Promises, promises

Some brides choose hideous dresses for their bridesmaids to ensure they don't upstage the her on the Big Day.

But most are far more interested in their own dress than much else...

...Well, perhaps apart from their groom!

Weddings are big business and the price women are prepared to pay to look their very best on their wedding day is jaw dropping. The cost and effort put into wedding dresses can be exorbitant. A cynic would suggest that you wear it for a few hours on one day of your life, and then it gets shoved into a box somewhere, maybe only to see the light of day when any daughters you might have are old enough show some interest. 

For my mother, this storage place was her glory box, a beautifully carved wooden chest made for her by my father.

As she is now in the process of moving to a smaller home, I have been helping my mother clean out. She particularly asked if we could go through her glory box together. In amongst old school books, baby clothes, cards and other memorabilia was her wedding dress. As we pulled it out and looked at it, with all its lace and tulle, (and there is an vast amount of both!), she wondered what to do with it. 

On one hand, I feel that it has some importance as it is nearly 60 years old - my parents married in 1959. As it is now a vintage item it has some historical significance.

However, as I brought it home and looked at it, I was struck by another aspect to this significance.

I realised that her dress is actually a tangible reminder of far more than one day, of far more than a ceremony and a party.

The thoughts and feelings my mother had when she and her mother chose the dress and when she wore it; all her hopes and dreams for her life ahead seem encapsulated in this dress. And then, it is also symbolic of the commitment two individuals made at the beginning of the road to becoming one.

This dress is not just an interesting relic of something that happened long ago, but has come to represent all that occurred in the ensuing years; not just about a wedding but about a marriage, about children, about grandchildren and about all the bits between. Sure, not all of it was perfect, not all of it was happy. But much of it was, and much was the fulfilment of the promises made on that day. 

In an era where marriages lasting the distance of life are not so common and perhaps not even cherished as much, I wonder do we really understand the importance of promises or vows that are made?

What does true commitment actually mean? Even when vows are made with heartfelt passion, how many people are prepared to stick to their promises after the passion fades? And is it even important?

Do we really comprehend the vast impact and possibilities of promises?

Having been through divorce and experienced the ongoing disruption of broken vows on family, on friends, on children, revisited at each new life event, I see promises as powerful. While we might make them lightly, or even without much thought of the consequences of our failure to keep them, there is no lessening of the capacity they possess to influence the lives of many.

So often our promises and commitments are contingent, though: I will as long as you do; I will as long as I feel like it; I will as long as you make me happy, or it is convenient. I will forever, but if I am not happy, I will make sure you aren't happy either.

And there can be a tendency to carry these attitudes and beliefs over into our relationship with God. We are committed to Him when we feel like it, as long as it is convenient or comfortable, or while we need Him. And when it is not, we cast Him aside or ignore Him, with no concern over the wider impact.

Fortunately, God is not like us.

Although some of God's promises in the Old Testament were conditional, many of His promises actually require nothing of us. They demonstrate that He is faithful to us and to His word no matter what we do or don't do. His faithfulness and His passion for us never ends. We may not want to connect with these or with Him, but it doesn't change the way He feels about us. We can't do anything to deserve more from Him, or to deserve less.

And like all promises and commitments, our interactions with God's promises may have greater consequences than we ever know.

"The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does."

Psalm 145:13             

In Too Deep?

One of my favourite images is the River of Life flowing from the Temple described in Ezekiel 47.

In a vision, the seer is shown the River getting progressively deeper: from ankle deep, to knee deep, to waist deep, to a River so deep no one could cross it.

There would seem to be a range of ways we can respond when we are offered the River of Life.

For some, we just want to paddle our toes in, get them a little wet, but come and go as we please.

Others might start to go in a little deeper, to explore and experience the River in a way that impacts a little more, but where we can still get out again if and when we want to.

However, there is also a place where we can jump right in, where the water is completely over our heads, where we "sink or swim", and maybe even allow the current to take us where it will.

Ever since I first "saw" it, this place of being in over my head has held a real attraction. The idea of giving myself over to God to the point of allowing Him to direct me and just "go with the flow" carried both excitement and caution in varying quantities. It presented a question:

Do I trust God enough to just jump in, no return?

While we might get used to the idea of being in deep, and even enjoy it, another question arises. It's all very well to enjoy floating down a slow moving, gentle river, but what happens when we hit the rapids, when there are submerged rocks or even looks to be a waterfall up ahead? Are we still happy to be in so deep, or do we start looking for a toe hold, or even try to get out?

Looking back at a period of my life where I felt as though I was in a whirlpool, rapidly being sucked under, I asked God where He was at that time. Although I had felt that I had been holding on to God through it, I had struggled to feel His presence or guidance in that place.

I was given a picture of a parent taking their child swimming. As the child is encouraged to "lie back, relax and float", some children go into panic and clutch their parent as though they are about to be drowned. Parents know they would never let go of their child, or leave them ,but the child doesn't understand this. They allow fear to overwhelm them.

God showed me that I had been like that child. At that time, I was clutching on to my Father, but I didn't really trust Him. I didn't have faith that He would not let me drown, even though I had experienced His goodness many times before. Rather than accepting that I was in the water, (that this was my life), I wanted Him to take me out of the River. I wanted Him to fix the problems and make the pain go away, rather than trusting Him to carry me through.

Although that experience is now far in the past, I have come to realise that at every new set of circumstances the question is asked again at a new and deeper level:

Do you trust Me?

When it seems as though nothing you do (praying, speaking, loving) is bringing about change, can you let go and trust Me, come what may?

I am coming to see that every time I feel as though I am in that deep River, and that it is far from friendly, that it is trying to drown me, my Father says, "Do you trust Me"? 

And I have to answer yes and let go. Again.