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  • Amber

Promises, Promises

Like many people, I spent several summers in my youth at some Christian summer camps. I have lots of fun memories of the various things done while at those camps, but there’s one thing that I think about far more often than anything else.


Every day we, of course, had chapel and the theme for this week was something about giving yourself entirely to God. I really wish I could remember the particulars here, but the general idea was that we were promising that all of our actions would be through Jesus. At the end of each of the services they asked us to close our eyes and then they asked for every person that was going to make this promise to raise their hand.


Now, eleven-year-old me had a lot thoughts about this promise. Every action had to be through Jesus? What about the times I was annoyed with my brothers? The times I had to deal with my bullies? What about just having fun with my friends? Did I have to consider him when I was joking around with my friends? I didn’t want to be mean, but sometimes I was, without even thinking about it. What happened if I broke the promise? Breaking a promise with God and Jesus seemed like a really big deal.


Clearly, I took the idea of this promise very seriously, and it sounded scary to me. I wondered at the time what the other kids made of it. Surely there were others that had thought it sounded hard and daunting. Surely there were others that did not make the promise. I could have pointed out the ones that certainly were not acting like they made that promise.


But it seemed like no one else considered all these things that I was thinking. I don’t remember anyone talking about it outside of chapel. Even during these services my concerns weren’t addressed. There was no talk about what happens if we struggle to do those things. Certainly no talk about how it was okay if we messed up. No talk about how hard it would be.

Every day at chapel we were asked to make a promise and every day we closed our eyes and then raised our hands if agreed to make that promise. Like I said, I wish I could remember the particulars of these services, but they all followed this same theme of making a promise to Jesus in how we behaved. Every time I did not raise my hand. I wasn’t ready for that commitment. I was just a kid doing kid things. I would undoubtedly break these promises by accident - or even on purpose. It was too big for me.


The last day, the grand finale of all these promises and it was time for the big reveal. This time, instead of raising our hands, they asked up to stand up, and once everyone was standing, we were told to open our eyes and look around at all these people promising to consider Jesus in every act.


I was the only one not standing.


To everyone’s credit, no one confronted me about it. My counselor pulled me aside to make sure I was okay, and was I sure about it, all of that. I never felt shamed by anyone specifically, but obviously I still felt some shame as I was made to be the only one to not make this commitment.


But I didn’t regret it. I knew I would never live up to that promise, and I was confused that everyone else thought they would. I even remember a closing event after this service and some boy was causing problems on purpose and I just looked at him thinking, ‘You said you made that promise. You’re already breaking it.


The fact of the matter is, that boy was not the only one to break that promise. Every single one of the people – the kids, the counselors, the pastor leading the service – that made that promise, broke it. We’re human. We will sin. That was the whole point of Jesus coming to be our Savior because God knew we could never be perfect.


Choosing to follow Jesus and do all things through him is hard. So, what if, instead of this promise from this camp, we promise to try. We will all have our doubts, our missteps. We’ll think unkind thoughts, or even behave in unkind ways. Afterwards, we’ll feel guilty and ask for forgiveness. Good news! Your sins are already forgiven. So now we can give ourselves grace and forgiveness and not dwell on these mistakes, but look forward and do our best to try and do better.


Jesus gave us two commandments in Matthew 22:36–40. First, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being and with all your mind. And second, to love your neighbor as he has loved you. If we approach each day with love in our hearts, we may come close to having all our actions be through Jesus.


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