Fixing a Broken Promise

Kids are incredible.

Last night Katherine was being quite hyper, jumping and running and bouncing off the walls. It might have something to do with Christmas being so very close, but we still have to keep a tight rein on that kind of noise out of respect for our tenants. Yes, I know… our tenants are gone right now, but we’ve learned the hard way that we either keep the rule all the time or give up on any kind of enforcement.

Our current method of dealing with Katherine and Myron when they get too noisy is to remind them that they need to be respectful of the people downstairs and please don’t run/jump/stomp/shout/etc. If they miss, we ask them to sit on the couch for a minute to calm down. That is often effective, and we don’t treat it as a punishment nor is it taken (not always anyway) as a punishment. If they miss again, then we move into more serious time outs on mommy and daddy’s bed with the door closed. That is always seen as a punishment no matter how gentle and emotionless we approach it. Sigh….

Last night, we decided to try something new. Since our tenants are gone and our new tenants don’t come in for another week or two, we took Katherine downstairs and had me run around the house in an exaggerated manner to show Katherine just how noisy it is. She seemed to get it at least in theory, but after five straight time outs for running and jumping, I asked her to make a promise to me that she would try to not run and jump. We talked about why it was important and we even jointly determined what an appropriate consequence would be (she wanted time outs), and then we promised and pinky swore.

Five minutes later, she broke her promise.

After a particularly bitter time out for her, she came out, sat on my lap, and tearfully asked, “Can I fix my promise?”

And then the light bulb went on.

I’ve never really thought of a promise as something that could be fixed like that. In her mind, it was as simple as just being different, living up to the promise she made, and trying once more. In my mind, promises broken are just as often promises abandoned that need to be replaced, not fixed. To be particularly blunt, I was ready to cast that promise aside as failed because she hadn’t lived up to it immediately.

What a ridiculous expectation for me to place on a five-year-old, and what a wonderful opportunity to teach repentance, atonement, and forgiveness.

I thought immediately of how hopeless this life would be if the Lord abandoned the promises we’ve made with Him just because we slip up every now and then. In particular, as I thought of the covenants I’ve made and, yes, broken time and time again, I could feel a gentle reminder, offered much like some jokingly point out by subtly coughing, that I was, in a mild sense, playing the role of the ungrateful servant who, having been forgiven of his massive debt to the Lord, could not find a shred of forgiveness for the small debt owed to him.

And maybe to reverse the tables, I wondered how often we simply refuse to allow the promises we’ve made to be fixed?

One of the most miraculous aspects of the Gospel is the ability to repair promises. Looking deeper at what it takes to repair promises, we see the familiar aspects of truly wanting to be better on our part and truly feeling that genuine need to repent. One aspect we often forget, though, is that there is a rich outpouring of incredible faith in us from the Lord. Do we often think that the Lord has faith in us much like we have faith in Him?

I’ve always been deeply humbled by an image my sister once shared with me. She mentioned that she could often imagine the Savior of the World pleading in prayer before His Father for each of us by name. Such a deeply personal and rich interpretation of the Savior helps me understand how, in turn, the Savior can then have faith in me that I just might actually keep my promise this time with the full expectation that any deviation therefrom will not only be met with full repentance and a renewal of faith on my part,  but also the added measure of faith, love, and forgiveness from Him.

How can we ever despair knowing that the Savior still holds our promises intact in anticipation of their eventual fulfillment? How can we ever despair knowing that the Savior truly believes in us in spite of all foreknowledge He and His Father possess of our inevitable and all too frequent failings? How can we, as imperfect parents with our own children, ever believe that we were sent here by our Father to do anything but succeed?

As Elder Packer is so fond of saying, “It just does not work that way.”

Indeed, the covenants we’ve made with our Father stand true as long as we continue to work on fulfilling them with the eternal promise given that the Lord will fix each promise each time we sincerely ask. As Elder Holland once said, “It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say ‘I’ll change’–and mean it.”

It was with that thought in mind that I picked Katherine up, held her in my arms, and pinky swore again.

Later that night, she proudly announced, as she softly walked across the living room, “Daddy, I’m fixing my promise.”

Yes, yes you are. And so am I.

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2 Responses to Fixing a Broken Promise

  1. aleisha says:

    I really liked this. Thanks.

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