It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Ecclesiastes 5, verse 5
File this one under the common sense folder, will ya? A few weeks ago, I made a deal with my son. Pass your classes for the semester and I’ll take you to Six Flags. Here in North Texas, where Six Flags is a big deal (because it is the home of the original Six Flags…those six flags are the national flags that have flown over Texas), that’s no small thing, especially since a day at the amusement park is a costly affair. True to his drive, Son Bull knuckled down and passed his classes so, true to my word, one Saturday I surprised him and off we went to Arlington.
I think he was skeptical that I would actually follow through because, like too many other parents, I’ve made big promises that I didn’t keep. For many of them, the promises were made and couldn’t be kept because circumstances had changed (for either – or both – the promise-maker and the promise-acceptor). For some, I’ll admit that I would promise something against improbable odds only to find the improbable had become possible. And for some, I simply forgot.
So I couldn’t blame him for being skeptical. I think we enjoyed ourselves as much because we like each others’ company as for the thrill of the rides and enjoying this simple truth: I kept my word and he received it. That’s a Godly thing to do; verse 5 confirms it.
Here’s a list of things that it’s better to not vow to do than to vow and not do. Take it from me: it’s a good list. Be there. Stay the night. Hold a grudge. Clean the garage (and weed the patio before your in-laws visit). Call. Meet for drinks. Promise dinner; promise breakfast. Be there for every performance. You can probably think of many others. It’s better to just keep quiet than to promise to do things like this if you think or know you might not be able to. Less damage is done to the person who might just be counting on you and your word.
That’s just the way we’re designed. It’s not just common sense: it’s Godly design. Yesterday’s verse talked about quickly keeping our word to God and our images of God as a father. I think this verse is the kind of thing a father would say; I know I would. It’s the kind of verse that a divine Father DID say in fact given that all Scripture is God-inspired. Face it: unbelievers would be more likely to continue in unbelief if they see believers not keeping their word. Promise to be someplace and you aren’t? Not surprising for a Sunday morning Christian. Promise to call and you don’t? Hardly a surprise when you don’t put your money where your mouth is. Unfaithful? No surprise at all if you don’t sink your teeth into what faith really means and what God is trying to tell you in thought, word and action.
Like I said: common sense.
This is a summer of trying to build common sense in my family. Like every other family, we’re undergoing changes. Son Bull is building back from some life experiences that cost him and taught him dearly. Middle Sister (the one with the wine named after her) is moving out (again) to a new apartment and a new job. Oldest Daughter is struggling with work and planning a wedding that is now, according to her to-the-second clock, four months and fourteen days away. The Woman of the House is still juggling a very difficult job with the lives of the difficult people who live in her house. And yours truly is undertaking various projects, both in and out of work, both in my vocation and in my quest to be published (as well as a score of pre-wedding honey’do’s).
The bond that holds all those things together is our faith. The kids are wrestling with their faith journey in various ways, but I know that they are at least wrestling and not ignoring it. Years ago they each vowed to believe, to explore, to test and question, and to grow in that faith. I pity those whose faith doesn’t grow through trial, or even through testing the limits of the vows we make. That’s one way in which we see the true meaning of them. It is better to not make those vows than to make and not keep them, and better still is to vow what we mean and then keep it. The payoff is in the closer relationship with God, knowing we are in communion with Him and sharing that with each other. Just last night I had a terrible dream in which I lost my wife. The devastating part of it came when I realized that all the small things I enjoy about her – her voice, her standard message when she calls me on the phone, the way she never uses a white washcloth in this set of green towels we have, things like that – those would be gone forever. The best thing I’ve done in life is to make a vow to her that I’m keeping because for too long I sought to discard it. That, and not the vow, would have been the tragic undoing of that bond.
Which is why I’m keeping my word to my son this summer. His heart is worth it. As I mentioned, he’s working back from some challenges earlier this year, getting on top of things in his young life before they get on top of him. I’ve promised him a trip to the local man-spa this weekend for a haircut, shave and shoulder massage. Men, if you’ve never been to a real tonsorial parlor, treat yourself soon. In the whole spa thing, women have it right. Once he’s met the next goal, I’m thinking a day of skeet shooting or maybe renting a boat up on Lake Texoma. I gave him my word and we’re building trust through that. In doing so, it’s building a bond between himself, me and our God. It’s a Godly thing and I intend to keep it.