On our journey, I believe Jesus desires us to be our authentic, child-of-God selves.
A Promise is a Promise
The day before Florida students were going to take the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Testing) this year, the evening news announced that students would be signing a statement promising they wouldn’t cheat. This was something new. They had to assent to, “I agree that I will not give or receive unauthorized help during this test. I understand that giving or receiving such help during the test is cheating and will result in the invalidation of my test results.”
When I asked a middle-school friend what her teachers did to draw attention to the statement, she said that before they began the testing her teacher read some instructions about the statement and then told the students
to sign it.
Which got me to thinking about promises. Is it a well- meant promise when I automatically promise to do something whether I mean it or not? Is it a promise if I sign something I have no intention of keeping? Is it a promise if I assent to something knowing I would get in more trouble not signing it than signing it? What happens to the promise I make when I have no idea what temptations or desperations lie ahead of me, and I promise naively?
I know my young friend signed the statement fully intending on not cheating. But what about the kid who is fully inclined to cheat. What do they do? They probably sign. Because not signing would cause them more trouble than signing.
What if there were two statements. One promising not to cheat and one saying, “I cannot promise that I will
not give or receive help. I understand that giving or receiving such help during the test is cheating and will result in the invalidation of my test results.”
If we gave kids a choice, we would at least not be encouraging some to lie.
It’s easier to tell kids what to do. What to think. And to assure us that we feel better, or assure us we have done our job, we ask them to make promises. What they will do. What they will think. They will do what we tell them or talk them into.
This makes me think of the movie Courageous which has been a favorite for some. The scene I’m thinking of in
that movie is when the father takes his young teen daughter out on a date and lets her know that she is valuable and special to him and he will be praying for her as she grows and faces many difficult decisions. He gives her a ring to let her know of his love for her. He does not ask her to make a promise she either is not old enough or wise enough to make. He doesn’t make her promise anything she is unable or perhaps to naïve to promise. The father makes the promises.
I know that keeping promises is tough stuff. It’s easy to make promises – hard to keep them. And the not keeping either results in guilt and shame or a calloused heart in which promises don’t matter.
That’s serious. Living honestly and with integrity requires a heart that doesn’t play games with promises.
Shame on the adults who insist on children making promises they may or may not keep. I wonder where those adults will be when the kid feels either shame and remorse for breaking promises or uncaring and hardened about breaking them.
Ruth Vander Zee Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS Journey of Faith