We had been in this situation before. My husband was serving as a youth pastor, and we were sitting at church one Sunday afternoon, waiting for the youth to show up for a pizza night. As we sat in the sanctuary with our stack of HOT-N-READYs from Little Caesars, we nervously wondered: Will this be enough?
You see, we asked for a head count on Wednesday night, but as usual, our students really couldn’t give us a straight answer.
- “I might have homework to do.”
- “I might be hanging out with a friend.”
- “I don’t know what my plans are that night.”
All standard responses when we asked them to settle down and commit to our Sunday night pizza party. All code words for “I’m waiting to see if something better comes along.”
If pressed, our students would flatly deny that this was their motive. But we had been around the block enough times to know that a waffling on a commitment usually meant the event in question could be dumped for something better.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve seen the same thing continue to happen among my generation as well. I rarely receive a shower invitation that includes an option to RSVP, unless it is a “regrets only” request. The reason? People don’t RSVP anymore. Sure, they might come to your party. But committing to it far in advance is a little risky in a world full of other things to do.
With all of our tendencies as a generation toward fear of commitment, we actually hurt ourselves in the long run. When we fail to commit to something, we aren’t just reneging on commitments, we are hurting a relationship.
There are real life people behind the commitments we make. RSVPs to a dinner party impact how much food a hostess buys for her guests. When one person — or worse, multiple people — show up unannounced, it has ramifications for how she serves her guests. Maybe she now is short on food. Maybe she doesn’t have enough seating. Or in even more personal terms, maybe (because she had so few responses to her invite) she wonders if anyone truly wants to attend her party after all. She is the face behind a failure to commit. And if she is your friend, she matters to you.
So why does this cultural disregard for commitment exist?
A number of things can prevent a person from making decisions and sticking with them. I know I tend to be fearful that I may miss out on something better. Maybe you are afraid of the outcome of your commitment. If you commit to something you may be stuck with a difficult circumstance or something you end up despising. Maybe you don’t see it as that big of a deal. Who cares if I never RSVP to my friend’s bridal shower and then show up the day of? you wonder. Maybe she doesn’t care, maybe she does. But whatever your aversion to sticking with something may be, at the end of the day you will never be able to avoid risks.
Or maybe you don’t commit for more noble reasons. You actually value your word. When you say you will be at something, you intend to honor that commitment. By not committing to anything, you actually protect yourself from breaking your word. But is it really that different from the person who says “yes” and then doesn’t come?
Both responses are for the risk averse.
Life is about risks, isn’t it? Every day you leave the house, you take a risk that you may not come home at the end of the day. When you pledge to love someone in marriage for a lifetime, you take a considerable risk to your heart and very life. When you have a child, you take a risk as the child then becomes a part of you, dependent on you for every single thing in his or her life. Not to mention the risk the little baby poses to your heart. When you take a job, you risk failure or success. And even when you say you will attend your friend’s birthday party next week, you run the risk that another friend might approach you with a better option (like tickets to see your favorite band in concert). Life is full of decisions and risks, big and small.
For so many of us, our greatest aversion to commitment is rooted in our greatest fears. For many, it’s the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). Now an acronym added to the Oxford English Dictionary, FOMO can have a real impact on how people make decisions. You cautiously hold your life plans close in fear that you might miss something better later on. But does it serve you in the end?
The Bible Speaks to Our FOMO
At the end of the day, the Bible speaks to all of our fears, fear of missing out and anything else keeping us from committing to something. In the Old Testament, taking a vow, committing to something, had meaning in the larger community.
The Bible has over 300 references to vows. In the Old Testament, someone was either making a vow to another person, the community or God. There were consequences for making a vow in haste, without thinking of the outcome.
In the book of Judges, Jephthah vowed to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house if the Lord would give him the Ammonites in battle (Judges 11:31-32). And we learn quickly the tragic nature of his vow when his daughter comes bursting out of his home upon his arrival. His promise was hasty and ill-conceived.
It’s not just in the book of Judges either. Vows were all over the Old Testament. Moses devotes an entire chapter to vows in Leviticus 27. What we say we will do has repercussions for our lives and the lives of others.
But we live on the other side of Old Testament law. In Christ, we no longer follow the code of the law. We don’t make sacrifices and vows. And we don’t live in an ancient Near Eastern culture where vows have lasting impact. Even Jesus recognized that there was something more important going on with the vows in the Old Testament.
In Matthew 5:37, Jesus tells His followers to “let what you say simply be ‘yes’ or ‘no.'” In the context of the greater passage, He has been showing His followers how He is the fulfillment of the Law, not the abolisher of it. He quotes the Law regarding oaths and vows and then immediately says these words about our commitments.
Jesus is telling us, and them, that our word is enough. Our word matters. When we speak to others, saying we will do something for them or with them, they should be able to take our word to the bank. Jesus is saying “you don’t need an oath or a vow to keep your word. You simply need to honor what you say you will do.” There is no FOMO with Jesus. There is no “let’s see if something better comes along.” It’s all commitment, all of the time.
Commitment Is Relational
For all of our focus on building intentional communities in our millennial generation, few things foster greater community than owning our commitments and sticking to them. When you tell a friend you will be at her house for dinner Saturday night and then actually show up (even if something better did come along that afternoon), you are putting your stake in the ground with that relationship. Her friendship matters to you, so much so that you will honor your word to her no matter the cost.
Our friends know we love them by the way we commit to them. Relationships take work. They do not happen by haphazard gatherings here and there. They are forged through difficulty, intentionality and conversation — all things that must happen through commitment. And our friendships with others are the training ground for our commitment to our future marriage, our children and even our church.
The ambient culture that millennials swim in is not conducive to fostering lifelong friendships rooted in commitment. But the Bible is. Christ, who is God, left many better things to redeem a people for himself — us. He committed to us at the cost of His life. He sought us out when we could give Him nothing in return. And He is bound to us for eternity through His shed blood. Christians have a different story to tell regarding commitment. Our “yes” can be “yes” because we have One who committed to us first and enables us to commit for the long haul.
So make a commitment. Say “yes” to an event and really mean it. Sacrifice your fear of missing out on the altar of self, and live with freedom to commit to your friends. It might be painful. It might mean you miss something fun. But it will definitely mean you gain relationships that stick. And who doesn’t want to commit to that?
Copyright 2014 Courtney Reissig. All rights reserved.