Recently professional golfing legend Lee Trevino was asked what is the greatest lesson he’s tried to pass on to his children. I loved his answer.
“One thing I’ve told them is that your word is your bond. That once you’ve lost your word, you’ve lost all your dignity. So when you tell someone that you’re going to do something, you do it. Regardless if it costs you. And it will cost you money sometimes, cost you time. But you gave them your word.”
I read that to Sara, my wife, and lamented how few people live by that anymore. Everyone wants the freedom to make every decision new each day, even if their change of mind betrays the trust and love of others. I really don’t understand people who live that way. If people won’t abide by the simplest words of their own mouths how can any meaningful exchanges take place? Our society has concocted an entire legal system of contracts, lawyers, and courts, in hopes of getting people to stand by their word. But even that is a bit of a sham, because it may not count if you don’t sign a document or swear an oath. Like all systems it eventually becomes something to manipulate, rather than rely on for the truth.
That was one of my father’s bedrock lessons to me. The quality of your character rests in whether or not people can trust the words of your mouth. Even David talked about the one God loves “keeps his oath, even when it hurts.” (Psalm 15:4) Even Jesus sought to instill that in his followers: “And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matt 5:36-37)
How much clearer could Scripture be? If you don’t fulfill your promises when it hurts, then what good are they anyway? If you don’t respect your own words and promises, how can you expect other people to have any respect for you?
The two greatest betrayals in my life came because people wouldn’t follow through on promises they made, and refused any conversation that might have found a better way forward through any legitimate frustrations in their commitments. Interestingly enough both brothers who couldn’t justify their actions with any reasonable explanation resorted to the same lame line, “God told me to do this.” The fact that they refused any discussion of their decision tells me God didn’t. One thing I know about people who listen to God, it makes them more humble and open even to being wrong, not more arrogant, demanding and dark. Those who truly hear God are always willing to discuss, to listen and to care about those their decisions affect.
I agree with Lee Trevino, if you lose your word you lose your dignity. If you want to live in the power of friendships, let your yes be yes and your no be no. Even when your promises cost you something you didn’t expect, stay faithful to them anyway. God will do marvelous things out of your faithfulness even to your own hurt. And Jesus was right, the enemy has a field day where people deny that simple reality.