8272572_sBernice and I did a lightning visit to Penang this last Monday to Wednesday (Jan 25th-27th, 2010.). We went to visit my mum. Widowed, she lives with a maid in her home in Pulau Tikus. We have asked her to live with us in Singapore many times, but like many Penang folk, she is not keen to leave her island. Besides, her primary social networks are there.

Mum will be eighty-three this year and I wonder how much time I will have with her. In truth nobody knows when their time is up and I may die first. Still, in the normal course of things, I tell myself that I have to be prepared to bid her goodbye. Our times together are extra precious now.

Bernice and I have our hands full with ministry, church and family here in Singapore. And when we do go back to Malaysia, it’s usually to Kuala Lumpur where we still have ministry responsibilities. I was thinking that I should go back to Penang to see mum at least once a quarter but it suddenly dawned on me that four times a year is precious little for an only son to see his aging mother.

We are still encouraging mum to visit us in Singapore but I need to go home more often. The pragmatic side of me is trying to find more ministry gigs in Penang so I can visit mum and also do some work there but even if there is no work I will still try to visit mum more frequently. Indeed with so many budget airlines now flying between Singapore and Penang I have little excuse for not doing so.

No brownie points for trying to visit mum more often. Honouring parents is a command taught in both the Old and the New Testaments (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2-3). Here are some thoughts from Bruce K. Waltke about the fifth commandment.

. . .to honor one’s parents is to esteem them as having value . . . “To honor” exalts the object. (Old Testament Theology, Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 2007, 425)

The commandment has several implications. First to honor parents involves taking care of them (cf. Exod. 21:15, 17; Lev. 20:19; Deut. 27:16; Prov. 19:26). (Waltke, 426)

The Bible also teaches that mothers together with fathers, are responsible for teaching their children about life, and that the son who remembers his parents teaching is wise (Proverbs 1:8; 6:20). I continue to learn from mum.

Whenever we talk about the political problems Malaysia is facing, or the ravages of the global economic downturn, mum would say “Ah, but this is nothing compared to what we went through in World War Two.” She is right of course. I don’t think she is making light of the problems we are facing today but her experience of having survived World War Two does help us to put things in clearer perspective. More than that, mum’s faith and tenacity, which has seen her through so much, inspire us to face life with the same bold faith.

(Incidentally, learning from mum reinforces my own resistance to generation specific services, like services purely for youth or purely for seniors. The different generations have so much to offer each other. We deprive ourselves of the wisdom of other generations when we segregate a church along generational lines.)

This trip, mum also said a few times that I was someone who “ai-bin,” literally, someone who “desires face.” It means that I was someone who hungers for fame and for the limelight. She said it in jest, in the course of commenting on some of my youthful achievements. But on further thought, her teasing is a timely word. As our ministry continues to grow, the threat of the growth of unhealthy pride is real. And “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18 TNIV).” Thanks, mum. I continue to learn from you.

Since mum still has so much to teach me, visiting her more often is not just for her sake. It is also very much for mine. Next visit, Lunar New Year.