Making Commitments & Breaking Commitments

Commitment has become less common, but it hasn't become less essential to the Christian faith.

Our annual Youth Confirmation Sunday is coming up.  With several hours of catching up on correcting homework for Youth Confirmation classes yesterday, it gave me the chance to think more about the issue of commitment for Christians and commitment (or the lack thereof) that we see in our world today in general.  Commitment is an important part of the Christian faith and is gradually becoming a less important value in our world, and the widening gap would seemingly only hurt Christianity.  So it’s probably worthwhile for us to understand it better and figure out how to deal with it. 

Let’s start with an obvious application question: is 14 years old too young for someone to make a committed faith statement about what they believe in life and are dedicated to?  Well, think about this: what are the other “major decisions” of life and what general ages do we expect them to occur.   Typically, the two other main choices you’ll make in life are 1) what do I want to do for a living?, and 2) who do I want to marry?

The average age for both of those decisions has noticeably risen in the past 50 years in our country.  College students today, on average, change their major at least three times.  In addition, significantly more students are getting graduate degrees than ever before.  All of this delays the age at which people technically have to be committed to a specific profession.  And even that doesn’t ensure that someone will stick with a single job, as most statistics seem to indicate that many are still inclined to switch careers in their life (on average, 3 or 4 times). 

Likewise, when it comes to marriage, in 1960, the median age for a man was 23 years old and the median age for a woman was 20 years old.  As of 2007, the average age for a person to first say “I do” was 27.5 for a man and 25.5 for a woman, with consistent rises every decade.  The fact that Americans so closely are influenced by the life timeline trends of one another should probably indicate to us that marriage doesn’t appear to be as much “I’ve finally found ‘the one'” as it is simply “when I want to.”  And even though a vastly increasing number of these couples now live together before marriage, where they think it’ll help them get a better determination of compatibility, an even greater percentage of those who live together before marriage actually get divorced when they finally get married than those who don’t live together prior to marriage.  The logic is fairly simple: the type of person who, on the basis of their own personal morals, is willing to openly have a sexual relationship with someone prior to marriage and announce that to the world, is consistently the same type of person whose morals allow them to be more “okay” with the idea of getting a divorce. 

Bottom line in all of this is that it’s all an issue of WHO or WHAT we’re willing to commit to in life.  Americans are becoming more and more noncommittal.  What impact do you think that has on the Christian faith?  What impact does that have on Christian practices like Christian Confirmation? 

Let’s start with the “WHY” of poor commitment practices:

1) information overload

One complicating factor in commitment today is that we’ve never had more options in life.  Information is being thrown at us at unprecedented rates as the 20th century spawned the information era.  Did you know that sociologists suggest that if you went back 50 or more years, the world’s knowledge base (that’s the average amount of information that a normal person has in their brain at one time) doubled every 50 years or so.  Nowadays, the world’s knowledge base supposedly doubles less than every 2 years.  We have tons of information to sort through in our heads and in our lives, unlike any time in the history of the world. 

All this info leads us to feeling like we can never really become confident in decisions because we’re aware that there is so much information out there and we never know if we have enough good info to make a wise choice.  We’d like to trust “experts” but everyone claims to be an expert.  10 different s experts with PhDs in nutrition can tell you 10 different ways to lose weight.  10 different experts certified in finance may tell you 10 different tips to become a millionaire.  We don’t know who or what to trust, so it takes us much longer to make the “right” decision. 

2) openness to immorality

In the post “Sex & the City” world in which we live, young women are too easy, plain and simple.  That might not sound like a fair statement, but statistics indicate clearly that the price it takes to have sex with the average woman has dropped measurably over the years.  You can blame it on the sexual revolution or the women’s liberation movement or whatever else, but it’s a reality.  Women in our country have more leadership in more workplaces and more organizations than ever before, but some negative fallout from the pursuit to empowerment and taking over the “man’s world” is that many women have adopted some traditionally male moral weaknesses, almost as though it merely comes with the territory.  Does this let guys off the hook?  No way.  I’ll be one of the first on the “men need to repent and ‘man up’ for leadership” band wagon.  But men have been consistently poor in this particular area of morality historically.  Women are the ones who have taken the step backwards, who have been willing to compromise their once-sacred purity. 

Now granted, there’s a number of other factors as well.  Hi-speed digital pornography has cheapened sex so much that many men opt for it as an easier alternative to trying to invest themselves in a real relationship that requires feelings and sacrifice and energy.  Many would argue that birth control perhaps cheapens the concept of what sex is.  And that all may very well be true.  The reality, however, is this: If women, who historically (fairly or unfairly) have been better at playing defense here would simply choose to hold their ground, even if it does mean seeing several jerks walk away, those average ages for marriage would immediately drop.  The later ages for marriage today aren’t about “finding the right person” or “planning the perfect wedding” or “waiting till we’re financially set” or anything else as much as it’s about what designed-for-marriage, God-given gift they’ve  been willing to give away free of charge. 

Maybe you remember your grandmother saying something to you regarding “no one’s going to buy the cow when they can get the milk for free.”  Alright, so as awful and distastefully objectifying as grandma’s analogy was on a variety of levels, she knew what she was talking about.  Our increased immorality has killed our sense of commitment.  (For more on this, check out Sex is Cheap)

3) fear of responsibility and failure

As mentioned, men are just as much (or more) to blame as women when it comes to America’s commitment phobia.  Part of the reason is that we’re terrified to fail in front of everyone.  Our egos are incredibly fragile.  The thought process works like this: If I don’t ever sign up, if I don’t ever get in the game, then I can’t ever fail.  Whereas women are wired for relationship, men are wired for accomplishment.  I see this all the time when I ask someone about their life.  Women will tell you about their family.  Men will start talking about their work.  It isn’t right or wrong inherently, mostly just a product of God’s designed gender variation.

For many men, choosing a marriage partner or a profession or committing to anything in life is like locking in to a case on Deal Or No Deal…”What if the next case has 10,000 more dollars in it?!”  They refuse to connect to something for fear that something better might come along and in doing so, many young men refuse to grow up.  Part of the reason why we’re sometimes such bad husbands, boyfriends, fathers, workers, teammates, and spiritual leaders is that we’re so self-involved and pride hungry, that if we don’t see something as generating immediate respect that massages our fragile egos, we don’t deem it as “worth it.”  Spiritual guidance, serving others, and patience just won’t bring us the trophies and notoriety and respect that make us look good in the eyes of others.  So in a world that puts a premium on SportsCenter highlights, “doing the right thing” or “a job well done” simply isn’t going to appeal much to most men.   

Sometimes this is labeled as “laziness” in men.  While that’s partially true, the reality is that most men are willing to work incredibly hard if they think that the work they put in will directly result in the respect that they crave.  If this world doesn’t highly respect faithfulness, commitment, and spiritual leadership, don’t expect droves of men to get in line. 

In summary, some of the reasons that people today are afraid to commit are because 1) we aren’t very confident that we can make right decisions, 2) the world lets us get away without committing (while still receiving the pleasure we desire), and 3) we don’t want a commitment we make to turn into hard work that doesn’t earn respect from people. 

What does God say about commitment? 

Jesus was very clear concerning commitment, he said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40).  Jesus made it simple.  Your greatest commitment in life is to God.  Many people say they are committed to God.  Talk is very cheap though.  If you aren’t willing to get out of bed for God, let alone give up your life, you’re probably not that committed.  If you’re not willing to regularly give an offering to further proclaim the gospel message, let alone give up all your wealth to follow Jesus (cf. Matt. 19:16-24), you’re probably not that committed.  If you’re not willing to alter your lifestyle, let alone have difficult conversations that might jeopardize your relationships, you’re probably not that committed.  Saying you believe in God and committing yourself to that God in your relationship to his Son Jesus by following his teachings are two very different and distant concepts. 

Your second greatest commitment in life is to others.  The usual way the Bible highlights the flow of human relationships is to family, then to faith community, then to others in the world.  But often we Christians don’t seem to be better at selflessly cultivating these relationships any more than anyone else in life.  It’s clear that God desires for us to make and keep thoughtful commitments to him and to others, but how do we get better at it?

If possible, sometime soon read the short Old Testament book of Ruth.  Read Ruth and become like Ruth.  The book of Ruth records God’s providential hand over a widowed Moabite woman whose faith in God and extraordinary character caused a guy named Boaz to fall in love with her and redeem her life so that Jesus the Redeemer could be born through them.

Ruth had lost her Jewish husband in the country of Moab.  Her mother-in-law, Naomi, told her to go find another husband.  Yet Ruth had become so enamored with the Jewish God (the true God in the Old Testament), that she didn’t want to do anything that might forfeit that relationship (i.e. relationship with God was priority #1).  In addition, she had grown attached to Naomi, loved her more than she loved herself, and knew that Naomi needed care provided for her as well (i.e. relationship to other loved family and believers was priority #2).  So, Ruth travelled with Naomi to a foreign land where she knew almost no one.  She was committed to her God first and to another second.  She put her own pleasure and comfort after those priorities.  How did God bless that?  He had a wealthy man named Boaz pursue her and go to fairly significant lengths to marry her.   And this couple became descendants of the Savior. 

Jesus also came from his home of comfort to a foreign place, one of fear and discomfort and sin.  Why would he do that?  It was all so that he could , like Boaz, buy us back.  But the price he would pay was his own blood.  He was that committed to us.  In fact, God made a commitment back in the Garden of Eden that he would destroy the devil’s work.  He went through hell to keep that commitment.  And his commitment nullified the harsh consequences of a very fearful, immoral, prideful, and noncommittal people.  We learn from him.

Christians make commitments and they keep commitments in life.  They do this because commitment is right in step with other godly virtues like faithfulness, generosity, responsibility, accountability, etc.  They’re all in the recipe of godly people.  Christians make commitments to God and to one another confidently, because they understand it’s in line with God’s will, that God blesses his will, and that they have a God who is eternally committed to them who will see them through their commitments.