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Mrs. Hemingway’s Bank

By Joshua Harris
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #10, 1995.

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Joshua Harris


What does it mean to be a grown-up? At the end of this year I turn 21 years old. As I approach this symbolic birthday, I realize my ideas about adulthood have been mixed up.

Even though a big part of growing up is being able to stand on your own feet, a focus on achieving independence and self-sufficiency can crowd out gratitude. Young adults often see the journey to adulthood as a process of shedding dependence on their parents. But I’m beginning to realize that true maturity isn’t measured in the dependency we can throw off, but in the responsibility we can take on. We mistakenly believe that maturity is not needing others, when in fact maturity is responding as servants to those who need us.

How many of us make the same mistake the nine ungrateful lepers of Jesus’ day made? In our excitement about our own lives and expanding horizons we rush on our way without a thought to go back and thank those who made these opportunities possible. I am convinced that 80% of the conflicts I see my college-age peers facing with their parents would be solved if they looked through eyes of gratitude instead of a self centeredness that asks, “Why do I need them anymore?”

Grace Hemingway, the mother of the famous and dissolute author, Ernest Hemingway, saw this ingratitude in her son and unsuccessfully tried to correct it. Paul Johnson, in his book Intellectuals, records a letter in which Mrs. Hemingway compared a mother’s life to a bank: “Every child that is born to her enters the world with a large and prosperous bank account, seemingly inexhaustible.” The child draws and draws— “no deposits during all the early years.” Then up to adolescence, “while the bank is heavily drawn upon,” there are “a few deposits of pennies, in the way of some services willingly done, some thoughtfulness and ‘thank you.’”

With manhood, while the bank goes on handing out love and sympathy:

“The account needs some deposits by this time, some good-sized ones in the way of gratitude and appreciation, interest in Mother’s ideas and affairs. Little comforts provided for the home; a desire to favour any of Mother’s peculiar prejudices, on no account to outrage her ideas. Flowers, fruit or candy, or something pretty to wear, brought home to Mother with a kiss and a squeeze. . .deposits which keep the account in good standing.”

Have you made any deposits lately? If a sense of gratitude and familial affection isn’t enough motivation, God has promised to bless those that honor their parents. In Ephesians 6:2-3 Paul exhorts the believers to “‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

The ways you can honor your dad and mom will be different than those of other people. A spirit of gratitude shows itself in big and small ways. Whether your mom needs the special gifts Mrs. Hemingway wrote of, “brought home with a kiss and a squeeze,” or the more practical expression of a chore cheerfully completed, be on the lookout for your opportunities.

And above all, enjoy your parents. Just appreciate them in spite of their imperfections. Don’t let another day go by that you don’t make a deposit in the account that has given so much to you. I have a feeling that someday you and I will want our kids to do the same.


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