Say What You Mean
Once a friend of mine (let’s call him Joe) asked several of his friends (me included) to help him out with a certain event he was asked to lead. We all commended Joe for having this great opportunity and told him we would be glad to help. With plenty of time to execute the details, Joe gave us the date, assigned us our duties, thanked us kindly, and proceeded to plan the event knowing that he could count on us! But as the date drew near, one by one each friend backed out on their commitment. And each friend gave Joe a very good excuse as to why he could not attend. But they were just excuses—all of which could have been altered if helping Joe had been a priority. I watched this evolve with sadness in my heart and decided I would not renege. Two days before the event, Joe told me that I did not have to come, that he knew everyone was very busy, and he would be fine leading the event solo. I told him I would be there. And I was.
I tell this story not because I am a good person (because I am not), nor because my friends are bad people (because they are not) but because it broke my heart to see Joe become disheartened by the promises broken by his friends. And I kept thinking to myself, how often I have done the same thing: promise to do something and then find a really good excuse to excuse myself from it.
I think it is an important quality: keeping your promises. Jesus thought so too. He said we should not swear to God that we will do something. He actually said, “Do not take an oath at all.”1 And then added, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”2 In other words, we should say what we mean and mean what we say.
Most of us like to give the appearance of being supportive and loyal and quickly make promises of all kinds. But when all is said and done, talk is cheap. Jesus told this parable: “A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”3
What really counts is what we do—not what we say we will do. But what really really counts is that we do what we say! It becomes our testimony. Of the kind of people we are. And though my friend Joe was gracious in understanding his friends’ “excuses,” he was disappointed and bewildered. And sad. It was a statement of the value they placed on his friendship. How could it not be? Joe suffered a loss that day that probably will never be repaired. Their broken promises broke his heart.
I, too, have had my heart broken by friends with good intentions. I am reminded of my favorite Dr. Seuss book: Horton Hatches the Egg.* Read it. It will take you ten minutes. Read it to your kids. Read it to your Bible Study group. Read it to your students. Read it to your family. The recurring point is simply this: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. . . . An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent!”
Faithfulness is underrated. Faithfulness is possibly the most important quality of any relationship. But experience has taught me that it is also possibly the most neglected quality as well. That’s why when people let me down, I quote this verse to myself: “In God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.”4
My hope is that I do not shake the ground of my fellow humans with my broken promises but instead simply mean what I say and say what I mean.
1Matthew 5:34 2Matthew 5:37 3Matthew 21:28-31 4Psalm 62:5-6 *Seuss. Horton Hatches the Egg. Turtleback Books, 2017.