What can we say about making commitments? First, we can say that every commitment involves a “yes” and a “no.” Or, as the spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill wrote: “The road to a Yea lies through a Nay.” If I make a commitment to lose twenty pounds, for example, then I have to say “no” to certain foods I might like to eat. On a deeper level, if I make a commitment to marry Steve, then I am saying no to Ralph, Aaron, and Trevor. If our commitment means a great deal to us, (we really, really want to lose weight or we really, really love Steve) then we willingly say “no” to things that are not compatible with that commitment—no matter how good they may be.
Why do we make commitments? We make them primarily to channel our time and energy, and to give shape and purpose to our lives. Options are nice to have, but sooner or later in life we must make choices about the direction we want our life to take. Otherwise we are like the person with a TV remote who surfs hundreds of channels over and over again, but never enjoys a single program! The truth is, we can’t do everything with our life, but we can do something meaningful and worthwhile. Good commitments enable us to do that.
I’m reminded of the story about the great violinist Fritz Kreisler. After a recital, a woman came up to him and said, “I’d give my life to play as beautifully as you!” “Madam,” Kreisler replied, “I have given my life to play like this!”
Commitments also protect us from our basic human tendency to run away when things get tough. The medical student sticks with the difficult anatomy class rather than dropping out, because she is committed to becoming a doctor. The newly married couple works through their differences rather than splitting up at the first sign of a significant conflict.
Some say commitments inhibit our freedom. But I like what the great theologian Karl Rahner, SJ, said about this. He said people who refuse to commit themselves to anything are entering into the worst of all commitments: a life without commitment. And deciding to live completely neutral is “deciding nothing, and that in itself is a decision.”
Good commitments are really about freedom—-true freedom. True freedom is not about having a zillion options or doing what I feel like doing all the time. Ultimately, freedom is about becoming the kind of person I really want to be. This means I choose things that are in harmony with who I want to be, and refrain from those that are not. That’s being free.
Is there such a thing as a bad commitment? Of course there is. A terrorist can be committed to blowing up innocent people. So making and keeping a commitment is not an absolute good. We need discernment to make commitments that are good and life-giving and right for us.
The most important commitment we make as Christians is our baptismal commitment, that is, our promise to follow Jesus and to live the Gospel. All other commitments flow from this fundamental one. But our baptismal promises are really a response to another commitment: the one God has already made to us. Throughout scripture, God promises to love us, be with us, watch over us, and help us—forever. Jesus said, “I call you friends” and “I will be with you all days.” Even if we sometimes fail in our commitments, we can always count on God’s commitment of steadfast love and unending forgiveness!
What are some of the major commitments you have made in your life?
What are some smaller commitments you have made in your life that have enriched your life?
Commitments must be nourished. If you have made the commitment to follow Jesus and the Gospel, what are some of the practical ways you keep this commitment alive?
PS: A big thank you for your prayerful support of the retreat I led at Mt. St. Joseph Spirituality Center in Cincinnati this past week. And thank you to all the wonderful retreatants too (over 60 women) and to Sister Marty, SC, director of the center, for her great help and direction!
I chose a song by Matthew West entitled “All In.” I love both the lyrics and the graphics. They remind us of the risks that are involved in making and living out our commitments–and the joy and adventure too!
If you would like to share your thoughts about this reflection, I welcome you to do so below!