Is a Promise Only a Promise If It’s a Promise Kept?
By Lisa Brittain
On this day 29 years ago, I promised to keep my vows to my groom until death would part us. I was 25 years old on May 21, 1988, and I (completely in love) did not hesitate to make these vows to my groom. As well, I had every intention before God and every human witness to fulfill my promise to my groom. It was settled. It was our declaration – only death should part he and I from our union.
During our months of betrothal, we were rightly and wisely counseled by the pastor who would marry us as well as parents, grandparents and friends. We read at least one book on what to expect as we tied the knot and joined households. And we both had years of experience with parents modeling a long term marriage relationship. Yet we now chuckle and roll our eyes at how naively we gazed into one another’s eyes and grinned ear to ear throughout our wedding ceremony. As the saying goes, “we didn’t know what we didn’t know.”
Seemingly, now looking back over 29 years, it was fairly simple to make the promises to keep the vows to love one another and help one another to grow and remain faithful and build a family and perform ministry all for the glory of God. And yet it is keeping the promise that is seemingly far more important and difficult than making the promise. Perhaps, if we had truly known in advance the weight and the cost of our promise, we would not have offered it, and then we would have missed out on one of the greatest and most rewarding adventures of our lifetime.
As we reminisced over dinner, we highlighted some of our favorite mile markers such as our first married Christmas, buying our first house and the births of our two sons. As if looking through an enormous photo album we remembered some of our favorite vacations, adventures to unknown places, and memories made on some of our favorite beaches. Some of our memories are highlighted because of an unexpected delay or an unplanned event, which at the time threatened to ruin our fun. All these years later, these are some of the stand-out moments causing smiles, laughter and most of all gratitude for God’s love, provision and definitely His protection!
I wonder, have you ever had so much of life on your mind, distracted by thoughts, worries and such while going about the utter routine of driving to work that once you parked your car you really couldn’t remember the drive? Hopefully I’m not the only one, but I think this is what happened in the more recent years of our marriage. And right about year 20, I started to wonder – sometimes out loud – “How did we get here?” It wasn’t a pleasant, hopeful wondering. It was a desperate, frightful and deeply frustrated cry to God for help.
During that frantic time I was laid off from my job. Immediately, I had hours of quiet alone time with God after our sons left for school and my husband left to go to work. The first few days I stayed in my pajamas, sat in my favorite quiet time chair with a continual hot cup of coffee, and read my Bible. For some reason (I don’t remember why) I started at the beginning of Exodus and for a number of months slowly meandered through this story of Moses, Israelite slaves, their freedom-offering God, and their choice to stay in the sparse, boring routine of wandering through the desert. It spoke to me. I could relate. And one day I stood up and cried out, “Jesus, where is this abundant life You promised me!?”
You see, I felt betrayed, and I was plenty angry at everyone including God. I had grown up with church culture absent from my experience. When I met my husband I had just begun to read my Bible and meet regularly with a study/discipleship group of young adults. I knew nothing of the reason for denominations and saw no purpose in what I saw as divisions. For the most part I felt out of place in church like a foreigner in a strange land knowing nothing of the language or customs. And yet, what I eagerly desired was to fit in with God’s family.
My groom and I made our promise to keep our vows to one another all those years ago, and one of the vows we made was to encourage and help each other in the pursuit of God’s plan for us in order to glorify Himself. Unfortunately, rather than seeking God first and His instructions daily for fulfilling His plan in and through us, I sought to imitate Christian women and seek their advice on how to successfully live the popular church life. I was offered and eagerly bought the instant box mix of Christianity. Follow the instructions, add the ingredients, stir round and round and round until most of the lumps are out, bake at 350 degrees of living against the grain of humanism, and presto – pull out a beautiful and delicious homemade family!
Suddenly through the pages of Exodus and John chapter 10, I recognized the error of my thinking. There’s no formula to following Jesus. There’s no guarantee of a perfect marriage or children or successful career or wealth or perfect health in following Jesus. My anger turned to extraordinary grief, guilt and ultimately repentance. I began to turn my face toward Jesus with a great desire to follow Him and leave the desert wanderings behind. And then I heard His question, an invitation really, as it formed quietly, but firmly within the pit of my soul. “Lisa, will you follow Me across the Jordan? I want you to live the abundant life I promised. Will you follow Me?”
Oh dear friend, everything in me was screaming, “Yes, I will follow YOU Jesus to abundant life!” At the same time I was very aware of the “But what about…” lingering on my lips. And I asked Him, “But what about them? What about these men you’ve given me to be my family?” I knew they had no desire to leave the dry desert life – at least not in a spiritual sense. They liked their lives just fine. I was the one going through some sort of mid-life crisis. And then He did it. He asked me to choose. Did I really want abundant life? Would I choose Jesus and follow Him even if it meant (only in a spiritual sense) leaving my family behind? I knew it was a question of obedience, and truly I asked Jesus if I could have three days to count the cost.
Jesus is gracious that way. He waited. I read again through Exodus knowing I wanted to be free. My heart leapt at the opportunity to follow Jesus on dry land across the Jordan. I desired to find memorial stones to mark this significant moment in my spiritual journey on my way to abundant life. Of course, my heart ached at the idea of going (spiritually) alone. However, I said, “Yes!” through a mixture of joyous and sorrowful tears. I extended a trembling hand toward Jesus and promised my heart to Him – to follow Him wherever He would lead me.
And just as I declared my promise of obedience and surrender, my Lord spoke tenderly to that quiet place at the pit of my soul, “I promise you, Lisa, if you will follow Me first, your family will follow too.” It’s been round about eight years since, and I continue to be in awe of my Lord. He is true to His word. Jesus has lavished on me an abundance of life through the adventure of following Him into many unknown territories such as marriage counseling, second chances at parenting our sons, and navigating treacherous waters of health challenges.
Jesus never promised me a perfect life. Though He has kept His promise of an abundant life as I follow His lead. And with my hand in His, He helps me to faithfully live out my promise to keep my vows to the man I love. Twenty-nine years later, we continue to journey through life and faith together.
To wrap it all up, just today I was reminded of this old hymn – I have decided to follow Jesus. It’s not a popular, modern worship song, but the words are simple and fit me to a tee. I’ve been singing it all day, and maybe you’ll join me…
I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back. No turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow. Though none go with me, still I will follow. Though none go with me, still I will follow.
No turning back. No turning back.
Elevation Worship may help you enjoy this precious hymn.
Lisa Brittain is an avid follower of Jesus. Her passion is taking women by the hand and introducing them to intimate relationship with Jesus in prayer and discipleship. Also, she is married to Randy. They are empty-nesters except for their 3 rescue pups – Nole, Liberty and Victor. You can see more of Lisa's writings on her blog: eyesonjesusandshine.wordpress.com