Vows We Make Part 2

Yesterday, I blogged about the decisions we make in life when we are young and/or vulnerable and how many of those decisions become secret vows that set our course in different areas of life. This subject has fascinated me over and over as I have studied it in my life and in the lives of people around me. When you begin to hear the phrase, “Oh, I would never….”, you can be sure there is a vow in place somewhere, and that decision is rooted in some experience or belief.

All of us have made some solid decisions in life based on experiences we have had. Many of those decisions were positive, and many are negative, but that begs the question, “How do I know if my decision was a positive one or a negative one?” And it would seem that all of us would love a formula to have our “Best Life Now” because we want to be known for someone who makes good decisions.

Without putting decisions in the framework of morality, what I have to say from here on out will be of no value. So I begin my discussion on decision-making from the belief that there is such a thing as a moral law, that in order to have a moral law there is a Moral Law Giver, and that Moral Law Giver is God as revealed in the scriptures of the Holy Bible. I have to start here because, all logic associated with decision-making finds its basis in how we view our life’s value, or the value of our neighbor, and the purpose of life itself. Value and purpose cannot be determined by science, mathematics, or chance. When I make the decision to trust someone or not to, I cannot tell you why I “ought to” or “shouldn’t” without a moral compass that directs those decisions, and all of us feel there are things we “should” do and things we “shouldn’t.”

Morality has been seen as a code of conduct that one adheres to in order to please God, but I want to add to that thought that Morality is not just a code of ethics or beliefs, it is also an invitation into something greater. For example, when God says “Thou Shall Not Steal”, He is not just drawing a line that you dare not cross, He is also inviting you into a life of self-control, a life of care and protection of another, and the peace that accompanies a life that is not haunted by the fear of robbery. Everyone longs to live in a neighborhood where they don’t have to lock their door at night, and where everyone watches out for their neighbor. Isn’t that true? If it isn’t, we would see many more vacation packages offered for inner-city vacations. “Thou shall not steal” opens up opportunity for that kind of life.

When God says “Do not commit adultery”, He is inviting you into a lifestyle of cultivating and nurturing the relationships you currently possess, while protecting you and your family from the consequences of broken vows and insatiable lust. Who doesn’t dream of a family where parents commit to one another in love and nurture?

As I referred to one of my childhood vows in the previous post, that I would never trust a man, I explained that this was a decision I made as a child. That decision was not necessarily a moral decision at the time. It was a self-preserving decision that is characteristic of someone whose trust has been violated. The decision wasn’t wrong until….Until, because of that decision, I decided to cut men down and cut them off before they had a chance to get to know me. When I made it my art to craft sarcasm and quick wit that would cut my opponents off at the knees, that is when God began to deal with my heart. At this point where my decision to protect myself negated the value of others (in particular, men), my conscience became pricked.

Here is the beautiful thing about God. He has invited me and you into a relationship with Him which means He speaks to us on our level, right where we are. When God began dealing with my heart on my vow to never trust, He didn’t say, “Cate, knock it off, you idiot!!” No, instead, He dealt with my fear. You know– the motivation behind my dis-trust? He asked me to trust Him. Scriptures like “God is not a man that He would lie” as well as others about Him being a good Father, and one who never leaves of forsakes me, became the thoughts He asked me to meditate on. These scriptures brought up huge questions in me, and since God is a relational God, He allowed me to ask my questions, and believe me I had many. Then came the invitation: “Cate, I want you to lay your sarcasm down, and every time you are tempted to defend yourself by cutting someone off with your words, I want you to stop, bite your tongue, and invite me into the scenario. I want you to trust ME.”

This is where our vows and values are tested to see whether or not they should be the directors of our path. Right here where we choose between trusting ourselves, or accepting God’s invitation to trust Him. If by my internal vows I have de-valued another or myself, or if I have neglected God or have to ignore Him to accomplish my goals, then I am choosing wrongly, and God will intervene in my heart through my conscience.

Let me give examples of other vows we make that God may challenge us on. “I will always speak my mind.” Although this decision can be very positive for someone who rarely shares how they really feel, this vow can also serve as a bulldozer that destroys relationships if not moderated. If you pride yourself on always saying exactly what you are thinking, there is a good chance you have struggling relationships if not broken ones. Here is where the value question comes into play. Since God values you and your neighbor, He will invite you to lay down your reputation in order to enter into a life of understanding and forgiveness. He will invite you into real relationships with people where there is give and take, compromise, and encouragement. This will include telling the truth, and hearing the truth, as well as biting your tongue.

How about “I will never move to another state.” For those of you who grew up as military kids, or in families that bounced around a lot, this is a common vow that is made. And the vow itself is not wrong until….Until your husband or wife gets that promotion they worked so hard for, but the new employment means a move. Or when your income dries up where you live, and your best means of making a living again require uprooting and changing. Now your vow comes into question, and your value system up for scrutiny.

In order for any one of us to change a direction in our lives, we have to let go of our vows and grab something else–Something solid, something trustworthy. Many have said that faith is believing something there is no evidence for, but I would argue that faith is the placeholder for what we cannot see but that we are certain will buoy us up. God asks us for that kind of faith in Him. Faith to accept His invitation into a life we maybe haven’t “seen”, but we are certain exists because He exists and in Him there is all power, potential, and opportunity. If he asks me to let go of a past vow, it is only because He has something better that will take its place. That “better” thing will only be realized in my relationship with Him, for through Him, I relate to the rest of the world.

Through God, I also honor vows. Vows of faithfulness, fidelity, friendship, and loyalty can only be carried out with the power of God at work in us. When we want to throw in the towel because we just can’t “see” the end result, God gives us strength to finish what we started, and opens up the invitation again into the life he intends for us. Whether you are making vows with God in the center, or letting go of ones He has not originated, you can trust that He, the Moral Law Giver, is also a Good Father, and the author of your script if you dare to read it!

tough decisions

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The Vows We Make

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.decision