We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot. ~Abraham Lincoln
I suppose that breaking a promise is not such a big deal anymore. It is so common to be disillusioned that we almost expect it. A journalist from the early part of the 20th century said, “Half the promises people say were never kept, were never made.” But I still think that most promises that get made are never kept.
It starts early, learning to make vows that we do not intend to keep. Maybe you remember impatiently waiting in a hot car for Mom to finish up her errands on the promise of stopping at the DQ on the way home? Odds are that Mom took longer than she planned and so she found a way of placating you with yet some other promise to be carried out at a later time; a promise that was forgotten almost as soon as it was made.
And how about the good grade incentives? Maybe it was a dollar for every A; until Dad saw that the A was in Physical Education or Citizenship.
When your brother who had his own room moved out, you expected to get the promised room of your own. No more sharing with your sister. But your Dad had his eye on that empty space for his man cave and suddenly, Mom and Dad are prepared with talks about how sharing a room prepares you for the future college roommate; helps you develop character.
Soon we were using promises ourselves as our own kind of ‘credit’ program. We learned young that making promises are a good way of manipulating others to get what we want, deferring the payment to a later time. We promised to floss for the priveldge of going to a sleepover. You promised to take a bath to stay up a little later. Treat now, eat all your dinner later.
Once, a two-year-old disappeared during a lakeside vacation. After relatives searched the forest and the shoreline, everyone was relieved when they found the child playing calmly in the woods.
“Listen to me, Matthew,” his mother said sharply. “From now on when you want to go someplace, you tell Mommy first, okay?”
Matthew thought about that for a moment and said, “Okay. Disney World.”
-Reader’s digest: submitted by Leah Hallenbeck
I’m just being funny. You know that didn’t get any consideration. But even in the mind of a two year old, a little promise negotiating is sure worth a try.
Anyway, with regard to making and keeping promises, we should be aware that we are creating an image. When we believe that we can make large promises, never intending to keep those promises, for our words cost us nothing, we are soon identified as an impostor, and others learn to keep their distance. We might associate this kind of promise making with politicians. But politicians get started as everyday people who become skilled at conning others with their good intentions. As Shakespeare said, “ A politician is one that would circumvent God.”
And how about those promises to God? Made in the privacy of our bedroom, our car, our office, are they less binding than those we make in front of the world? Some might say that those promises are even more sacrosanct because we are making them to ourselves as well as with Diety.
My husband and I once agreed to tithe. We made a promise to ourselves and to our Heavenly Father to faithfully give 10% of all our income. Though it meant making sacrifices to do so, we were able to keep the commitment for quite a long time. Then, one day, Bill said that he thought that ‘just this once’ we should probably use our tithing money in some other way. Now, many years later, I cannot remember how it was spent. But I do remember the aftermath.
The day after the money was redirected, I found myself stranded in the store parking lot with a crying baby, when the wiring harness in the old car we drove burned up under the dash. I got a ride home and found that my refrigerator had quit running. When Bill arrived home to find the counters loaded with the perishables I could save in my neighbor’s freezer, he announced that he had been ‘laid off.’
I began to wonder if God curses a person who breaks promises to Him. I called my father to ask him what he thought. He said, “God does not curse you. He simply withdraws His blessings.”
I learned a simple law that day about breaking promises to God, or to anyone else.
Sooner or later, breaking promises comes with a price.