Tuesday, 26 June 2012

I promise.

What happens when you break a promise?

Well, having been someone who has broken a few promises in her life, I can say with confidence that for the one who does the breaking... not a whole lot happens...initially. They move on, assumedly free from repercussions. Depending on the situation, there may be some guilty feelings accompanying the break, but ultimately, I've found promise breakers move on rather quickly.

But, having been the one on the receiving end of broken promises, I can tell you that the repercussions are deep, penetrating and painful. Beyond the possible physical 'inconveniences' that may accompany a broken promise, there are emotional ones too. Someone you counted on let you down. Ouch. That doesn't heal easily. Trust and integrity were compromised, and those two character traits don't bounce back with the two words, "I'm sorry".

We've all been there, at some point, haven't we? We've given our word, and for any number of excuses, have fallen short in following through. Ah, yes, but we have also all been on the receiving end of a broken promise. It hurts, doesn't it?

This is a recent experience of mine...three times over. In the last year, I have had three 'friends' make some important promises to me and all three of them broke them. Each time, it felt like they were saying, "You're not worth keeping my word for". It's surprising how quickly we want to accept the blame for other's mistakes, and make it about ourselves. But you can relate to the feelings... it hurts to have people let you down. What I want to focus on though is their responses to them breaking their word. Each of them responded very differently.

The first friend tried to change what the promise initially meant. "What I meant was .... , so I didn't actually really break it. No, I know that we both agreed beforehand, but...". There was an inability or unwillingness to face the truth that they didn't/couldn't follow through on their word.

The second friend and I lost contact for three months because of the unfulfilled words... until just this last week, when my friend showed up to apologize, take ownership, and attempted to follow through on promises as much as they were able to with what they had. A broken situation was redeemed because they were able to humble themselves, and make things right, even though it cost this person. Making things right was inconvenient, costly and difficult. But I am SO proud of my friend for setting this example for me. It's never too late to set things straight.

The third friend seems to have walked away guilt free, saying that the promises were made prematurely, and thus implying that no follow through was required.

All three of them gave me their word, and broke it, but their responses to the situation look completely different. As a result of their broken promises, my trust of them, and their integrity in my eyes was severely compromised.

But I wonder, what happens when you break a promise as it relates to your relationship to God? Does He care? He knows we’re human, but as believers, are we called to a higher account with our word? As believers, when we keep our word, we are being an example of God to others. God always keeps His word - He is always faithful. Our word matters. But {how} does not keeping your word affect your relationship with God?

I’ve been doing some reading about the importance of keeping your word. And I’ve come upon some very interesting views. Some people say it’s a sin to break a promise and you will be held accountable for every unfulfilled word. Others say that motive matters, and sometimes promises can’t be followed through on and that it’s okay.
What do you think?


  1. I think it is important to be a person of your word and strive for that, but it's also important to focus on the reaction to broken promises: Forgiveness. This applies both in friendship and in our relationship with God. We promise God all the time that we will "do better" or "follow him more closely"... and if everyone is like me, they fall short of always fulfilling that commitment. Though it may be made with honest intentions, it doesn't always play out like that. Thankfully god always gives us another shot, something I think we are to model towards our friends.

  2. I certainly believe that God forgives us when we break our promises, but nonetheless that we should at least try to keep them. There are always extenuating circumstances, promises that cannot be kept for one reason or another, and promises that are made foolishly. When we can keep them, though, we should.

    But I wonder if this is why Jesus said not to swear on anything, simply to let your yes be yes and your no be no? Maybe Jesus said that because He knows that sometimes things happen, we say things we don't mean, circumstances prevent us from keeping the promises we have made, etc. So the real question to me is, should we even be making promises (or asking others to make promises to us) in the first place?

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