Like many people, I bemoan the decline in RSVPs for an event. Ironically, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the options for communication and the frequency with which RSVPs are received. Although we have more ways to respond to invitations, it seems fewer and fewer people do so.
Perhaps one reason for this situation is that people are doing more things than they used to do. Some families’ schedules require spreadsheets and logistical gymnastics to manage. Therefore, people may be reticent to respond because they are not sure how to juggle all their commitments. The jaded side of me says that another reason is that people may be waiting to see if something better comes along before they commit. Therefore their RSVP indicates their enthusiasm for the event, or lack thereof.
While not responding to an invitation creates challenges for the host, an entirely different challenge is created when someone says that they will come, and then they don’t. While it could seem inconsequential for one person not to attend, the person who chooses to negate their commitment doesn’t know if others will do the same. One person can quickly grow to several and before you know it, the host’s plans may be ruined.
Now it probably seems odd that I have written three paragraphs about events when those who know me know that planning events isn’t really my forte. But I do so to illustrate a point – one that many people can probably relate to. When someone doesn’t uphold their commitments there are consequences. And often times the consequences extend beyond themselves.
And while we all know this intuitively, I have witnessed a concerning number of parents who advocate on their child’s behalf when their kid wants to forego the commitment they have made. Perhaps it is a parent’s natural instinct to want their kid to be able to take advantage of an exciting opportunity, even if a prior agreement conflicts. Or to want to give a child a way out of something that they no longer want to do. However, when parents don’t teach their kids the importance of keeping their word, they are actually doing their child a disservice rather than a favor. There are at least four important lessons we teach our children when we instruct them to keep their commitments, even when they don’t want to.
1. Obedience Isn’t Dependent on Convenience
One of the reasons that parents may want to release children from their commitments is because it is no longer convenient to keep them. However, this is an excuse that we would (hopefully) never accept from them if they decided that they did not want to do what we say. Convenience isn’t the primary factor in deciding what we are to do. The Christian is called to live a life of sacrifice, and that means being willing to sacrifice what is easy in order to do what is right. We should want children who obey God’s Word even when it means that they will suffer for it. If they can’t even keep their appointments because it is now inconvenient, how do we expect to prepare them to endure ridicule and persecution when they choose to obey Christ rather than do what the world says? As with most things in life, it is critical that we think of the long-game, and that we prepare our children to do the same.
2. Character Counts
Often times when we think about skipping out a commitment, we are thinking only about the situation at hand. Yet the Bible is clear that when we agree to do something there is a deeper issue at stake (Mt. 5:37). People should be able to count on us, not because we are dependable people, but because we serve a dependable God. And the degree to which we model His faithfulness and reliability, is the degree to which we point others to Him. If people can’t expect our children to uphold their ends of a commitment, how are those same people going to believe our children when they want to tell them the Good News of Christ? To put it simply, they won’t. Our character matters not only (or primarily) because of what it says about us; it matters because it is how unbelievers will come to think of the God that we serve.
3. Think of Others
When children want out of a commitment, it is usually because they no longer want to fulfill it. However, we need to help our children develop a mindset of thinking about others. How would they feel if everyone who RSVP’d for their party didn’t show up? What challenges would they face if someone had agreed to help them and then bailed? If we can anticipate how this would make us feel, then we have a fair degree of certainty that this is how others will respond as well. And we do not want to unnecessarily cause someone hurt or pain. If we want our children to represent Christ well in this world, they need to be constantly thinking of other people, and being willing to sacrifice their own desires for others’ sake. After all, this is what our Savior did.
4. It’s Not About You
Lastly, our children need to realize that this world does not revolve around them. Even if we say this phrase, we often act contrary to it. We move appointments, apologize for their changing preferences, and organize meals and activities around their inclinations. This does not serve the long-term development of our children. Our children may not want to fulfill their commitments – but unless doing so will cause them long-term harm – we should see that they do so anyway. Life is full of situations where they are going to have to do difficult things – things that they might not want to do. We need to teach them from an early age that they should do them anyway because in the long-run, it is not about your temporal desires, but it is about serving others and doing what God has required of you.
It’s Important, Not Easy
This likely won’t be easy. There may be times that we want to let our children out of their commitments because doing so will be more convenient or more rewarding for us. But just like we hope other children will keep their word, we should be intentional about raising children that are known for their faithful reliability. Enforcing this standard not only teaches our children important lessons, but it helps ingrain a character trait that will serve them well when they are no longer under our care.