Learning To Be a Promise-Breaker

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Has anyone ever told you that it may be healthy to break your promises? No, I’m not talking about going back on your word or taking your wedding vows lightly. I’m referring to a different category of vows … the kind of promises that people rarely acknowledge. 

Our most powerful promises are usually ones that we never speak and may not even be conscious that we’ve made. Most of our lives are dictated by such unconscious vows. They represent the “guiding voices” that sabotage our relationships and determine how we react to stress. 

Take Sara as an example: She was raised by an abusive, overbearing mother and a loving but passive father. Survival in her home meant walking on eggshells. She daily risked the wrath of her mom, who could lash out with cruel insults and beatings at the drop of a hat. As 12-year-old girl, Sara made vows to herself that profoundly impacted her future choices: 

I will never appear weak. I’ll never let my mom see me cry again.
I’ll never marry a weak man who can’t stand up for me.
If my dad didn’t protect me and God didn’t protect me, I can’t trust anyone—especially men. 

Sara’s “vows” make logical sense given her upbringing. Her home wasn’t safe, nor were her parents trustworthy. Yet, she continued to live by these unspoken vows well into adulthood, her relationships marked by distance and guardedness.

All of us have made such powerful and unspoken vows. Usually, like Sara, they are born out of childhood trauma and disappointment. But even after their usefulness is long gone, we continue to live by them. 

I must always be the best at what I do.
I will never be sexually vulnerable with a man—even with my husband.  
I am damaged goods and will never be worthy of a spouse’s love. 

Emotional, relational, and spiritual health often dictate that we learn to break such promises to ourselves. But how? These vows represent more than a commitment— they are typically rooted in our core beliefs about life. 

Name That Vow

If the most powerful vows are those that are never spoken, why not speak them? If you said them out loud, would you agree with the promises you’ve made to yourself? You may be surprised to learn that the very things you have vowed contradict what you say you believe.  

I recently met with a woman who “believed” strongly in the importance of marriage. She is teaching her kids to save themselves for marriage and tells them about God’s beautiful design for intimacy. Yet she has no sexual desire for her husband and can’t figure out why. When our actions don’t line up with what we say we believe, often we are guided by unspoken vows. This is a woman who has made promises early in life—vows that go deeper than the ones she said on her wedding day. 

Sex is just dirty and makes me feel like a slut. I won’t ever let myself enjoy it. 
I am only safe when I am in control of relationships. I will never let my husband get the upper hand. 

Looking at the contradiction between what we say we believe and what we have vowed can be a real wake-up call. It helps explain why determining to be a great wife or friend doesn’t always dictate our actions. 

Assessing Your Vows

No doubt, there are some promises we should try to keep. It’s a wonderful thing to fulfill the promises we have made to God and others. So how do we know whether our vows are worth keeping? 

Unhealthy vows are typically rooted in the desire for personal safety. They also have more to do with the past than with current circumstances. Rather than keeping you safe, your vows more often allow your past to sabotage your future. Ask the Lord to show you whether the vows you are living by are honoring to Him and to others, and whether they are based on past fears or your current convictions. 

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that when we are born in Christ, we become new emotional and spiritual creations. The old things will pass away and all things can become new. As you grow in your relationship with Christ, this is His desire for you: that you let go of the vows that once dictated your life so that you are free to live boldly for God’s glory.

 

You may also be interested in the following resources:

Java with Juli #110: How to Find Your Identity in Jesus (member exclusive)
Java with Juli #257: How Trauma Affects Our Bodies & Souls
Shame Doesn't Have the Final Word (blog)
Why We Don't Experience Victory (blog)

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  • fellow pilgrim

    fellow pilgrim

    Thanks for this. I think I am that passive father. My own father was charming, manly, generous, volatile, emotionally abusive, and very easily hurt and sensitive to criticism. I think that, above all, I promised myself that I would not allow him to provoke a reaction from me, because a reaction would set off emotional abuse and hurt him in a way that I couldn't handle. He never abused us physically, I'm grateful for that.
  • Ginger Taddeo

    Ginger Taddeo

    God recently revealed to me that my vows are, "I will never be deprived again and I will not feel pain anymore." Wow, have they had a negative impact in my life!! God is working on healing my heart as I surrender the things I use to cover up the pain behind those vows. Great blog!!! I will be rereading this one

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Our beliefs about sexuality begin and end with our beliefs about God. Is He trustworthy? Is His Word reliable? How could a loving God not embrace me just the way I am? As Joshua’s journey showcases, when we question God’s sovereignty and kindness related to our sexuality, we will question everything we have ever believed about Him. Deconstructing our views of sexuality will always cause us to revisit our beliefs about God. This is why it is critical for every Christian to be firmly rooted not simply in the rules of Christian sexuality, (“thou shalt not…”) but to delve deeply into God’s heart related to our sexuality.   The purity narrative has never offered a satisfactory explanation of God’s heart for sexuality. In an effort to encourage teenagers to stay pure, the purity movement presented unrealistic promises (a great marriage and sex life) to those who followed the rules, and oppressive shame (you become like "already chewed bubble gum") for those who didn’t. 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A few years ago, I got stuck on something Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “I resolved when I was with you to teach nothing but Christ and Christ crucified.” If you’ve read Paul’s letters to the early churches, you know that Paul taught about a lot of things, including sexuality. But his statement means that in every topic we address, we must begin and end with the message of Jesus Christ. He is our why. He is our how. He is our what. As I pondered this passage, I wondered, how can I talk about all of these sexual issues at Authentic Intimacy with the same resolve that Paul had—to teach nothing but Christ and Christ crucified? We can’t just talk about sexual purity, the dangers of pornography, sexual abuse recovery, or any other sexual issue in a vacuum. 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He is Lord.   To learn more, check out these additional resources:  Pure Sadness and a Better Way Forward; Dr. Juli Slattery's newest book, Rethinking Sexuality; Java with Juli episode #235: How the Purity Movement Hurt Us;  #236: Pursue Wholeness, Not Purity; and #256: Who Is Jesus to You? Photo provided by I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye