Picking up from where I left off…
When my family and I returned home from our trip, we were days away from our anniversary. Now, we normally read through our vows to see how we’re doing, but last year, we truly examined ourselves. We took turns reading each bullet point (yep….our vows had bulleted points under sub-sections….yes, we were that serious about it lol), and we talked about whether or not we were being diligent in keeping them. Not only that, after we put ourselves under the microscope, we asked each other for a brutally honest assessment of whether or not 1) we were being a person of our word, 2) where we were excelling, and 3) where we were falling short. Let’s just say it took us a while to get through our vows, and the conversation was sober, deeply reflective, and very humbling.
Yes, there were some things we were being good about…particularly our personal faithfulness and commitment to God was still going strong, and we were being faithful in our roles and duties within our home. However, we had some real areas where we were failing miserably…..particularly our commitment and diligence in actually loving and caring for one another. To put it frankly, we were giving the Lord our best, our children our best, the Church our best, the world our best, but we became tired and lazy when it came to each other. We were counting on the fact that we were best friends and had been great friends for years, well before we entered into a relationship together. We were counting on each other to still be there, although we were putting each other on the back burner because we felt other things were more important. And although we had conversations earlier in our marriage to address problems, we would quickly forget to do what we said we would and to put each other above our own self-interests, and then we complained and became annoyed when it became evident. Simply stated, we were failing to keep our word to each other.
And coming straight from our vows, I had promised to:
“…not allow myself to be given to anger, apathy, or any contention…I will not love you out of selfishness or any other kind of manipulation…I will value you, your well-being, and your happiness above my own. I will not hold expectations for you that are not communicated or discussed. I will not take you for granted…I will not neglect your needs…but I will strive to make sure that your needs are met…”
And he had promised to:
“…not lead our home by force but out of humility, love, and the Spirit of Christ… I will not love you out of selfishness, but I will love you with the selfless love of Christ. I will love you as Christ loves the Church – with all my ability and with all of the light that God gives. I will value your well-being and happiness above my own…I will not neglect your emotional and romantic needs, but I will strive to make sure that your needs are always met. I will not place any person or ambition…above you and our marriage…”
Our vows were filled with such rich and promising words, and they felt almost meaningless because we were miserably failing to do the very things we had promised. And I’m sighing as I write this because the memories are so fresh. We’d love to do great things for one another and for God. We’d take a bullet for each other and nurse each other back to health. But we have such a hard time doing the basic stuff, the little stuff. We’d rather do more and give more of ourselves than just die to ourselves a little more and endeavor to actually be people of our word. And I think that we often find ourselves doing this very thing in the church.
As Christians, we’re often consumed with our own spiritual lives/walks, our current studies and any theological reading we want to do. But how often do we fail to be concerned or interested in the lives of our brothers and sisters who we fellowship with regularly? And if we happen to be in fellowship with a brother or sister who is just weaker in the faith, with a more tender conscious or a greater lack of understanding about various theological/doctrinal matters, how long can we can “deal” with them before we grow tired and try to find a way to move ourselves along to others who are more our “speed” and “at our level”? Now, I’m not saying this because I’ve worked this all out. You’re hearing about what happened in my own marriage. Clearly I struggle with this, but I was reminded by my challenges at home to make sure that I strive to always and consistently be a Christian of my word.
And as Christians, we make a confession of faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. By that confession, we also say that we will put off certain patterns of behavior while putting on the graces of Christ. We say that we will now prioritize the glory of God above ourselves and our own interests. We say that we will follow after Christ even if it costs us every earthly comfort, friend, and treasure up to our very lives. We also say that we will love God above all things, above every other person, no matter how dear they are to us and with everything we are. And we also say that we will love others as we love ourselves. In addition, we say that we will love His Church, laboring diligently to preserve the peace and unity within it, and that we will use our gifts to be a blessing to the Church. We commit ourselves to praying for each other and the building of the Church. We commit to bearing with one another and submitting to each other in godly fear and love and striving to grow up together. We say a lot when we say that we are Christians.
But even if you know all of that, being a person of your word requires more out of you. I know some people wrestle with that inward desire to do great exploits for God, or they may jump at the opportunity to aid flood victims in Houston or pass out Bibles in the dense and violent jungles of Colombia. But all too often we struggle with Christianity 101….you know, stuff like forgiveness, love, patience, kindness, self-control, bridling our tongues, being content, trusting God, meekness, not being given to anger…the list can go on and on. It’s the basics of the faith. But it’s in the basics that we often drop the ball and fail to keep our word. However, assuming we have the hang of it, we want to move on to more “advanced” things, and we dismiss all of those smaller, more basic things. And as we walk along, we leave behind us a wake of broken promises, unregarded vows, anger, hurt, pain, and an ever-growing mountain of pride covered with the thickening fog of a delusional view of yourself.
Well, as a wife who thought that we had our marriage together, I encourage you to make sure you are humbly assessing yourself, bearing in mind Romans 12:3
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
In terms of the Church, I also encourage you to ask your pastor(s) or elder(s) for a copy of your church’s membership vows. With a copy of your own, you can periodically pull it out and remind yourself of your responsibilities and commitments as a member of your particular church. And if your church doesn’t have set membership vows, just be diligent to obey the Word of God (which you committed yourself to doing when you came to Christ). While you’re at, ask your fellow brothers and sisters how you’re doing. And the rest of Romans 12 gives an excellent summary and guide for what we should be actively doing in the Church and in the world:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…
All in all, I know that we have to be people of integrity…people of our word who are at least attempting to keep their word. Whether you are endeavoring to keep your word (or your vows) in your marriage or to your local church, be mindful that God sees us perfectly no matter where we are. He knows every word that we speak and accounts for all of our promises and vows made, and He holds us to them. So if you have to set aside some grand gestures and acts to do the basic things that you have promised to do, whether to your spouse or your local church, than do it! Discipline yourself, and die to self!
The church may miss some things because they don’t see us in private, and your spouse may not see everything either (or they may just misinterpret what he or she sees like we did with each other). But God sees us perfectly no matter where we are, and He is the One who will render us a fair and thorough judgment. Therefore, be diligent to keep your word! If you find out that you are struggling to keep your word (as we did), appeal to your Father in heaven! He can supply you with all of the grace and strength necessary to do what needs to be done. Furthermore, He is ever gracious to providentially orchestrate our circumstances to further develop the fruit we do bear, along with providing the right environment for us to produce the fruit that is harder for us to bear. Trust me, if you give it to the Lord, He will give you what you need, to do what you said you would do. Nothing is too hard for Him! Therefore, commit yourself and your way to Him before you do anything else.