On the Making & Keeping of Promises

This past weekend I watched dear friends stand hand in hand and commit their lives to each other. My dad officiated the wedding, and he introduced the vows as he always does: “Now we come to the most important part of the ceremony.”

Without the making of promises, there would be no wedding because the ceremony, like the marriage, points to greater realities. God has made promises to us.

Lewis B. Smedes writes, “Human destiny rests on a promise freely given and reliably remembered. Besides providing a believing basis for hope, this means that whenever you and I make and keep a promise we are as close to being like God as we can ever be.”

When my friends made their vows, they bore God’s image beautifully. As they keep those promises, their imaging of God to our shared community will become lovelier by the day.

“When you make a promise,” Smede continues, “you tie yourself to other persons by the unseen fibers of loyalty. You agree to stick with people you are stuck with. When everything else tells them they can count on nothing, they count on you…A promise, then, is the human essence of freedom after the style of God—it is your freedom to be there with someone even though you cannot tell what ‘being there’ is going to be like for you.”

Kathleen Norris agrees, “The very nature of marriage means saying yes before you know what it will cost. Though you may say the, ‘I do’ of the wedding ritual in all sincerity, it is the testing of that vow over time that makes you married.”

When we make our promises, we know so little of what they will cost us. We do not know what the better or worse will be. The sickness and health are a mystery. The richer or poorer unknowns.

We may be surprised by the person we made our promises too. We will certainly be disappointed by ourselves.

Why would anyone make a promise it will take a lifetime to keep?

If our promises are grounded by our feelings or assured by our circumstances, we will be paralyzed by fear. We can never be sure of the future- not our future selves or our future spouses.

We can only be sure of God. 

Zechariah 1:11 gives us insight into God as a promise keeper. The people of Israel were people of promise. God had declared them His and promised to loyally love them. Seventy years post exile a cry goes up for mercy. God graciously reassures them, “the Lord will again comfort Zion and again choose Jerusalem.” Again. He has already comforted. He has already chosen. But He will do it again.

God’s people are the choice He keeps making. 

God keeps His promises to us day in and day out. His choice of us, His love for us, could not be more secure because He makes that choice over and over.

Last Saturday, I watched promises being made in a wedding ceremony.

Last Friday, I made promises of my own. My husband and I went before the court to legally complete the adoption of our son and daughter. We raised our right hands, and we said yes to these two children forever.

We are not strangers to the sorrow that runs through their stories, but we have watched with joy as God has begun making all things new. Even still, we cannot know everything this yes will mean. We don’t have to.

The promise will keep us. 

We love our children fiercely. Nothing has made us happier than being their parents. But as Smede writes, “A family is created and kept together, not because parenting is so much fun, but because two people dared to make and dared to keep their promise.”

So we will keep this promise. Night after night, we will pull our children close, comfort them to sleep, and remind them- you are a son, you are a daughter. Morning after morning, we will wake up into the responsibilities each new day brings and we will choose to be their parents again and again. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. 

So from ceremonies to courthouses, let us be people unafraid of covenant. We are most like our Maker when we commit ourselves to lifetimes of love. We can make our promises fearlessly and keep them faithfully. We can choose our spouses and our children and our churches again and again. God will keep choosing us. And He will keep all of His promises.

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