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“Isn’t a broken promise the wickedest thing?”

October 5th, 2004 · 1 Comment

From Julia Sauer’s The Light at Tern Rock, which the girls and I read today…

Ronnie flung down his towel and burst out, “Aunt Marthy, isn’t a broken promise the wickedest thing on earth?”

Martha Morse took her hands out of the water and gave the question her full attention. “I don’t believe so, ” she said gravely at last. “It seems to me I can think of wickeder things. I guess cruelty – hurting anything little or defenseless – is my idea of the worst kind of wickedness. Still, I can remember when I’d have agreed with you, ” she added honestly. “But you get used to broken promises, Ronnie. Broken promises, along with good intentions that have gone wrong, just litter the highway all through your life. They’re nothing to bother about much unless they’re your own. But they’re mean, Ronnie. A man who breaks a promise has a weak place in his net. Sometimes he’ll get by with it, but sometime he’ll lose the catch of a lifetime. But we’ve got to remember one thing before we dare to judge Byron Flagg or anyone else – we’ve got to know why he broke his promise. Maybe he had good reason.”

Ronnie showed no interest in Byron Flagg’s reason, but he said fiercely as he picked up his towel again, “I’ll never break a promise as long as I live!”

Martha Morse made no comment, but she thought to herself, “If he can live up to that, he’ll be in debt to Byron Flagg.”

[pages 33 – 34]

Been there, done that. I was a kid who felt grown ups break promises and who promised she would never do that to anyone else. And now I’ve been an adult who has broken promises and hearts in my own family. Not in a major way – at least I hope not – but enough that the tears in my child’s eyes won’t be forgotten.

I don’t know if I agree with Martha Morse’s counsel, that we should accept broken promises as something that happens. As we age, we grown numb to pain. We have to get thicker skin to survive. Should we get used to broken promises? Does it matter what a person’s reasons were? Or is the trust broken anyway when the promise is broken? If cruelty is defined by hurting anything little or defenseless, then I don’t see how that could be so different from a broken promise – often they happen together.

I think I do agree with Ronnie’s reaction. If we can learn from what we have suffered then we are stronger. Vows and unresolved emotioins though can be dangerous motivation, another form of vengeance. Humility is helpful. If I can look at what others have done to hurt me, and then examine myself, to see if I could or have done the same to someone else, then I can grow from the pain.

Promises do get broken. People make mistakes. But I don’t want to grow numb to the pain. And I want to do the best I can, by God’s grace, to be true to the words I say and the example I live before my family.

Tags: books

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Kai Jones // Oct 5, 2004 at 10:51 am

    I decided not to promise my kids anything that had elements outside my control. It worked sometimes and not others.

    There’s such a huge implicit promise in having a child in the first place…and it’s impossible to keep that one.