I was scurrying around this afternoon making strawberry ice cream that I’d promised our four-year old. My day had several unexpected turns. Friends came for breakfast and morning turned into afternoon. That wasn’t a problem by itself. It did however create some inner turmoil about how to have time to write and make ice cream. You know, the kind of dilemma we face every day.
Which is why I’m asking the question, “Is a promise always a promise?” Let me digress a minute from my strawberry ice cream making. When I say to a friend, “I’ll call you for lunch soon” is that a promise? If it is do I know when I make it that our lunch probably won’t happen? Is it a promise, when I say to my son, I’ll make strawberry ice cream this afternoon and things change? Can I just give him a good story about why it won’t work out today and believe he will understand?
This simple question, “when is a promise a promise?” seems to be at the root of a great deal of suffering in our lives. If I treat every promise as a promise (here’s where it gets tricky), then am I out of integrity when I don’t do all I can to fulfill the promises I make? Now you may say that “I’ll call you for lunch soon” isn’t really a promise. Then why speak like it’s one?
Whenever I speak in a way that sounds to the other person like I’m making a promise, I probably am. It’s important to be aware of everything I say. Did you ever notice how much you say that you don’t realize you’ve said? I suspect, if I had a video camera running during my day, I would see many promises I make that I’m unaware of. There will also be some that I don’t want to acknowledge. I suspect some of you have similar behavior.
Which gets me back to strawberry ice cream. I have the strawberry syrup chilling in the refrigerator as I write. The promise to my son, Gabriel, is one that I know I made and I don’t want to teach him that my promises to him aren’t important. I notice when I believe I don’t have enough time to do everything, I ask my family to accommodate my need to take care of promises to others first, sending them the message they aren’t as important. This certainly doesn’t make a pleasant self-reflection.
The answer to my question then is a promise is always a promise. To be in integrity calls me to be aware of the promises I’m making. It means that when I make new promises, I consider the implications of these promises on my existing promises. If there is a conflict, I will move to resolve it to the satisfaction of all.
This all requires daily diligence and a commitment to not let anything slide. I am sure that the freedom and peace of living in integrity is worth it.