lives, and they spend much time and effort to guide us and help us to become our best selves. They want us to be together for all eternity.
President Gordon B. Hinckley made the following statement to children of all ages: "Be true to your parents and your heritage. Regrettably there are a few parents who act in a way that does serious injustice to their children. But these cases are relatively few. No one has greater interest in your welfare, in your happiness, in your future than do your mothers and fathers…. They were once the age that you are now. Your problems are not substantially different from what theirs were. If they occasionally place restrictions on you, it is because they see danger down the road. Listen to them. What they ask you to do may not be to your liking. But you will be much happier if you do it" ("Stand True and Faithful," Ensign, May 1996, 92-93).
What did President Hinckley mean when he said, "Be true to your parents and your heritage"? He meant that we should bring honor to them. Honoring our parents can help us enjoy greater blessings and more happiness in life. Our parents can teach us how to succeed at our goals and how to receive the blessings they have received. Because of their experience, our parents can also help us avoid many of the mistakes they have made or seen others make.
There are numerous stories in the scriptures about how children honored or dishonored their parents. Two such stories are found in 1 Samuel 1-4. The first story is about a prophet named Samuel, and the second is about the sons of Eli, the priest.
Elkanah lived in
during the time of the
judges. Hannah, one of Elkanah's wives,
did not have any children. Each year
when Elkanah took his family to the tabernacle, Hannah prayed and asked God to
bless her with a child. Finally, Hannah
promised the Lord that if he would bless her with a son, she would give that
son back to serve the Lord all his life. Israel
The next year, Hannah had a son and named him Samuel. When Samuel was a young child, Hannah took him to the tabernacle and had him stay there and live with the high priest Eli. Samuel grew up in the tabernacle.
One night, as Samuel was going to sleep, he heard a voice call his name. He thought that it was Eli. He jumped out of bed and ran to see what Eli wanted. Eli told Samuel that he had not called him and told him to go back to bed. This happened three times. Finally Eli realized that it was the Lord that was calling Samuel. He told Samuel that the next time the voice called he should say, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth." Samuel did so. It was then, in his youth, that Samuel received the first of many revelations he received throughout his life. Samuel became a great Old Testament prophet.
Eli was the high priest in
Samuel's childhood. As Eli grew old, his
two sons helped him in the tabernacle.
Even though they worked in the tabernacle, Eli's sons were evil
men. They forcefully took the best meat
away from the men who came to the tabernacle to make sacrifices to God, and
they were immoral with the young women who came to the tabernacle to
worship. The people of Israel hated to
come to the tabernacle because of the wicked things Eli's sons were doing. Although Eli did not approve of his sons'
behavior, he did not stop them from doing evil in God's house. Israel
Finally the Lord prophesied that because Eli honored his sons more than he honored God, he and his sons would die. There would not be a priest left in Eli's family.
Soon after this prophecy, the country was at war with the Philistines. Both of Eli's sons were killed and the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines. When Eli heard about the death of his sons and the loss of the ark, he fell off his chair. He was old, and the fall broke his neck and killed him.
Samuel honored his parents by keeping God's commandments and living righteously. The sons of Eli brought dishonor and death to their father by unrighteous living. John the Beloved expressed my feelings as well as those of many parents when he wrote: "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (3 John 1:4).
Parents sometimes make mistakes, some which are very serious. When this is the case, children should still honor them by being respectful to them, living an honorable life, and obeying the commandments. Righteous children can be instrumental in helping parents to overcome their mistakes.
We can honor our parents by expressing our appreciation for them and to them. A father shared the following experience about how his son's appreciation for him helped him through a very difficult time.
"I was suffering from depression. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt sad and worn out. My 14-year-old son was like a light at the end of the tunnel. During those dark days when I would come home from work, cross and irritable, he would often be there playing the piano. He would always greet me with a cheerful hello, a hug, or some funny remark. He always made the weight on my shoulders feel a little lighter.
"There was not a specific thing that he did to show his appreciation. He just let me know that he loved me, that he appreciated how I tried to be kind and patient, and that he was willing to trust and obey me. And even more importantly, he seemed always to do what was right. That wasn't easy to do. I was not easy to get along with at the time. But as a parent, I needed his confidence. I thank God that he was there to love me.
"Now my illness has been cured. But still, there are few things in this world that build a parent's spirit like a child's expression of love or appreciation or his decision to do something good and right" (Preparing for Exaltation, 252-252).
Years ago, when my children asked for ideas for gifts, I suggested that they use the money they would spend on a gift for me and do something to help someone in need. Over the years I have received many notes from my children to tell me who they had chosen to help and why. Their notes have made my day and have been some of my best gifts.
President Spencer W. Kimball stated: "No gift purchased from a store can begin to match in value to parents some simple, sincere words of appreciation. Nothing we could give them would be more prized than righteous living for each youngster" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball , 348).
I suggest that each of us ask ourselves the following questions to determine if we are honoring our parents. 1) Am I respectful in the way I treat my parents? 2) Do I show respect in my choice of words and tone of voice when I speak to them? 3) Do I show respect in the way I talk to my friends about my parents? 4) Do I honor my parents by the way I live? 5) Am I a good example of others? 6) Am I honest and trustworthy? 7) Am I clean in every way? 8) Do I assist my parents and make their lives easier?
9) Am I grateful for what they do or have done for me? 10) Do I remember to say "Thank you"? 11) Do I forgive them when they make mistakes? 12) Do my words and actions show that I care about them? 13) Am I honoring my parents by living a Christlike life?
14) Am I trying to become like Jesus Christ?
I know that honoring our parents is important whether or not they are living. I know that blessings will come to us as we bring honor to our parents. I hope that all of us will consider the consequences of our words and actions and ask ourselves often "Am I doing my best to honor my parents?" I know that God will bless us for keeping this commandment because He promised to do so. He said, "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Exodus 20:12).