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Not just kids' stuff

Longer life expectancies give new perspective on the Fifth Commandment

Issue: "Back to School," Aug. 27, 2011

If just one of the Ten Commandments seems directed especially at children, which would you say it is?

That's not so hard, you reply. It's the Fifth Commandment, of course-the one that says, "Honor your father and your mother." If you're really with it, you remember that this is the first commandment with a promise attached. "Honor your father and mother-that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you."

Do it right, and you get not just the immediate surface benefits that come with doing what God says is right, but extra points as well. It's a bonus question-the kind of thing kids love.

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But I've been startled in recent days to discover that it's not only kids who have to think about honoring their moms and their dads. I turned 70 earlier this month-and surprising as it may seem, I'm finding scores and even hundreds of people in my age group who are preoccupied with what it means to honor their parents.

It's the result of a whole new demographic the world has never experienced. Because life expectancy just keeps extending itself, the earth is increasingly dominated by the highest proportion of older people we've ever known. So the challenge is on us: Will we ignore that elderly cohort? Will we just tolerate them? Or will we honor them?

For my wife Carol Esther and me, the challenge has come on two fronts-one personal, and the other communal.

As you read these lines, we'll be spending the last part of August moving her parents, now approaching their 90s, into our Asheville, N.C., home to live with us. Carol's father retired some years ago from Conrail and enjoys a modest pension. He's also a South Pacific veteran of World War II and qualifies for a variety of benefits Uncle Sam provides to aging soldiers. But he's also a victim of Alzheimer's, needing extra personal care. So we're persuaded the best way we can honor her parents' present situation is to hold them close while they walk through this darkening valley.

We understand that not everybody gets to do that. Our home, our schedules, our circumstances, and our sense of God's call lend themselves-we think!-to an adventure of this nature. Not for a second are we suggesting it's the right approach for everyone wanting to honor aging parents.

Indeed, that's why Carol and I have also happily added our energy and time to the development of a proposed nonprofit "active adult living community" called Brow Wood-a place where full-of-life Christians sharing many similar values can choose from a variety of secure living situations. They can plan and build full-scale homes. They may want less ambitious cottage quarters, or even more modest independent living in condominium-type apartments. They may want to be sure emergency help is nearby if they need it. Or they may already be seeking assisted living-with meals provided and future access to skilled physical and mental services.

All this we are developing in a magnificent master-planned community high on a bluff of Lookout Mountain, Ga. Brow Wood has close access to metropolitan Chattanooga and is adjacent to the 350-acre campus of Covenant College, providing access to many of its academic, musical, athletic, and cultural benefits. You can learn much more by sending me a note or email, or just by going to And you might well start getting acquainted with similar developments in your own area of the country.

My point in mentioning all this here is to illustrate the energetic range of possibilities open to folks-at any age-who are serious about honoring their parents. But a word of warning seems appropriate. The possibilities are so boundless, and the variety (including the range in costs) so extensive, that no one should procrastinate in launching the process of learning all you need to know. Carol and I have been at it, pretty seriously, for five years now. And we still feel, in some senses, that we're just little kids beginning to learn how to be serious about the Fifth Commandment.

Email Joel Belz

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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