I bet you’ve heard it before.
A man is only as good as his word.
I bet you’ve faltered, as I have, in that your actions have at least once failed to match what you said—that your word was, at one point or another, not so good. I bet some of you struggle with it as much as I do. And I bet some could relate to what I did a few days ago.
“Can I borrow your earphones for, like, twenty seconds?”
My brother, Connor, gave me a skeptical look.
“No, really, it’s literally twenty seconds. It’s just one video.”
He sighed in a joking kind of way, and handed them to me as a slight grin danced on his mouth.
“Thank you,” I gushed.
I knew it wasn’t entirely true from the start. I knew I would probably find another video to watch, and that I probably wouldn’t tell him when I clicked “play”. And I was right.
I fingered with the earphones as my conscience quivered. “Yeah?”
“It’s been more than twenty seconds.”
“Um, yeah, I know.” I removed them. “Here you go.”
He wasn’t upset, but I felt bad. Not for long, though, as I soon forgot that it even happened. This wasn’t the first time.
I admit, “Yeah, God, I realize I need to read the Word more often,” and give my Bible a guilty eye before turning around to do things that are more fun and less demanding of thought. I vow to my speech therapist, with words I barely believe, that I’ll do the exercises more often next week and things will go better because it’s Christmas break, and I do exactly the same as with my Bible reading. I tell the church youth minister, for whom I’m interning, that I will complete the assignments that he gives me, and I don’t, knowing I won’t when he makes me promise in a joking and yet sincere manner. I make appointments with college professors and counselors, and cancel them at my convenience when I realize there are more important things to do that I should have thought of before. I tell, and I don’t, over and over and over.
I’ve got a problem, guys. I realized this a few months ago, but it rarely crossed my mind, until a night not long ago, when my dad gathered my mom, siblings, and grandparents in the living room for a family Bible study. He spoke of New Year’s Resolutions and of promises and of the power held by one’s words. He spoke, and I was convicted. I was convicted by ancient laws from Scripture that have been taken to heart and mind by many an Israelite.
When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. (Numbers 30:2)
I was reprimanded by his telling of one portion of Solomon’s wisdom.
It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows. (Proverbs 20:25)
I was moved by the reminder of Paul’s instructions to all believers.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. (Colossians 3:23)
And all of this made it clear that I’ve been really dumb—that I’ve been sinning against God and hurting others, making promises that I never intend to keep. It also brought me to think of someone who illustrates how to do just the opposite—someone who is truly as good as his word. He is a Hobbit, and a gardener, and his name is Samwise Gamgee.
If you’ve ever read or watched the trilogy known as The Lord of the Rings, you may have recognized that Sam is one of the most incredible fictional characters ever created, despite being often overlooked. Why? Well, in the first film of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, Sam and another Hobbit named Frodo left their homeland at the bidding of a wizard, Gandalf, to carry out a task of great importance. At an early point in their journey, Sam panicked when the two Hobbits became separated in a corn field, later admitting to Frodo that Gandalf had asked him to keep an eye on him. He added that he planned to carry out Gandalf’s request, affirming his promise to both Gandalf and Frodo in that moment, and the two moved onward.
The Hobbits soon formed an alliance with others who wanted to help them on their quest, but, after a while, Frodo decided in secret to continue alone, slipping away from the group to climb into a canoe. Sam discovered this, ran off to find Frodo, and found him at the river, but could not make him return to shore, so he waded into the water. Being unable to swim, though, Sam began to drown, and was pulled into the canoe by a startled Frodo, who asked Sam to explain himself.
“I made a promise, Mister Frodo,” he said. “A promise. ‘Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee.’ And I don’t mean to.” He started to weep as he repeated his vow in earnest. “I don’t mean to.”
It’s a good thing Sam stayed true to his word and chased after Frodo because life got rough, especially for him. He was kidnapped, he was hungry and parched, he was wrongly presented as a thief and liar, and, in the last film (The Return of the King), he was pushed aside by Frodo. Frodo told him to leave, to return to their homeland alone, and to give up, which must have produced in Sam a deeper kind of hurt and pain than I have ever felt. After having kept his promise by helping and protecting Frodo along the entire way, he was harshly rejected by his closest friend, no longer able to do what Gandalf had asked. Everything he had done was worthless.
And this is why Sam is so incredible. Even after Frodo did this to him, Sam still stuck to what he said he would do. He went after Frodo once more, saved him from a terrible fate, and stood firm until the end, going so far as to carry Frodo over his shoulders across the threshold of their final destination. Because he kept his promise, the quest was completed, and Sam proved the vitality of sticking to your word. Sam showed that making the effort to keep a promise can change lives, save friendships, and alter fate, and that doing the opposite can do much, much worse.
There are many, I’m sure, who wish they could be more like Sam, who wish they could keep to what they say, and who don’t know how to try. I’m right there with them, but I’m not going to stop there, and this time, I will push myself to mean it. There will be forgiveness to be asked from others when I realize I’ve strayed from my word, and I will ask of it. There will be grace and hope and transformation to be obtained from Christ, and I will take it with humility and thankfulness.
And when I forget to keep trying—when I don’t really care anymore—I will come back to this, right here. I will read this, and I will remember. I will remember the wisdom of my dad’s words, of Scripture, and of Sam’s actions; I will recall the awareness that my words mean a great deal more than I realize; and I will reaffirm a promise. A promise to keep this one, and all others. And I don’t mean to stray from that. I don’t mean to.