I was ten years old when I committed my life to Christ. My family and our closest friends gathered in the auditorium of College Church, and I professed in front of them that Jesus had died for my sins, and that I was ready to die to myself. My Dad baptized me, and then we circled around and sang and prayed together. At the time, my greatest problems were that my best friend had invited someone else to spend the night instead of me, and that my bedtime was unjustly early. Still, I remember being so confident in that moment that God was with me and for me…that he loved me.
With every new life stage, I have questioned the commitment I made on that day. As a teenager, the challenges I faced were stronger and more painful. I experienced rejection and bullying at school. We moved to a new city. I was preyed on by an older man. In my 20’s, I experienced the pain of unhealthy relationships, constant uncertainty about the future, and wrestled with huge questions about human suffering.
In my late 20’s, I had a total spiritual and emotional breakdown. I had spent most of my childhood and college years looking judgmentally on those who were just “going through the motions.” When my own passion for God seemed to disappear, and I realized that I was doing exactly that…going through motions…it all came crashing down. I came close to rejecting the idea of God completely, and even scoffed at my 10-year-old self for having made such a naive commitment. Did I even know what I was saying back then? Did those words even mean anything?
Six years ago on Monday, I made a different type of commitment on the day of my wedding. I had written our vows with conviction, misty-eyed as I reflected on the weight and meaning of the words I was about to say to another person.
I wrote: I take you to be my husband, from now until death, loving what I know of you, and trusting what I do not yet know. I will love you enough to risk being hurt, trust you when I don’t understand, weep with you in heartache, and celebrate with you in joy. I will do my part to make our home a sanctuary of warmth for anyone who enters into it, and will serve alongside you as your equal partner in life. I will love all of you, with your strengths and your weaknesses, and I will pursue you. I will never, ever leave you. The commitment I make to you today will always transcend my feelings, and I acknowledge that the power to do so can come only from God, in whose hands I place this union.”
At the time, we had already been to counseling together. We had already argued, and we had already hurt one another. I truly believed I understood and was prepared for the challenges ahead. Still, I was naive. I had no idea how hard it was really going to be to lay my life down for another person. There have been times since then…sometimes minutes, sometimes months…where I’ve questioned the commitment I made on that day. Did we really know what we were saying? Did those words even mean anything?
At the beginning of each school year, we create a list of expectations and norms as a staff. These usually include specifics on how we will treat one another, what our attitudes towards our students will be, and how we will respond to feedback. It’s always pretty easy to make that list, because we’re energized and excited after a summer break. We’re ready to be together again, looking forward to seeing the faces of our students, and anxious to implement improvements in our classrooms. We sign our list of norms, and post them on the walls of our work rooms. There’s a reason we make that list in July, and not in February. In February, we’re tearing our hair out, resisting the urge to update and send out our resumes. We’re frustrated with each other, frustrated with our students, and checking the weather hourly in hopes that we’ll see snow in the forecast. It is exactly FOR this time that the norms were created. We didn’t write them for the first day of school…we wrote them because we knew how we would feel in February.
It was easy to say my vows to Dan on our wedding day. We were all dressed up, and surrounded by our family and closest friends. It was all so new and exciting, and I was ready to face any challenges that were headed our way. When the challenges come, which have been much greater than we anticipated, I remember that it is FOR these times that I said the vows. They weren’t for my wedding day…they were for February. In the same way, I couldn’t divorce God in the midst of my spiritual breakdown those years ago, even though I so wanted to. It was too much a part of my DNA…and that’s because of the commitment I made when I was ten. It wasn’t meaningless at all…in fact, it was FOR my times of doubt…FOR the challenges that were so much greater than the ones I faced in grade school. It may be true that I had no idea what exactly I was committing to, but I meant the words I said with every fiber of my ten-year-old being.
“Going through motions” has taken on a whole new meaning for me these past few years. Sometimes, that’s called “obedience.” If I felt passion for God all the time, or for my spouse, what would have been the point of making the commitment in the first place? In a season of passion, love feels easy and exciting…just as it did on my wedding day, or at my baptism. I had no idea what exactly I was committing to on those days, but it is FOR the seasons that the passion and love seem to disappear that the words were spoken in the first place.
I have never loved God more than I do today. I have never been more committed to the promise I made to him when I was ten. I am also confident that, when I am 50 years old, I will look back on this very time and think think about how naive I was when I was 34. Still again, when I’m 70, I have no doubt I will look back on the commitments I held to so strongly at 50 and think, “I had NO idea what that really meant.” But those promises…those commitments…they are true. They mean something. They are what keep us afloat when February comes.