What Did You Promise Yourself?

Driving home down that same highway
Sun in my eyes this time
Trying to find a song on the radio
A tune I haven’t heard a million times before
Something that resonates with my mood today
Reliving today’s missed opportunities
What’s at home for dinner?
This life is still strange to me
I don’t have the right rhythm yet for this new dance
I promise I’m going to figure this out
And continue to become who I’m supposed to be

“Sometimes people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them. But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway.” ― John Green,

Twice over the past six months I’ve heard different people say that the promise of a marriage was worth breaking if happiness was at stake. This was hard for me to hear. My wife and I were married for 35 years and spent the last five of those years fighting cancer together. She was so strong and valiant. While I wasn’t always a very nice caregiver (think Nurse Ratchet), I never thought about jumping ship. We weren’t very happy during this battle. But leaving our marriage never crossed my mind. Now, over those 35 years we had many ups and downs. I honestly don’t think either of us spent much time tossing around the idea that abandoning our marriage was one of the choices we could consider. Regardless of how happy we were at any given moment.

“A good marriage is supposed to be one where each spouse secretly thinks he or she got the better deal.” ― Anne Lamott

The more I think about it, I wonder if it’s the promise to someone else that’s easier to back out of?  Don’t you think we live in a world where commitment is never certain in anything anymore? People back out of contracts, loans, friendships, etc. every day. Maybe it’s always been like that?

Are most people living together rather than getting married today because they area afraid to make promises they can’t keep?

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My subject is marriage but the promise that I think is essential here is the one we make to ourselves first.  I believe it’s the promise we make to ourselves that makes the promises to others possible. Relationships work – even when it’s terrible – because we’ve first made a deep internal promise that affirms who we are and what we actually believe. People who can’t make that kind of promise or at least start the process, don’t make it very well in the relationship journey.

“We make promises to live, not to keep.” ― Marty Rubin

In order to start a relationship on the right foot and keep it heading in a healthy direction – each partner must be able to make a promise and keep it. The first thing to understand about making promises to other people is that they never work if you can’t hold on to promises you’ve made to yourself. I don’t think my wife and I would have made it for 35 years if we hadn’t, prior to marrying, each carried within us the promise that marriage was permanent. Then we could make the same promise to one another. I think keeping a promise with each other depended, in a large part, on our promises to our selves.

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ― Ernest Hemingway

You already know that you can’t change someone else. You can’t make other people keep their promises to you. What you can do is make certain you keep your own promises. The place to start is to be certain you are true to the promises you’ve made to yourself. Most of these promises center around who we believe we are (and are becoming).

What kinds of promises do you make to yourself?

  • to live up to your roles (parent, spouse, friend, employee, etc.)
  • to put others first
  • to keep changing , growing and learning

“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”  ― Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Bind My Wandering Heart to Thee

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“Always hopeful, yet discontent.”- a line from the epic Tom Sawyer by Rush

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2)

You remember how the story turns out. God stops Abraham just as he holds the knife ready to strike his son.

I wonder what they talked about on that long road trip to the mountain? Probably a very different conversation walking downhill, back to a different kind of relationship.

Did God need to learn something he didn’t know or did Abraham need to prove to himself (and his son) that the promise from God would never become bigger than God himself?

I want so much. There’s always the danger of wanting something other than God.

Can you imagine Abraham watching Isaac growing up and all the dreams he shapes around his future? And then God calls out of the deep.

Sometimes I pray for God to slay my hopes and dreams. They are too painful to bear when I watch them crash and burn. I am afraid. Fearful that I want what I think God has promised more than I want God himself. There’s always that danger that they will become an Isaac to me. Not a chance to declare his purpose and glory to all who see, but just another opportunity for me to prove something to myself and others.

What will He ask me to do? How will He awaken me to see that He is of more value than anything I could hope or dream?

 “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” – Philippians 2:13

I am not alone in my efforts to distinguish between the gift and the giver. His Spirit is working within me, leading me up that mountain of revelation. He wants me to see for myself that He is the true delight of my heart. It’s one thing to say this, it’s another to actually seek it. Abraham worshipped God while he cherished Isaac. I worship God and pray to him all day, but the desire of my heart is typically for earthly and mundane hopes. My soul is torn between desires.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

– Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

What a conversation Abraham and Isaac surely had scaling back down Mount Moriah. Isaac must have gotten a whole college degree learning about faith from his father on that trip.  I wonder what I will learn as I walk back down the mountain with my Isaac (dream), back toward the God I love.

“I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.”   – Charles Dickens

How Could I Have Gotten it So Wrong?

553db62f-d3ff-45ba-9eda-0770aa6751e6When was the last time you came to the realization that you had been wrong the whole time? Was it a misunderstanding with your spouse or a friend? A decision at work or about your personal finances?

I don’t do it enough…think about the way I’m thinking…the way I’m believing…

Have you got God all figured out yet?

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – I Corinthians 13: 12

Mirrors back then were not like the one you have today or the ones we use to see distant galaxies. They were like looking at shimmering puddle of water.

We all carry around so many biases in our thinking.

  • Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.
  • Self-serving bias perceiving oneself responsible for desirable outcomes but not responsible for undesirable ones.
  • Just-world phenomenon – the tendency for people to believe that the world is just and therefore people “get what they deserve.”

We end up believing that we know much more than we really do. Sometimes we run the risk of making big assumptions about how God thinks and will act. We interpret our circumstances with a biased thinking that clouds our faith.

Do you imagine that Jonah (the rebel) believed he was being delivered when he found himself inside that big fish? Did Zacchaeus (the spectator) really think Jesus would find him up in that tree and they would actually sit down to dinner? What about that woman (the outsider) who went to draw her water at the well and had a conversation with a stranger who challenged all of her assumptions about life?

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine…”  – Isaiah 55:8

  • I thought all the big plans for the future were null and void and then, over time, began to just want today.
  • I thought I was in exile, but then came to see that I was kept safely away from the devastating storm.
  • I thought I was all alone but then one day awakened to the realization that I had been in conversation with someone deep in my heart every single moment.

While I’m not a Christian fatalist, I don’t believe everything happens for a reason…Nor am I one who holds God responsible for all that occurs in this world. I’ve made too many messes to ever think I could get away with blaming Him. I do think God loves me. I know that he will guide my steps. I believe that he will take care of me – keep me from drowning, even when I’m too afraid to walk on the water.

My experiences here in this world can never become absolute reality. This mirror is too dim. I make so many mistakes. But I really can take hold of the promises that God has made and then make it day by day. In so doing (it’s a practice) this will transform the way I think about myself, my circumstances, and all the people I meet along the way.

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.  In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises.  – I Peter 1:4-5

What kind of response does God deserve today?