At one time or another, most of us have “borrowed” money from our parents. The loan may have been the proverbial advance on the allowance or a promise to do extra chores in return for extra cash, but most of us at least tried to get a little extra at some point. And, if you are like most kids, you never repaid any of those debts.
In I Timothy 5:4, Paul tells Timothy “children… [should] requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.” “Requite” literally means “to repay, recompense, or render back.” In other words, adult children have a responsibility to care for their parents in their times of need. Specifically here, Timothy was to instruct children to care for their mothers who were widowed instead of shoving the responsibility on the church.
In Paul’s day, a widowed woman would have been destitute or close to it. In most ancient societies, no husband also meant no income, no food, and a very bad (and short) outlook on life. If members of the extended family did not take the widow under their care she was helpless.
The issue of widows must have been a hot topic since Paul devotes more than 10 verses to clarify the matter and give Timothy some parameters within which to operate. The church did have a benevolence responsibility to true widows; however, the first line of defense for these women was to be their own families and specifically, their own children.
For believers today this is an interesting topic. Life spans have increased. You have 70-year-old children with 90-year-old parents and their 50-year-old grandchildren/children are trying to figure out how to care for both groups. What does “repay” look like for those of us in these demographics? How do we balance the “repaying” while caring for our own families?
The first thing to remember is that inactivity is not an option. The principle in Paul’s command is unwavering. You are responsible to do something, or at least try to do something. Even if you don’t have Christian parents you still need to do this “repaying.” When your parents are in need, you need to find a way to help. Financially, you may not be able to do much but it’s your responsibility to try.
Government programs and assistance for retirees can certainly be helpful and there may be more help available than you realize. You may need to take some time to explore benefits and eligibility requirements. Don’t be shy about looking for assistance. Your parents/grandparents probably worked all their lives and contributed (paid taxes into) to these programs.
Have you considered helping them pay for long-term care insurance? No one likes the idea of a nursing home but your parent’s physical needs may be beyond your abilities. Skilled care may be the only solution and there is insurance to help pay for that eventuality. You also may need to consider moving a parent in with you so that you can care for them in a loving environment. An apartment added to your home may be less expensive than paying for assisted care at a professional facility. If they don’t need help now they may later. You really need to start thinking about it before the situation is emotionally charged by severe illness or urgency.
In the meantime, how are you “repaying” them right now? Are you faithful to call your parents? Little things like cards on birthdays and holidays make a big impact. Do you visit and make sure they know their grandchildren? If they can handle a computer you can email or Skype them. If they are local you can help with home maintenance. These are practical ways to “honor your parents” and, as Paul says, this is “good and acceptable before God.”
Our parents are our responsibility.
BTW, one word of advice to parents reading this…