I have always been fascinated by people, and for as long as I can remember, I have memorized people by some of their particular characteristics. Most often, I can recognize someone in a crowd by the way they walk. How a person carries themselves becomes a defining characteristic in my mind. I also pay attention to the the way people express their thoughts–their voice inflections, the movement of their hands or feet, what happens in their eyes as they speak. I look people in the eye when they are talking to me because there is much to “see”. It is amazing to me how much of who we are is expressed in our body language, and further intrigued by the fact that much of our expression is an indicator of what we believe.
Beliefs play a huge role, if not the role in how we behave. When I say beliefs here, I am not just referring to religious or superstitious beliefs, which are found in every culture of the world, but also what we believe about ourselves as to our value, worth, what we deserve, and what we should have. You can take two people growing up in the same house, in the same culture, with the same family dynamics and come away with two separate types of people who may carry themselves differently.
I am convinced that much of what drives our lives as adults are vows. When a person experiences anything significant in their life–whether positive or negative, they will make a decision about that experience. Sometimes the decisions are little, and other times they take on the nature of a vow. The vow becomes a stake in the ground of what the person will and will not do with regards to that experience if it ever comes again. For instance, If you have ever had children, you likely spent time with your spouse discussing possible names for your boy or girl, and likely encountered conflict as certain names conjure up particular images in the mind of your spouse or you. “No I don’t like the name Kathy, because there was annoying girl in my 4th grade class named Kathy who laughed like a hyena.” Or “My best friend in grade school was named Scott, and we made a lot of good memories together.” Depending on our memory, we made strong decisions even about names.
Now think about the way you were raised. If you are like me, you had some great memories of your childhood and some horrifying ones. With each poignant memory, you made a decision. When your best friends threw you that surprise birthday party in 6th grade, you felt valued, and cared for and decided that surprise parties are a great way to communicate that value. When you were made fun of for the hand-me-down clothes you wore to school, you decided that if you ever had children, you would always buy them clothes that were new and in-style.
What about your ideas about authority figures? Teachers, parents, pastors, principals. I guarantee you have made decisions about each of these professions based on your experiences, and maybe those ideas carry into how you view these “People” in general.
Here’s the rub. Sometimes the vows or decisions we made as children about people, places, names, ideas, and futures were not made with a lot of information. Sometimes our decisions were made solely on the behavior of one individual. One. And most of our decisions were made with the emotional development of a ten year old who is not yet able to see the consequences of those decisions played out over time.
I have met children of missionaries who have made it the goal of their life to marry wealthy. The result of growing up without much and being taken advantage of by others, solidified the decision in their mind to never settle for less than wealth. The vow, however, only focusing on wealth, leaves them with broken relationships, empty promises, and a standard that is never “good enough” for themselves, or the people around them.
I have blogged about my vows as a child to never trust men again due to the behavior of one man in my life who was untrustworthy. The problem for me became the fact that not all men were untrustworthy, and were not deserving of the bitterness, sarcasm, and mistrust I greeted them with. If I were to keep this vow of not ever trusting men, I would have to forfeit the idea of marriage, and the idea of working at all with men in any vocation.
God confronted me on my vows when I was 18, and more recently, another childhood vow when I was 36. This is what He asks me, “Cate, what did you decide when this event took place in your life? Is that decision still a good one to implement now as an adult? What if you trusted Me instead? Would that change how you view your vow?” These and other questions become the oil that loosens and unwinds the knots of my childhood vows and causes me to instead step out in faith and trust that God has a plan for my life based on His vows to me. His vows are binding, eternal, and forged in love and commitment to me.
If you are struggling with a habit, person, behavior, or lifestyle, take a few moments and reflect on whether or not your actions are being determined by vows you have made either as a child, or in a vulnerable state of life. Ask God to show you what He thinks of your decisions, and whether or not He thinks you should continue that path. Then begin the work of trust. Give God your heart, and your life and let Him fashion it according to His vow to you. He has promised to never leave or forsake you. He has promised to finish the work He has started in you.