Life Lessons from Commitment Failure

Welcome to a new month and a new, good word: COMMITMENT. (Did you just hear a loud thud, as if something heavy fell?) Although this word has great synergy with love (and love is SO in the air right now) it definitely isn’t as bubbly and fun. Or maybe that’s just a lie the world is trying to sell us, along with the popular misconceptions that we can reverse aging, we need to overachieve to be successful and if we read something online, it’s surely reliable. Go ahead and exhale and move past the noise of this world, because friends, I want you to know that commitment is a beautiful thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no commitment expert. Actually, I might be closer to the opposite. I’ve lived through several all-out failures in this particular area, starting in my childhood. Many of my elementary and middle school years were without the presence of a steadfast father that modeled commitment. As an adult, I’ve not been able to enjoy the fruits of (grand)parental engagement. Missing from my story is the joyful, protective and wise shepherding of the next generations of my parents’ lineage. It’s just not how my life has unfolded, and although I feel the loss and impact, I try not to live in a state of victimization. I’ve learned valuable lessons and have been strengthened in some ways as a result of these experiences.

As well, I have my own failures for which I have to take personal responsibility. My first marriage failed too, and clearly, I played a role in that.  What started as two high school seniors seeing stars and having a blast sharing life together, turned into two young adults, not honestly communicating, pursing our careers over each other and then allowing deep feelings of loneliness and neglect to lead us apart and astray. We didn’t have the personal or spiritual maturity, genuine community (because we kept it hidden, versus seeking counsel and support) or the hope needed to salvage what we had promised each other in front of God, our families and friends.

It’s that last word I want to highlight: HOPE.

The reason it’s worth highlighting is because hope is so closely linked to commitment. Even more importantly, if our hope is placed in another person, we are doomed for failure…because EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. will fail us at times. Even the ones who love us the most.

Human nature allows us to persevere if we believe there is even a small chance of success. But if we believe there is no chance – no hope – of making it work, human nature also allows us to give up. We throw in the towel without hope, and we can justify our choice and even feel good about it when lacking that positive vision. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there.

Here’s the deal, though… my hope was in another human; not in my Lord; not in the Creator of all the universe; not in the One who breathed life into my lungs; not in the Advocate who intercedes on my behalf; not in the Almighty who can make the blind see and the lame walk; not in the Savior who releases me from bondage and pays the debt I cannot afford; not in the I Am who was and is and always will be; not in the Light of the World who transforms lives and defeats death! I believed too much in a fictional fairy tale that put entirely too much pressure on any human, and I didn’t place my trust in an all-capable God who could have done something. Because we attempted this all on our own; without pursuing Christ together; without revealing our struggles to community who would have walked alongside us; without putting the other person first, ahead of our own selfish desires; I knew that we, in and of ourselves, just couldn’t put all the broken pieces back together. And I lost hope. Rightly so.

My hope was misguided.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

My hope – and my commitment – needed to be in Christ, first and foremost. Because He NEVER fails and, as such, is WORTHY of such hope. He won’t buckle under that pressure. He doesn’t buckle, ever. Rather, He claims victory! He is perfect, trustworthy and steadfast.

In fact, when I think about the word, commitment, there is no greater illustration than Jesus, who while we were still sinners, gave His life for us. (Romans 5:8) Seriously, think about this. We fall short all the time; we never ever walk perfectly; we easily fall into sin patterns; we repeatedly deny Him the time, attention and commitment that He deserves. And yet, He remains, unwaveringly, fully committed to us — persistently pursuing us and willing to offer all that He has to give, down to His last breath.

{Let’s just admit it: none of us would do the same for anyone who puts us on the back burner as much as we do the same to Him. Am I right?} 

And yet, this is who Jesus is. This is His purpose and calling. This is how much He loves us, and when we say yes to Him, He makes us new, restored and redeemed — beautiful, without flaw in His Father’s eyes.

For those who have been married, I want you remember how beautiful you felt on your wedding day, after being pampered, primped and posed in your gorgeous gown, intricate hairstyle and artistic makeup. You went to a lot of effort, and it felt so worth it. It’s likely at the top of a short list of days when you felt so beautiful, cherished and alive as a woman. You did all that for your betrothed. When we say yes to Jesus, He does all that work for us.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-26)

Jesus loves us in a way that humans are incapable of duplicating on their own, without the power, conviction and strengthening of his Holy Spirit in us.

We need Him to become more like Him.

So, our first commitment needs to be to Him. We are reminded of this in the book of Matthew, and Jesus Himself makes it strikingly clear in a teachable moment to a Pharisee:

 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

 Jesus replied: “‘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.” (Matthew 22:36-38)

First and greatest, meaning nothing and nobody is more important or should take a higher priority. He is our greatest commitment. He is also our greatest reward. That’s the best part. With Him, our possibilities are endless! {I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)} Without Him, we’re left struggling, disappointed and unfulfilled.

I rejoice in this knowledge that once wasn’t common to me. This year, I’ll celebrate nineteen years of marriage to the man who came along after I had failed the first time. What a gift he is to me in so many ways; not because he is perfect and not because our marriage is perfect, either. He is a gift to me, because he shares the same belief that marriage is sacred. It’s meant to be a reflection of the way God loves the Church (those who believe.) It’s meant to be a complete union; a becoming of one body; an enduring, irreversible and completely trustworthy commitment to join together.

We root our marriage in our faith. Our commitment is to pursue Jesus first and in unity. Our marriage is a union of three, with Him in the center of all our decisions, plans and hopes (and reconciliations…which come so much faster now!)

And let me just say, it’s STILL hard sometimes. We are human, so we fail and our selfishness rises up and screams, ME, ME, ME, WHAT ABOUT ME?! It takes a healthy dose of divine intervention to muster the discipline that pushes selfishness aside; for me to submit to him, and for him to love me as much as his own body. (Ephesians 5:21-33) It’s NOT easy… but with Christ, we have HOPE!!!! We’re not stifled by ourselves and our weaknesses, and we know He is continually sanctifying us, helping us to become more and more like Him, so this becomes easier and more natural over time (and it IS!!!! Hallelujah!!)

When I started this blog post suggesting that commitment feels heavy, it’s because I know it can seem like a burden and hindrance to our freedom and happiness. That’s exactly how I used to feel. But my own failure and experience has changed my viewpoint. Today, I see commitment as a source of power; a lifeline and the only thing that can save me from my  selfish and destructive ways. I can see how Christ has redeemed and renewed my perspective, so I can find joyful abundance and life – through Him – in my marriage. And, as He so often does, He has made beauty out of ashes and created something fresh and new in me.

I have such hope for the next nineteen years (and more!) with my husband; such hope in the visions, dreams and plans we have in front of us; such hope for the love we will share and multiply as our family grows generationally; such hope that we each continue to die to ourselves and our selfish ways as we learn to serve and love each other better and better; such hope that together we can sharpen and encourage one another to become more purposeful and bring greater meaning to our lives and the world around us. This hope is everything, and it can only come from the One who is our Everything. Our marriage commitment rests on Jesus, and it’s the only way we can receive all the goodness He intended for this union. Commitment is our gateway to joy, because we just can’t do it without Him.

What a shift. What a lesson. What a blessing commitment is.

How do you engage Christ in your marriage commitment? What’s one thing you could do together with your spouse that would strengthen your faith and/or spur each other on? Perhaps you could brainstorm ideas over a date night conversation or a sweet pillow talk before bed. Give it a try? Or share with a friend who might need the encouragement.

On deck for next week, Jen Murphy will share her take on commitment. Stay tuned…and subscribe to the blog, so it conveniently comes to your inbox!

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