Broken Promises...

My question is about promises to God. When I was younger, I made some promises to the Lord - along the lines of not doing certain things and avoiding certain things during Lent every year for several years. In retrospect, I may have made these promises rashly. Some were very difficult to keep and sometimes caused problems with me and my family, caused me alot of anxiety, and made life quite difficult for me. I came to the conclusion that I shouldn't have made those promises in the first place and that I didn't have to honor them because of their illegitimacy. Now I'm having doubts as to whether I should honor those promises during Lent or not. Please help.

Dear Friend,

Thanks for writing!  You are asking a great question, and as soon as I read your questions a lot of thoughts came rushing immediately into my mind because I can relate with what you are saying.  I have made promises to God that were unrealistic and ended up being broken, and yet there are some promises I’ve made that were good and appropriate and made to be kept – allow me to explain with a couple of examples.

In college, I had a profound conversion experience that helped my faith come alive.  I started praying in ways that I had never prayed before, including Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in a chapel on our campus.  One night, I had a profoundly moving experience of God in Adoration.  I spent an entire hour in God’s presence, and I felt the love of God in ways that even now I cannot adequately explain. It was beautiful. And when I got up to leave the chapel, I felt “led” to make a promise to God that I would spend an hour a day for the rest of the school year in the chapel in Adoration. As I am sure you can imagine, I failed miserably in keeping this promise, and every day that I failed I felt guiltier and guiltier. Eventually, I brought my thoughts and feelings to a priest in Confession, and he reassured me that Adoration is awesome, prayer is awesome, and wanting to be with God is awesome.  However, the inspiration behind my promise was, in his discernment, not of God – it was either my own pride, wanting to be a super-spiritual person, or perhaps even the devil.  Regardless of the source, he made it clear to me that it was not of God that I made a promise that was so unrealistic that it would send me on a downward spiral of unhealthy guilt, shame, and self-loathing (feelings that a God of unconditional love never wants for me).

I’d like to contrast that promise to the promise I made on my wedding day.  After getting to know a beautiful woman through a long relationship, we discerned that God was calling us to marriage.  We continued to pray about it, went through a marriage preparation program, and then on our wedding day I promised to be faithful to her – through good times and bad, sickness and health, til death do us part.  That was a good promise that has been nothing but good for my soul, and it has been awesome for me to keep it.

Do you see the difference?

The best advice I can give you at this point is to bring whatever promises you have made in the past – or want to make in the future - to a priest or someone whose spirituality you trust and ask for some wisdom.  If you are in doubt, talk it out.  Often a wise outsider, like a spiritual director, can help us to discern what is of God and what isn’t.  The bottom line, in my opinion, is if the promises help us grow in an understanding of how much God loves us, they are probably good, and if the promises produce shame and scrupulousness, they may not be of God.  It is precisely for situations like this that our church recommends spiritual direction

You are in my prayers!


Paul Masek

Coordinator of the REAP Team