Ten years ago, I finished up my time working with junior high and high school girls at a church. As wonderful as that job was for me, I discovered that I had picked up one rather destructive habit. My pattern of ministry was filled with promising a coffee date or taking a girl out to dinner and never actually following through on that invitation. My intention was pure. I wanted each and every girl to feel loved and wanted. I wanted to show them that despite their fathers being gone 80% of the year, I wanted to see them smile. With those motives, I opened my mouth and promised to meet with scores of young women. Many of them I followed up on, but sadly, many of them were left as empty promises.
Several years after leaving that job, I discovered this pattern of ministry that had grown in me. Somehow by telling someone that I'd love to get coffee with them felt like I had fulfilled loving them simply because I had extended the invitation. As I look back, the invitations that remained unmet, probably left those girls uttering the words, "Typical."
That makes me cringe just typing that. Just thinking how many girls rolled their eyes after I extended a bouncy invitation to meet them "sometime" for dinner.
This habit has taken years to unravel. It started as my kids began to understand what it meant to promise something. I would promise to play dolls and get caught up in doing dishes instead. Or I would promise to take them for ice cream and then tell them it would have to wait for another day, I was sorting laundry.
I got tired of weaving into them a distrust for promises.
I started changing my vocabulary first. I began saying "maybe" and "we are thinking about..." a little more often. I kept my mouth shut unless I knew I could open my calender right there and scribble down a time to do that activity or meet with that person.
This habit has been hard to break and I will say that at times I slip back into offering my time with a closed fist. But more and more I am realizing the damaging effect this has not only on my family, but my community. As believers, we need to follow through because it's gives an accurate picture of God's faithfulness to his children. By touting our promises and not following through, we are building into others that God is a manipulator or even worse, a liar.
When he says things like, "I, I am he who comforts you," a hurting person needs to trust in that even if they don't understand it.
When God reminds us, "I have put my words in your mouth and covered you in the shadow of my hand," a frightened little girl needs to know that shaded darkness won't make her afraid.
I want my kids to understand that when God says, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God," that it doesn't God tolerates them, but adopts them into his family.
I hear people despair when they talk of wanting authentic community. But I also hear people promise to have someone over for dinner or invite them out to coffee and never follow through. Community isn't built on empty promises of intimacy.
It's built on sitting across the table from someone and entering the messy.
It's built on sitting Indian style on the carpet and actually doing the puzzle with your 4-year old.
It's built on inviting your neighbors over for dinner, even if there's play-dough scattered on the kitchen table.
Intimacy is kept by following through. If we wait for the perfect timing to follow through we will never do it. Let us not fool ourselves into believing that the simple invitation is an act of love. It is not. The act of love comes by sacrificing your own time because that other person is worth it.