Updated: Jul 24, 2020
“There is no greater fraud than a promise not kept.”
We are taught that integrity and commitment are key qualities. Breaking a promise is the utmost act of betrayal. But what happens when keeping a promise will likely destroy us?
I was nearing my 30s and my peers were coupling like animals on Noah’s Ark. Weekends were filled with bridesmaids’ dresses and wedding gifts. We danced to one DJ after another on parquet floors in hotel banquet rooms, watching friends make promises to each other.
I was dating someone in my closest circle of friends. I envisioned a future filled with beach parties, vacations, hikes, and all the activities we regularly enjoyed. We liked the same people and the same things. With two servings of pressure and a dash of ultimatum, I pushed for our own day of wedded bliss.
In preparing the wedding of my dreams, I made all the obvious choices. The guest list included over 400 of our closest friends and family. I found the perfect dress. We selected the perfect menu. Days before the wedding, I sat with my favorite women, wrapping hundreds of chocolate-dipped cookies into lavender netting for party favors. I shared that my fiancé and I had an ugly battle about the reception seating chart, but my tribe assured me this was normal pre-wedding stress.
On my wedding day, I walked the church aisle, feeling every bit the princess the day was intended to serve. At the reception, I smiled exuberantly from our head table. My new husband said, “You should change your facial expression. You look kind of crazy right now.” That night, friends carted him to our bridal suite and deposited him on our bed to “sleep it off.”
Three years later, I was lost in a pit of despair. My actor husband asserted that success required waiting at home for the phone to ring. This meant playing video games while filling the sink with dirty dishes that welcomed me home from long days of legal practice. When the phone didn’t ring, he became despondent and insisted that buying a boat would improve his mood. Desperate to manufacture the glorious lifestyle I had envisioned, we bought the boat. It sat in the yard, gathering dust and cobwebs like our relationship.
It was clear this marriage promised nothing but misery. I had made a critical error. And yet, for me, marital commitments were not to be taken lightly. The product of divorced parents, I knew that my seeds of discontent could reap a harvest of destruction if left unchecked. I had promised that I would give myself to this commitment for the rest of my days. I accepted that my poor choice was my only choice. I had made my bed, and I would lie in it.
Fate intervened when my husband expressed uncertainty about the future and asked for a separation while he considered his options. He packed his belongings while I sobbed. As I braced for the feelings of failure and loneliness I knew would come, I felt my emotions rising like a tidal wave: relief, peace, hope. He had freed me from the chains I had so willingly padlocked around my own soul.
I dove into my future like a dolphin released from captivity. Friends commended me on my strength in surviving a divorce. I tried to explain that it took no real courage to end it; it would have taken far more courage to stay in it. My initial resolution to stay did not reflect my willingness to keep a promise. Rather, it represented a shattering of the promises I needed to make to myself.
Several years later, after much self-reflection, the universe handed me the man of my dreams. A man with a heart of gold, the ability to see good in everything and an unwavering desire for my happiness. He listened intently as I described what I wanted, needed, desired for my life. Our wedding was at the beach with 11 of our closest friends and family. We spent the morning chatting, with the ocean as our background music. We were almost late to the ceremony because we lost track of time, so infused we were with love. We wore casual, creamy clothing and felt the grass under our feet. We laughed as we joyfully committed our lives to each other. The waves and the resonance of the conch shell sealed our future. I felt relief, peace, hope.
As our daughter grew up, I considered how to teach her the importance of keeping a promise. I reminded her that when you make a commitment, you must follow through. Your word is your bond, and reneging on a promise is the utmost in betrayal. And then, I thought about promises I’ve made, and commitments I’ve broken. I thought about the jail sentence that could have been, and the abundant freedom I found in its place. I took her hand, and explained the true importance of a promise.
You see, sweetheart, integrity and commitment are important, to be sure. Maintaining these values depends first upon finding integrity in the promises you’re making. Promise only what will serve you, followed by serving others. Commit only to those things that will make your heart sing. Covenant only to explore an opportunity, but not to carry it out until you feel the seeds of joy stirring within you.
Most of all, remember that the promises to be kept above all others are those we make to ourselves. You came to this earth with promises to your soul: to serve your best purpose, explore your highest good, experience your utmost evolution. If you promise anything to another that compromises these commitments, you have already broken your promise to yourself, and your soul begins to wither. Plant your own seeds, decorate your own garden, and cultivate your own soul. This, my darling girl, is your true gift to the world.