The world would be better if we kept our promises

Jonathan Swift (November 1667-19 October 1745) was born in Dublin Ireland.  He spent some time in England but lived most of his life in Ireland, and is known as an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric.  One of his most famous writings is Gulliver’s Travels, which some of you may have read.

He made this cynical observation: “promises and piecrusts are made to be broken.”  We observe ample evidence of broken promises and think about a better society if everyone kept their promises.  

First, we have promises to keep to ourselves.  The most sacred promises are made without words in the silent sanctuary of the soul.  Here are a few: to eliminate a destructive habit, to abandon some shabby and unworthy practice, to initiate reconciliation with a friend or relative, to become more attentive parents, and more devoted mates.  How many of these promises have we treated like piecrusts?

We are each born with magnificent potentialities.  There is within us a capacity for idealism, yearning for truth, love, beauty, nobility, and a sensitivity to the needs and dreams of other people.  Yet, so often the years pass and these promises are swept under the rug of expediency.

We excuse the promises and potentialities as unrealistic in a cruel world.  It’s get what you want before someone else gets it—there is little thought of developing a giving attitude.

At some juncture in life there may come an honest self-confrontation when we take stock of the unkept promises and discover our failures.  We are moved to confess, as did F. Scott Fitzgerald when he wrote, “I have been only a mediocre steward of my talent.”

How sad to come to the end of life and say, “I could have done better.”  While you have miles to go on life’s journey, keep those promises you’ve made to yourself and do your best.

Secondly, we make promises to others.  We’ve been taught that a man’s word should be his bond, and that a person who cannot be trusted to honor a promise cannot be trusted at all.

I remember when I was young that two parties shook hands on a business deal and both kept their promises without a contract.  Now contracts are scrutinized by attorneys for each party, notarized, and filed in the county court house.  Even after all the legal work, there is no guarantee the promises will be honored. 

Our noblest instincts endorse the biblical teaching: “When a man vows a vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2).  What a wonderful world it would be if every person never broke a promise.

 — Jerry Burnaman is pastor  of Grays Prairie Missionary Baptist Church

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