Here in Montana a guy disappeared eight days after his wedding. His wife said he left the house in a dark car from Washington. He was missing for quite a while before someone found his body at the bottom of a cliff in Glacier National Park off the Going to the Sun Highway. For over six weeks there have been a lot of questions asked about what happened . . . and, for over six weeks, the authorities said nothing. Lots of things were suspected . . . even murder. This morning the newspapers answered the questions . . . if you were putting your money on murder, you won. And, if you were betting on the grieving widow as the primary suspect . . . you doubled your bet.
Till death us do part . . .
Promises spoken in just about every wedding service I have ever officiated at . . . promises probably uttered at the majority of wedding services performed in a so-called “Christian” church. I guess the bride took the words seriously . . . after eight days she had had enough of being married. Admitting to the murder, the widow stated that she and her departed husband had been arguing while visiting the nearby national park. The argument escalated, she pushed him, she pushed him back . . . and, over a cliff where he fell to his death. Turns out she didn’t really want to get married in the first place, she just wanted a big marriage. It was downhill from the words, “I do.”
A phrase in a Bruce Springsteen song caught my attention this morning as I was commuting to my job in the nearby big city . . . “The promises we made.” It got me to thinking about promises . . . promises we all make to one another and ourselves . . . promises that sound good when we make them, but are a long, long way from fulfillment. This couple made promises to one another in the presence of family, friends, and God . . . promises that were never realized or fulfilled. Made me think . . .
We make promises all of the time.
I have come to the conclusion that words are only as good as the actions that back them up. Promises are just words and we all fail the words that we speak. I know that I have, and for that, I am sorry. Sorry to all of those that I have let down over the years with the empty words that I have said. Sometimes it is easier to say the words that people want to hear than it is to be honest and disappoint people that we care about . . . but, isn’t what happens anyways when we do not live up to the promises that we make? If the congruency between the words and actions are not there, aren’t they nothing more than broken promises?
The newspaper article stated that everyone who knew the young man who was pushed off the cliff was wildly and deeply in love with his murderer. They said he was looking forward to his new adventure in marriage. Unfortunately, his spouse was not as thrilled. Broken promises . . . ironically, she did keep one promise . . . until death us do part. I imagine that is one way to look at it.
Promises . . . do we really consider the weight of the words that we speak? Words that are hung on by those who heard them . . . including ourselves. All of us speak words of promise . . . and, all of us have experienced the pain of broken promises.
I imagine all of us have broken more than our fair share of promises over a lifetime . . . I know that I have. I have broken promises with just about every person who is a part of my life and who has been a part of my life. I have left people I love standing in the lurch . . . and, they have done the same to me. I have spoken the words of hope . . . the words of love . . . of dreams . . . and, of promise, only to see them never fulfilled.
I think that for most people the intention is never to hurt someone else. I think that it is to please the people and allow them to hear what they want to hear. Unfortunately, we humans are weak and lazy . . . in our lazy weakness we break our work because it takes more than we expect, much more . . . whether it is in cost or effort. We ignore our words . . . we deny our words . . . whatever the reason, we break our word. So much for the promises we make!
As a pastor, I am reminded of the promises I have made each and every time I perform a wedding, baptism, and funeral. I hear the words I speak as they echo in the sanctuary of faith because each of those services has promises . . . promises between those who speak, those who participate, and those who are witnessing . . . promises to one another and to ourselves. I know that they are not mere words, but a spoken hope of what could be if we live up to those promises. Each time I find hope in the failure I realize . . . promises, spoken and unspoken. The Spirit knocks on the door of the heart . . .
. . . can any of us ever answer openly and honestly when we know we have failed to live up to the promises we speak?
That is the daily challenge. To live up to the words that we speak . . . by putting action behind our words. Thankfully we have a forgiving God . . . a God of grace. A God of grace who has never forgotten the promise made to each and every one of us . . . we will never be abandoned . . . we will never be forgotten . . . we will not be alone. Thankfully, most of us have experienced that grace in those we love . . . those who love us despite our broken promises. For both, I am thankful.
Promises are never easy to keep if we take them seriously. Just like the young woman who pushed her husband over a cliff, I too, have stated that I will love until “death we do part.” It is the toughest job I have ever had . . . one that I haven’t quite gotten the hang of yet . . . and, one that I try daily to make sure that my actions back my words. It never crossed my mind to push my wife off a cliff . . . but, I guess we all see promises differently. The promises we make are usually easy to say, but harder to live up to. Thank goodness God hangs in there with us . . . at least we should try to honor the words we speak. I think God would appreciate it.