Want to Be Trustworthy? Keep Your Word!

Picture this: You are scheduled for an important meeting in the afternoon. After waking up early to prepare, you finally make it to the meeting! As you eagerly sit in anticipation waiting for it to begin, you take out your notes, blank paper, and pens. You sit back and take a sip of the hot coffee in your hand, feeling rejuvenated and settled by some liquid refreshment. A minute passes. Two minutes. Five minutes. Upon checking your device, you see that everyone else backed out at the last minute and the meeting has been pushed to later that day. As you pack up and readjust to planning for the new time, you think to yourself what a bummer. You were prepared and no one showed up.

As a missionary I get it: in ministry unforeseen cancellations, additions, or random surprises can occur, especially when breaking down barriers to encounter people is an important part of sharing the Gospel. Maybe someone is late to the meeting because they bumped into the campus pastor who is uber-excited to share about the men’s group that just met last Tuesday. Or perhaps they saw a student who they could tell was not doing well and out of concern they decided to pause and check in on how the student is actually feeling. Flexibility to meet dynamic requirements and encounter people is essential in the mission of evangelization.

A Male Student Sitting in the Pews in the Back of a Church

Those who run and participate in Bible studies may also know well the disappointment of prepping for a meeting only to be left the only one there. You invite each member personally, send them a reminder morning of, and your seven students are all unfortunately and unexpectedly busy today. As you wonder why the last-minute notifications trickle in for absences after the start time looms fifteen minutes, thirty, an hour away, a part of you is disappointed. Today was supposed to be the first installment of 1 Corinthians: you were so pumped to bring the wisdom of St Paul to this modern context of 2022.

Maybe you are nodding your head along to these stories, knowing the disappointment of being stood up far too well. Or maybe you are putting yourself in the shoes of those cancelling at the last minute, pulled in one direction or another, struggling to stick to your commitments. Or maybe both. Today I challenge you to take a hard look at your commitments and ask yourself: what does your yes to this commitment mean?

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:33-37 {USCCB}

In this scripture passage, Jesus addresses a custom to take oaths. The NABRE footnotes include that during this time period, oaths were a common practice since the fallibility of man was known and recognized. Oaths were a way for men to be held accountable to the things they agreed to.

When speaking to his disciples Jesus called them higher by explaining how oaths can easily be fashioned onto/into something that would offend God. Further, he reinforced that while the intention for having a practice to honor commitments was understandable, the practice of oaths at the time was not. In fulfilling the law, Jesus proposes for his disciples not to live by oaths but to honor their commitments when giving their yes. When giving someone your word, seek to be truthful in that moment as well as the moment when you will have to honor that agreement.

A good example of this may be seen through a quick dive into Jesus’s ministry. “The Chosen” is a video¬≠ series that seeks to portray the Gospel via a television-show approach. One of the episodes in Season 2 hilariously shows the challenge Jesus’s disciples face when given simple tasks. The confusion stems from the disciples’ desire to have Jesus explain in great detail and accompany them on the tasks. The rabbi’s time is needed elsewhere and he gives them guidance before departing for another engagement. The disciples agree to his requests but in his absence find themselves struggling to honor their commitment. This episode shows that the issue the disciples face in carrying out the will of their rabbi is self-inflicted. For some it is doubt or mistrust of their fellow disciples who passed along the task. For others it is pride in hearing but not listening to their rabbi. Finally some of the disciples simply become disinterested when executing the task that they agreed to and complain about it. Although pride, greed, and sloth manifest, the disciples complete the task and later realize that they are buying dinner ingredients to cook for a crippled Samaritan who is in poverty due to his criminal past. Jesus knows their reluctance to eat with a Samaritan but, as a good leader, guides them toward growth by encountering someone they would not have otherwise. 1

Students in Adoration at Boyne Mountain

Like the disciples, we are inclined to gravitate towards imperfect instincts that are tempting or perhaps habitual behaviors keeping us from a truthful yes. If we are asked to commit to a certain meeting time it can be easy not to prepare beforehand, not to plan accordingly, and to chalk up our absence or tardiness to some external factor that we can’t control. Think about all the commitments that you are giving a truthful yes to. Is more required out of you in order to be truthful to that yes? Are you giving your word when it is easy and later breaking it when it is difficult? Would being truthful mean implementing change by steering away from the temptations of sloth, pride, greed and towards the virtues of fortitude, prudence, and justice?

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that “justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor.” Whether agreeing to or asking others to agree to something, one must realize that if they say yes, there exists an agreement to remain truthful to whatever that agreement may be. More simply, if a leader asks their team to meet at a certain time, then that leader not only carries the responsibility of conducting that meeting and preparing for it, but also ensuring adherence to the team’s agreed upon start time and duration. This is important because if a leader broadcasts instructions, these become the shared understanding for all members of the team to be ready by the same standard. People structure their day around their commitments: they invest their time and energy into making all of these commitments occur. This standardization also holds the members of the team accountable to the same criteria so that their attendance and preparation for the meeting reflect their own professionalism.

A just man understands what is asked of him and what he owes to others. He puts thought and effort into satisfying these requirements, and notifies others if commitments cannot be kept as planned. He is accountable for his commissions and omissions. By examining the nature of a new or existing commitment he can be truthful in whether or not he can practically honor it. A just man is also tenacious in keeping his yes to a commitment truthful when external challenges or internal motivation work against him. This accountability, nested in justice, signals to other people and to God that one can keep their word. To keep your word is to be trustworthy.

  1. The Chosen. Episode 1 Season 2. Angel Studios 2021. (angelstudios.com)
Evan Gagnon
Evan Gagnon
Evan is a 1st Year Missionary with FOCUS Digital Outreach. An Army Veteran, he is passionate about building and winning with strong teams. His family is stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base where his wife serves as an instructor pilot.

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