I can’t begin to explain how many times I’ve made promises I couldn’t keep. At one point in my life, promises were so frequent that I knew before I finished my oaths that I wouldn’t succeed in keeping them. It’s awkward to have a friend, loved one, fellow christian shun you because you’ve failed them. Again. You’re embarrassed when you come face-to-face with those you’ve made promises to. Your eyes meet for a moment, but the pain and anger behind their eyes linger long after you part.
You find it hard to sleep at night. You kick the dog, yell at the children, burn your dinner, leave work assignments incomplete, irritate your spouse. All because of your guilt. It eats away at you. Apologies burn the edges of your lips, but you can’t find the courage to expose your wrong. How many times will you trick yourself into believing there’s no way people you’ve wronged will remember what you had promised to do? But deep in your gut you know they remember. You can see it in their eyes. You can feel it as they come ever nearer to you.
What are you to do?
God made a promise to Abraham. The promise didn’t depend on Israel’s faithfulness. God made an oath and kept it. When things got way out of hand, God punished Israel and made them wander in the desert for 40 years. Later, when they continued to disobey him, he had other nations enslave them. He constantly reminded them that he is the Lord God (Deuteronomy 4:32-40) and that they should keep his commandments. But not once did he ever say he’d renege on his promise. They would inherit the land just as he promised even if it was a generation or two later.
Too often you and I can’t see past our next 24 hours before we’re bombarded with the what ifs of this life. We stack one task after another onto our plate and refuse to use our common sense to say “no” when we can’t do any more. What if the musician doesn’t show up for the school play? Ever thought about going a capella? The kids know the words to the song. They’ve sung it a thousand times.
Some of us are just—can I be blunt here?—lazy. We hide behind our hurt and refuse to do anything for anyone. We’ve been wronged. And we can’t get over it. Someone somewhere made a promise and didn’t keep it.
Others use godly ministries as a springboard to success—to build our resumes so we can prove worthy. Our interchange with one another is driven by this self-inflicted pressure. This pressure determines our way of speech, our out-of-character friendliness, our dismissive behavior toward those of lesser stature. We want to look important; to out-do the next fellow; to be known as the one people seek for advice, leadership, love, and benevolence.
The god in your life has become an earthly tabernacle of greed; a self-serving ministry.
To get rid of this stigmatism that you’ve created for yourself, you continue to take on more and more work that you can’t possibly fulfill.
I would suggest you delegate the work to others, but even that becomes part of your power-hungry struggle to feel important. Bossing others around is the perfect fuel for your self-serving ministry, don’t you think?
What are you to do?
It’s time for you to stand still and recall each and every infraction made against your brother. You might ask: “Won’t this overwhelm me?” Of course it will. But you’ll also begin to experience some of the pain others feel over your inability to keep your word.
I promise . . .
How many promises have you broken?
Trust is the most sacred thing among men. Long ago, to seal a transaction, all two men had to do was shake hands. Try doing that today?
People trust and respect those who keep their word. People will give their last meal, last coat to those who keep their word.
A promise is all Jesus had before he made the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus relinquished ALL control and trusted God to raise him from the dead. And God kept his promise. After being enslaved for many years, the prophets reminded Israel what they must do to gain God’s favor. Without hesitation, they knew God would keep his word. How did they know? They remembered how God gave birth to a nation out of a nation (Deuteronomy 4) and brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey. They remembered the ten plagues; the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They remembered . . .
Today when cancer comes out of a doctor’s mouth, we hold tight to God’s promises:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.” (Revelation 21:1-7)
And we hold on to these promises whether we remain in this life or not.
When a man and woman marry, they made a promise to stay together until death separates them. When either party breaks this vow, there is a brokenness beyond words that forever hovers over them. And so it is with those with whom you’ve made promises.
I promise . . .
I promise . . .
Tell me again how many promises you have broken?
When you promise to buy your child a uniform, save money for her college education, take him to a baseball game, or attend her school function, you are exposing who you really are. If you keep your word, you gain favor and respect from your child. If you don’t, the trust is broken. Perhaps forever. Before long, not only can’t your child depend on you, your employer can’t depend on you either. Neither can your spouse, your family, or your neighbors.
Then the walls of your self-serving ministry collapse. You are left wondering who is to blame.
If only I hadn’t made all those promises . . .
I promise to never make another promise again.
But didn’t you just break the very promise you vowed not to make.
Seems hopeless doesn’t it?
If you’ll stand still for a moment and go through all the broken promises, how do you think you’ll feel? Can you possibly feel any worse than the person with whom you made the promise? No. But you can come close. No one feels good after going back on his word. Though it’s unfortunate, everybody loses. No one is left untouched.
The promiser is ashame.
The person to whom the promise was made is angry.
Those that witness the guilt and hurt lose trust.
Children learn to look at this despicable sin as normal.
And so the cycle continues.
To heal, you must end this sinful cycle and “confess your sins one to another” (James 5:16), no matter how embarrassing it may be. Apologies are like salve for the wounds. People need to hear your apologies and feel your sincerety. However, be mindful to not confuse excuses with apologies. Excuses and explanations only get you into deeper trouble. Besides, can you really explain away a broken promise? Rather, apologize by simply saying “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me. I did not do what I committed to do for you and I apologize.”
Your next step is to slow down and analyze what you are physically capable of doing. That takes guts! And honesty! At times, you’ll cringe at what little you can do. There’s only so many hours in a day. And you only have two arms. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with stopping in the middle of a conversation and giving the request some thought before you commit. Remember my words: “A moment of thought can avert potential shame.”
Always be in prayer, about everything.
If you’ve been overwhelmed with too many commitments, ask God for relief. The moment someone comes up to you, or calls you on the phone and says they’ve given someone else the job, don’t become bitter or angry because you wanted the job for yourself. Know that it’s an answer to your prayer and glorify God all the more.
To God be the glory! Amen!
Donna B. Comeaux
Freelance Writer, Author, Poet