Marla Rogers is a pastor’s wife and blogger who lives in Biscoe, AR with her three cats and her husband David. (Note: David is a regular commenter here at SBC Voices, but is not the David Rogers who is a regular contributor here.)
Remember the days when you were a kid that making an adult “promise” seemed like some magical binding contract to force them to do what was promised. Now, of course, we know there is no “power to the promise.” Or is there?
Why do we keep some promises with gritted teeth, yet toss others away like yesterday’s garbage? Why are some promises so central to who we are and others are so disconnected or cumbersome that we drop them off and forget about them?
I’ve been asking myself these questions lately because I want to understand what made some promises more significant to me than others. There were promises I made myself when I was young that defined me as a person. Then there are the unmemorable promises that I can’t count or really remember. However, there are also those promises that I can’t seem to keep no matter what I do. How or what can be learned about promises broken from promises kept?
When I think back to those significant promises, there are several examples that come to mind:
– I promised myself as a young Christian that I would always try to hold on to my faith, and would press hard into it when challenged by circumstances.
– I promised myself I would never drink or do drugs to the point of losing my ability to be mindful of my actions. Since I’m being honest, I must say that I’ve let myself get tipsy a handful of times in my life, but not drunk. I’ve never done drugs. Now, I choose not to be given to either one.
– I promised myself I would be a virgin when I married, and I was.
Yes, I was a virgin when I married, but it took a miracle of God and tenacity on my part to be sure that happened. Let me briefly explain. Don’t worry, no gory details, just some hard truths.
I was sexually abused as a child. For that matter, I was abused every other way as a child. However, the sexual abuse is most significant to this topic. Please hear this: Sexual abuse does not equal a child losing their virginity! Abuse of this kind takes many things from you, but virginity is a love gift you give only once in a loving act. Sexual abuse, especially the kind that leads to rape, is not an act of love nor is it ever freely given. It is enticed, threatened, groomed, seduced, etc. from the abused child. Its significance here is in the damage abuse does. Abuse of any kind creates a “black hole” of neediness in a person. Like a black hole in space, anything that comes close to meeting that person’s neediness is sucked in like rain on land in a drought. This “black hole” of the heart craves love and affection. Thus the set up:
Here’s a young child who loves God and becomes a Christian in the middle of some of her most harsh abuse. Let’s see how she manages raging hormones with the addition of a love and affection black hole in her heart. Can she keep anything to give to a husband when her needs could seemingly be met so quickly in a moment of passion?
Fortunately, and I guess this is one of the keys, I had made the first promise above. No matter how hard it got, I would press into my faith in order to find hope, strength, and answers. While I recognize this is an interpretive issue, from my own study it is clear that the Bible calls for celibacy outside of marriage. Since that was His standard, I knew it needed to be mine as well. Second key, I committed myself to God’s standard for me and held it as sacred. This was not a negotiable thing. I knew I wouldn’t go to hell for it, but I also sensed that there would be a loss of some kind if I didn’t follow this standard. I didn’t want to miss a reward.
Key three would be that throughout my dating years, I made my passions a matter of pray. Because I didn’t grow up in church, I never knew that sense of “God shouldn’t know about some things.” I prayed very frankly with God about all my feelings, fears, and desires. In each relationship, God gave me great grace in this area. Did I always take God’s grace? No! Remember, I had the black hole for love and affection, and I tasted from counterfeits and the real thing from time to time. However, I always confessed those moments to God because they missed His standard and I knew God was watching all the time.
Key four, was prayer support and encouragement from others. Many adults that I considered role models encouraged me and prayed over me regarding staying close to the Lord and not being distracted by other things. When God called me to ministry, my commitment went deeper and I continued to get prayer support and encouragement from peers and older adults.
In the moment, when push came to shove so to speak, I had to depend on the previous keys to make the right decision. Like I said, I wasn’t perfect, but with each fall I learned new ways to run away or push back. Sometimes a shove was necessary.
Another key was learning to forgive myself when I failed. My life tendency has been to wallow in guilt until I felt my penance was paid. Guilt that leads to wallowing or self-abuse is not productive and leads to places like depression. I realize that the Bible doesn’t talk much about “forgiving yourself” specifically, but that is because “receiving grace” implies the realization that you couldn’t do better and even if you could, your best would never be enough. Grace is the undeserved gift that can’t be opened until you realize there is nothing left to do but open it.
Lastly, I had to recommit myself each time I failed to remind myself of my goal. I really wanted to be a virgin when I married. It wasn’t just an “obedience to God thing;” it was what my heart desired. There are always areas in our hearts that call to us, where we want to change. We want to make that “magical promise.” However, we are sometimes left with something standing in the way. We may want to meet a certain goal, but we are unwilling to live without that “dear payoff” we get when we give into ourselves. The payoff looks something like this – we act the opposite of our promise and feel for even a moment a sense of peace and bliss. I have to be honest and say that making out felt so close to the love that I longed for it. Yet something told me inside my heart that the wait would be worth it and it was. We must believe that putting off the temporary fix leads to a permanent pleasure down the road. It always does because that is just how God operates.
Well, no real promise comes without paying a price, which is why Jesus challenged us to “count the cost” of discipleship before we commit. There is a promise I want to make. There are probably promises you want to make too. Where are you in this process? Where am I? I’m almost ready to make that magical binding contract!