Watch Gail Edmonson’s short video about the importance of honoring your word, and then read a short story below about cleaning up a mess.
Written by Marcos Leon
About a year ago, Julie and I accepted an invitation to be house parents for a maternity home in Houston called LifeHouse. We live in a house with up to six pregnant women at a time who don’t have anywhere to go because of different crises in their lives. They stay with us for different lengths of time, leaving usually just before they have their babies. During their stay, with the help of great resources from the ministry, the hope is they will work out an “exit plan” that allows them to engage in the next season as mothers.
This has probably been one of the most difficult things we’ve engaged in as a family. The impact has had repercussions in our relationship with each other as a couple, in our parenting and family dynamics, and in our relationship with God. For me, personally, the main impact has been helping me see how limited my capacity to love is. I have discovered that I love greatly those who love me back, but I do not do a good job of loving those who do not love me back. I have also realized that I love better from 8am to 5pm. What is hard is to love on weekends or evenings when I am tired and when I am “off.”
One particular evening I arrived home after a long day. I was excited about finally coming to my refuge – my wife and kids – and I was looking forward to some rest. My refuge, however, was not what I expected that night. Julie had been busy dealing with some drama related to the girls living with us, the house was messy, and the kids were being kids. Instead of rest, I found myself helping to organize the house before dinner, which we would be sharing with these girls who were pregnant and were bringing unnecessary drama into our lives. And I had forgotten that I needed to change the battery of the ministry minivan, a project I did not particularly enjoy. You can imagine the state of my mood that evening. I was not the loving person I wanted to be earlier that morning when I was praying.
After dinner, Julie came outside to bring me a cup of coffee as I was fighting with the battery in great frustration. The moon was out, the kids were in bed, and my wife came lovingly towards me and asked me with a smile on her face how my day was. I’m sorry to report that my response was dry and harsh – I think I mumbled something about the battery. That was enough. Julie returned to the house without saying a word.
It took me a few minutes to realize how rude I had been to Julie. Thanks to the Faithwalking work, I was able to overcome the voice of shame I felt, and as soon as I finished, I went inside looking for Julie. I found her reading, and I said to her, “Julie, I’m so sorry for how rude I was with you earlier. Please forgive me.” She was silent for a short moment and then responded, “I know you are tired, love. I forgive you.” That was it. I was grateful that I had told her I was sorry, and I went to bed. Yes, I was tired.
A couple of days later, I had to facilitate a Faithwalking retreat. One of the sessions assigned to me was the “Integrity Conversation” where we talk about honoring our word. As I was preparing for the retreat I realized how poorly I had cleaned up my mess with Julie a couple of days before. I had promised to love her well. I had promised to be on mission with her, and I had not kept my word in any of those things. I wrote her an email telling her what I had realized and asked her to think about the impact of my behavior that night. I told her I would ask her about it later. She agreed to the conversation.
The next morning Julie told me the impact. This is what she said:
“Marcos, I love you, and I want you to know how helpful it is when you come and apologize to me after being rude. Please, keep doing that. It helps me a lot. Now, I’ve thought about the impact of your response to me the other night, and this is what I want you to know. First, the impact of you doing what you did is that I feel lonely. Yes, I know we are in this together, and I know this is hard, but it helps me to remember we are in this together. So, when you are rude and disconnected, I feel lonely.”
There was a pause in which I felt the weight of what Julie had just said. This was real and not what I wanted Julie to feel or think… but I knew she was not finished.
“Second, I want you to know that when things like this happen, there is a moment – it’s just a moment – between the rudeness of your behaviour and the moment when I am finally able to forgive you – in which I find myself wondering if other husbands are kinder with their wives. I do not like to find myself wondering that, but I do. That is the impact.”
Now the silence was crushing me, and I did not know what to say. I asked her for forgiveness and assured her that I love her and that I will do whatever I need to do to love her better. I did not know exactly what to do, but I was serious about it. This was serious. The impact on Julie was now very real for me, and I knew I needed to pay more attention to my behavior when I was tired.
I carried this with me for a couple of days, and I prayed about it. “Please Lord, help me now. What is the point of all this mission if I am not loving those who are closest to me?”
A few days later, on Sunday, after a timely sermon that spoke in a special way to my predicament, I felt God speaking to me. If I could put words to it, this is what I would say He said:
“Marcos, my boy, I love you, and I want you to know that I am proud of you, my son, for the choices you and Julie are making. Way to go! I am with you. I also know how you feel now. I want you to know that the real problem is that you are confused. Julie, your kids, and your home are not your refuge; and you need one.”
What? How is that? Julie and my kids are not my refuge? I thought they were meant to be my refuge!
“They are not. They will never be. Your expectations are wrong. You are asking them to be something they will never be able to be. They are not your refuge. I am your refuge. I am the only One who can give you rest, and I long to do it. Marcos, learn to come to me as your refuge, and I will give you rest. Before you go to your wife, to your family, and to your mission, come to me, meet me. You will be renewed.”
That was it. Really. And it was incredibly helpful and transforming for me.
Out of a genuine effort to clean up my mess came one of the biggest lessons I have learned in this season. The truth is that without the hard conversation with Julie asking her to tell me the truth about the impact of my being “rude me” with her, I would not have learned anything, and nothing would have changed. The truth is that I do not have it down yet; I am still learning to go to Him before I go to other places and other people. It is what in Faithwalking we call the “spiritual workout.” However, now I know that there is another way; it is actually a way with more integrity, since I believe that it is the design of God for me to go to Him as my refuge.
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From the FW 101 Retreat Workbook:
What happens when you don’t or can’t keep your word? You honor your word! Honoring your word has a very specific structure that we encourage you to internalize.
- Acknowledge that you didn’t keep your word to whoever was impacted by that.
- You get present to the impact by asking those who were impacted to tell you about their experience. This will likely sting, and you will have to work at not being defensive. In humility, let the feedback in – it will contribute to growing your integrity muscles.
- Make a heart-felt apology. Only after you have gotten present to the impact and communicated that you have actually heard what was said, say, “I’m sorry.”
- Re-promise. Generally you give your word again and begin to work on keeping your word. Sometimes you have to re-promise multiple times before you can learn to faithfully keep your word. It is helpful to see this as a learning process that is taken on over time.