Like clouds and wind without rain is a woman who boasts of gifts she does not give. Proverbs 25:14
Last Christmas, we were in Brazil as part of a nine-month stay in South America. We had friends there whose closest family was six hours away, and since they lacked the resources to travel, we planned to spend Christmas Day together. I was excited to share a traditional American Christmas meal with our South American friends, so I shopped for and planned on doing most of the cooking.
A few days before Christmas, our friends were actually excited to tell us that one of their relatives had decided to pay for their trip so that they could be with their extended family on Christmas. This was slightly problematic because now we had all this food, but were also planning to leave on a trip two days after Christmas. No way could we eat all the leftovers before leaving! But the real problem was that it hurt my feelings – a lot. I had already envisioned that day in my head, and now a reality of spending Christmas alone was impending. This would be pathetic enough in the United States, but to be alone and in a foreign country – salt in the wound.
Another family in our church had invited us to their house, but we had turned them down. I contemplated the idea of asking them if we could still come over, but so close to Christmas? Inviting yourself over for Christmas dinner is to be generally avoided, but if you have to do it, there should at least be a week’s notice involved. It was quite humbling, but for the sake of my sad little family, I asked our church friends if we could crash their Christmas. They were gracious and we had a wonderful day; however, a basic trust I had in our other friends was fractured.
Delivering on what we have promised seems simple enough, and yet it is one of the most difficult things to pull off in adult life. It’s also one of the most important. First of all, our credibility is at stake. People may forgive us once, for instance, if we said we’d meet them and then blew them off, but do it again and we’ve earned a reputation. Secondly, our relationships are at stake. If we don’t do what we say we’re going to do, we will inevitably hurt the people we love.
When we make promises or plans and don’t see them through, we undermine the security of the people involved. This is especially true if they know our intentions are good and sometimes we actually do come through. By occasionally going through with our plans, we provide intermittent reinforcement for others to trust in us. Just like a slot machine that occasionally pays off, our friends and loved ones will be hooked on betting on the outcome of our promises. Maybe this time what we say will come to pass. Maybe this time… It would almost be more humane for an unreliable person never to come through with a promise, rather than to reinforce intermittently the hope of reliability.
For planning purposes (if not to guard our hearts), we have to put people into one of two camps: Some people deliver, some don’t. It’s easy enough to figure out which of the two camps others fit into, but discerning this about ourselves is more difficult – and may require a level of self-assessment we just can’t handle.
If you’ve been surrounded by people who didn’t deliver (even despite good intentions), you have two choices: you can either become like them or vow never to be like them. Chances are if you become like them, you won’t consciously make the choice, it will just happen without much contemplation. However, if you become nothing like them, that will have resulted from a clear purpose and active choice. Just like the young woman who says she’ll never smoke because she hated that her mother smoked, you can be the person who always does what she says because you hated when your mother built up your hopes with empty promises. You can turn your negative past into a positive future by choosing not to become like the people who hurt you. And when you realize one day that you are different, you can even be grateful for the negative experiences because they helped you become a positive person.
It’s never too late to start being different from the people who disappoint us. Start by fulfilling a small promise to yourself today.
Hold this thought: I do what I say I’m going to do.
Donna Lee Schillinger is the author of On My Own Now: Straight Talk from the Proverbs for Young Christian Women who Want to Remain Pure, Debt-free and Regret-free and editor of the recent anthology Purity’s Big Payoff/Premarital Sex is a Big Rip-off.