Honor Your Father and Your Mother
One of two positive commands
Most of the commandments in the Decalogue are prohibitions, "You shall not have any other gods", "You shall not steal ." When God prohibits something, He is very specific. You know exactly what He doesn't want you to do. Adam heard God forbid his eating from one of the trees in the garden. He was free to eat of all the rest. A prohibition offers a huge amount of freedom because what is not prohibited is allowed.
On the other hand there are positive commands in Scripture. Two are found in the Decalogue: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" and "Honor your father and your mother." Positive commands are often deliberately vague. Yes, there were very specific prohibitions associated with the Sabbath, but these were part of the ceremonial and civil applications of the Ten Commandments which became obsolete after Christ. How do you know when you've remembered the Sabbath day enough? How do you know when you've honored you father and mother enough? You don't!
Not a code of conduct
There is a very common, but mistaken, belief that the Ten Commandments are Christianity's code of conduct, which when kept sincerely, even if not perfectly, gain for us the right to enter heaven. This view leads to an obsession with being right. Further, holding this notion requires you to define very precisely where the line is and when you've crossed it. Jesus condemned the pharisees for this approach to the commands of God. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness." Matthew 23:23
If not a code of conduct, what are the Ten Commandments? They provide window into the depths of God's heart. By the commandments, God communicates, "If you love me, these are the things that will be important to you." To the degree that a Christian lives by the Ten Commandments he demonstrates the transforming work of God's grace on his heart. See, grace turns our human way of assessing success on its head. We are bean counters, score keepers, strategic planners. We are constantly asking, "Have we done enough? Paid enough? Suffered enough?" That's why, when God gets vague with us, it drives us crazy.
Now with the above as introductory background, let's think about what it means to honor one's parents. Romans 13:7 urges, "Pay to all what is owed them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed." The implication here is that respect and honor are not inalienable personal rights. If not rights, then what? There are two grounds on which to honor someone. One is merit. Does the individual deserve deference? The second is position. Does the person hold a post that requires special honor. Usually this post is conferred by law as in the presidency. The ideal, of course is that those who hold a position of honor also merit it. But that is not always the case.
With regard to parents, they hold a position of honor in our lives granted to them by the fifth commandment. But not all parents merit that honor. Certainly the abusive parent has forfeited all rights to honor from his children. And yet, she holds a position of honor. Children in this situation need special understanding and counsel. I wouldn't presume to offer that from afar.
A more common situation
Not long ago while driving, my cell phone dinged a text message, "slow down!" Turned out my son-in-law had been following me. I'd been edging toward 60 on a 45 mile an hour road. Of course I gave him a hard time over it. But down deep I felt honored. He cared for my safety. We'll not go into why he was texting while following me. As parents age there's a certain role reversal that takes place. Take it from this 71 year old.
Our normal desires become obsessive; our concerns become fears; our duties become optional and important things are forgotten (my daughter just called to ask if I'd let her dogs out this a.m. I forgot!). Where once we were capable of staying focused and on message, our minds now wander around grasping for who knows what? Caring children will understand this, listen with sympathy, but not jump to fulfill our every whim. We still hold a position of honor, but we may not merit it as much. This, not out of ill-will or malice, but due to diminished capacities.
Presence - a most precious honor
God makes many promises in Scripture, but only one is totally unconditional. That is his promise to be present. He doesn't promise freedom from pain. Nor does He promise riches, or fame. In fact God tells us that suffering is a fact of life. One thing we can count on is that He will be present.
That's a good template for honoring our parents. Whatever else we may say to them or do for them, what they need most is our presence. I don't mean have them live with you; though some may choose to do that. Rather, visit them, call them, write them. Let them know they are still special to you.
When God assures me of his presence, I can face anything. To a lesser, yet still important degree, when my kids check in with me, as in "slow down!", I'm ready for whatever comes down the pike.