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Promises, promises

Educator and family expert James Stenson has this advice for parents. As early as possible, teach children to say the following:

Please;

Thank you;

I’m sorry;

I give you my word.

The last item may well give you pause, as it did me the first time I heard Mr. Stenson say this. I give you my word? Can we really expect a child to make and keep a promise? And what real value is there in a child’s promise?

The value, I realize now, is something that’s in potency. It comes to fruition in the promises that child will make when he is older. I will be home at the time agreed upon. I will bring the car back in one piece. I will show up to work every day and do the best job I can. I will love, honour, and cherish you, all the days of my life.

Sadly, the value of a promise is never fully appreciated until that promise is broken. This has never been made more painfully clear than nowadays, as we hear all kinds of horrific cases of children being harmed by the very people pledged to protect them. The statistics are staggering. I’m not just talking about priests here: the most common abusers are family members. There are also teachers, coaches – just about any person who has authority and custody over a child is in a position to abuse that authority.

And yet, no matter how frail and flawed we all are, so capable of breaking even the most mundane of commitments, we cannot do without promises – because we cannot live without trust. Precisely because we are frail and flawed, the promises we make to each other cause us to try harder, to overcome our weaknesses, to prove ourselves worthy to hold in our hands the heart of another human being.

Some promises are harder to keep than others. Some might even seem impossible, so why bother making them at all? Why, indeed? Human promises have no value, nor even any sense – unless we believe there is one Person above all others who does keep all His promises – and gives us the strength to keep ours. In the end, ironic as it may seem, the key to keeping a promise is learning not to trust in ourselves, but in Him.

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