Most of us are first made to read Shakespeare before we have enough life experience to even partially understand his genius. It wasn’t until I was teaching King Lear in senior English – and had a daughter of my own – before I realized King Lear was so much about his tangled relationship with his daughters and desperate attempt to pass off responsibility without giving up privilege. It was the tragic tale of a father demanding love and honor – things that could only be earned.
Years went by and I didn’t reread King Lear until much later when I was co-teaching “The Wise Art of Giving” with Os Guinness and Dan Russ at the Trinity Forum. Something happened I have never forgotten or even fully appreciated until recently. Successful, wealthy men in midlife were sitting around a table looking for ways to leave a legacy to their children but, instead, were taught far deeper wisdom through Shakespeare’s play. These men for the first time saw themselves in Lear and it brought them to tears. Shakespeare’s words had become a mirror and not merely a drama.
And just like Lear, the men had been oblivious to why and how their children might not honor them in the ways they expected. They too realized how they had used power, control and privileges to bind their children to themselves. All this came from rereading – and for the first time understanding – something each of us had read so many years ago
“Honor your father and mother so that it may go well with you,” is something we often talk about in Christian circles. We have mistakenly taught obedience as an end in itself instead of a means to a better end. In limiting the instruction to honor parents by obedience we have missed our own responsibility to be honorable and ourselves worthy of the honor we expect.
God is worthy of honor and glory by virtue of being honorable himself. The same should be true of us. We are to be worthy of honor and respect.
So what does it look like for us as parents and grandparents to honor our children and grandchildren – and be worthy of receiving honor?
I like to study the roots of words. “Honor” is the Hebrew word “kabod” which describes weight, glory and substance. It is not the heaviness of a burden but more like the weight of a ballast that gives stability and integrity.
Learning what it means to honor God (and each other) comes from the tradition of wisdom being passed along through generations of real people knitted together over a long time. It is not a sudden revelation. It is absorbed from parents and children listening to each other’s lives.
I had an advantage because my father wrote down his poetry, letters and thoughts. At one point his instruction meant almost nothing to me as I had no life experience to connect with what he was saying. When after his death I was able to circle back later in life I would read his words and think “I felt that! That’s true for me, too!” I was finally able to hear him in a way I simply wasn’t ready for when younger. The same will be true for you, I hope.
With my own daughters, I have found taking the time to listen has been one of the most valuable things I have done to honor them not only as my daughters but as individuals and adults. I am genuinely interested in their lives and they continually teach me things I wouldn’t understand otherwise.
I’ve worked hard continuing to grow and remain open to their “rereading” my life as things that shaped me could not be understood or valued by them when they were children. Truth be told, I didn’t have much wisdom to impart to them when I was younger. I had rules and structure to offer my children. I had the basic “grammar” of being a parent, but I didn’t have much to say. For too many years I thought my role was primarily launching them when they were old enough to leave. It’s not true. Our role is to be a lifelong source of wisdom for them and to keep earning the privilege of being honored – not just obeyed.
To be worthy of honor is to accept the responsibility of teaching and living in a way that matters. It is being an example of growing toward maturity. It is being fully aware of our role to be a source of wisdom that matures – not one who stopped growing. It is welcoming age and the continuing obligations we have to pass on wisdom and, ultimately, to give ourselves away to those we love.