Integrity of a Promise
Oct 16, 2017 03:00PM
● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
“I am sorry. I am going to have to cancel. I am overwhelmed with work and life right now.”
“I can’t get to this today like I promised. Probably not until next week or the week after.”
“I’m not going to be able to drive you there. Something has come up.”
“We are not able to attend as we originally planned. Please have a great celebration.”
Do any of these phrases sound familiar? Either you have said them recently, or someone has spoken them to you?
It isn’t a big deal when it happens once in a while, right? But what about repeat offenders? How does it make us feel when we are regularly cancelled on? Even when it’s a professional appointment, like a doctor’s office calling, we tend to find it flaky after a while, right?
After going through each statement with different folks in mind as your usual suspects, the ones who often don’t carry through, now read the list as your own statements.
Hmmmm. Me, too.
I find these self-reflection exercises so helpful in reassessing my priorities. I am a feeler so I’m naturally wired to process how other people feel. And lately, I’ve been hyperaware I have been letting people down.
To be honest, sometimes, it is about unfair expectations placed on us, but often, we are simply overextending ourselves. Even with good intentions, we fail to say “no” when we need to, and while that seems kind at the time, it demonstrates a lack of integrity if we repeatedly prove not to be true to our word.
“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
This verse has been circling round and round in my mind. Granted, this is Jesus speaking, and He is referring to taking oaths and the importance of honoring them. I could choose to blow past it and consider it very specific in context except that it was included in His Sermon on the Mount. He had a captive audience, and He was offering instruction to the crowd. The caution in it cannot be ignored. Like every word that came from The Word’s mouth (Jesus was called “the Word” in John 1:1), it breathes life and wisdom into us. It teaches us the way in which we should walk. It is a life manual to keep us safely within the lines of His blessing and under His protection.
Isaiah 30:21, ESV
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
So back to the “yes” and “no” teaching, I find it interesting that it follows Jesus speaking about divorce and the importance of keeping vows (with an exception listed). Jesus is setting up guardrails for our peace and covering. He knows full well the pain of broken covenant. His people had been breaking covenant with Him ever since the apple tasting in the Garden of Eden. Because God’s heart breaks when we sever the covenant relationship, He warns us as well.
Hosea 11:7-9, ESV
My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
Thank goodness, God doesn’t give up on us! According to Hosea, His heart “recoils within Him” when we break our promises to Him, but He loves us anyway.
Knowing that God hurts when we break covenant, we are not only not alone in the feelings we experience, but we are also responsible for the fallout when we cause it.
Yes, unexpected deadlines will crowd in at times and in different seasons. Yes, we will not be able to carry through with plans all of the time. Interruptions and inconveniences happen: flat tires, illness, unexpected visitors, growing deadlines.
But we might want to ask ourselves a few questions in order to keep our “yes” “yes” and our “no” “no”:
- Do I commit out of obligation but already know at the time I am likely going to cancel?
- Do I overschedule myself for unhealthy reasons such as feeling more important (low self-esteem), guilt, etc.?
- Do I have a consistent time management problem? (Am I being unrealistic about my schedule?)
- Do my cancellations result from anxiety or an inability to cope?
- Do I take commitments lightly?
- Do I consider my own schedule more important that that of others?
- Was that person counting on me, and do they have other resources?
- Does my calendar need to make more room for honoring promises, or do I need to stop making them during this season?
- Is there an unhealthy power element to my broken promises? Am I manipulating, needing control, or trying to communicate a lack of importance to the other person?
I find these lines from Matthew 5 completely intriguing:
And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
It is very significant that Jesus points out we cannot make one hair on our head white or black. We do not have control. I consider that statement humbling, bringing us back to a level playing field. He keeps it simple: “Yes” or “No.” He knows our need for control. We (humanity) grabbed that apple so easily in the garden. We would do it again in a heartbeat. We are control freaks. But He calls us to clarity and integrity, even going so far as to warn us not to swear promises and oaths by heaven, earth, or Jerusalem (see earlier verses).
And what about this: anything more than this comes from evil?
When we go outside His boundaries, we are led into temptation. We hurt others. Things unravel.
We can’t predict tomorrow. We can plan, but ultimately we don’t hold the reins.
Proverbs 16:9, ESV
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
I don’t beat myself up for having a cancellation now and again. It happens to all of us. But if my behavior is such that my own schedule rises in importance above even well-intended promises I have made to other people, it is time to reflect on what that is communicating to the people I love or am in personal or professional relationships with.
Jesus considered promises and oaths important enough to merit a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. I think I need to pay attention and revisit the issue.
I know I’ve done damage in treating commitments casually. And I tend to avoid making plans with those who regularly disappoint or fail me as well.
I want to grow in this area. As in any other area of personal growth, it requires slowing down and being still. People matter, and my integrity represents Christ when I profess Him. Likewise, my lack of integrity misrepresents Him (anything more than this comes from evil), for He kept His promises—even to the blood-sweat on His brow and the nails in His hands and feet.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.