“But you promised!”
I imagine that most, if not all, parents have heard this, or a variation on it, from a child. From an early age, children develop the sense that if someone says something that sets certain positive expectations—intentionally or otherwise—it’s a promise. And they sense that promises to them must be kept.
Of course, from the perspective of the adult, sometimes we didn’t intend a statement as a promise at all, which is probably why we find ourselves hedging with responses like “We’ll see” or “Maybe.” We like the wiggle room that gives us, but it hardly instills trust and confidence in our little people. I think that’s one reason why God tends to be more direct.
I’ve recently tried to be more conscious of when I’m inclined to say those things. If I’m not sure whether I can deliver on something my kids ask of me, I’ve changed tack and explained the factors affecting whether I’ll be able to do it on a level the specific child can understand. That can help us identify how we can make it happen at a specific time.
For example, I held onto some Lego castles and related sets from when I was growing up, and this year I helped my kids put them back together after they’d been in a box for years. One of my kids in particular enjoys both Legos and castles, so she asked me one evening if we could get them out and play with them. She had only about 20 minutes left before needing to get ready for bed, so I told her it wasn’t a good time and why. But I added that we could do it the next evening if she got ready for bed early. I think she reminded me the next morning—I was already thinking about it—and I delivered on the promise. I think I scored a bit of trust with that.
I have multiple daughters, and I rotate through taking them on “daddy-daughter dates,” usually on Saturday afternoons. Most of them are old enough to remember the order (youngest to oldest) and are paying attention to when their turns are coming up. I haven’t been as good as I should some of the time, where I should let them know in advance when other events or obligations will cause us to miss a week. And then there are the times when I’m just a slacker and don’t make it happen. So we have this perpetual promise of a daddy-daughter date that I have to maintain in order to build my relationships with my daughters and build their trust in me.
I believe children inherently trust, and they need to be able to trust so they can feel safe and at peace. Rightly, one of the fundamental ways we gain our children’s trust is by keeping our promises and commitments to them.
Trustworthiness is a virtue because it’s an outgrowth of other virtues like honesty, integrity, dependability, loyalty, and faithfulness. And just like all other virtues, our Heavenly Father exhibits trustworthiness in its perfection.
In the Parable of Uncle Nathaniel’s Promise, Nathaniel was to Susanna an appropriate person in whom to place her trust. But still, she doubted. As with some of Heavenly Father’s promises to us, Susanna couldn’t see how Nathaniel could keep his promise to her when circumstances seemed to get in the way. But she didn’t know everything that Nathaniel knew, and she didn’t know what influence and resources he had at his disposal to ensure he could keep his promise.
Nathaniel also built genuine trust by being attentive to his niece’s needs and caring about what she cared about. I believe that Heavenly Father, who knows everything about us and the things that are important to us, reaches out to us. But it’s up to us to respond to His invitations to have a relationship with Him. The more we do so, the more we come to learn that He is “faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11) and He “is not slack concerning his promise” (2 Peter 3:9).
When speaking to one of his sons, the prophet Alma taught from history and his personal experience: “For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers” (Alma 37:17). Centuries earlier, when a Nephite record-keeper named Enos worried about the future of his nation and their records, he asked God to ensure that their records would survive for the blessing of future generations. He already knew God can’t tell an untruth because it’s antithetical to who He is. So when God covenanted with him that He would preserve the Nephites’ records for the benefit of the Lamanites in the latter days, Enos “knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest” (Enos 1:5-6, 16–17).
It bears mentioning that many of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ’s promises are dependent on our adherence to the gospel. Enos’s faith “began to be unshaken in the Lord” (Enos 1:9–11) when assured that his people would reap the results of their choices, not undeserved favor. An oft-repeated lesson in the Book of Mormon is “Inasmuch as ye keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land” (2 Nephi 1:20). But in this discussion, I’m focusing mainly on the promises that God makes unconditionally, such as the Second Coming of Christ and a universal resurrection, and more individual promises He makes to His children that are in only His power to bring about.
In October 2007, when I was struggling with a personal challenge, and God had extended to me a promise related to it, Elder Spencer J. Condie, a Seventy, said this in a talk entitled “Claim the Exceeding Great and Precious Promises“: “In this age of one-hour dry cleaning and one-minute fast-food franchises, it may at times seem to us as though a loving Heavenly Father has misplaced our precious promises or He has put them on hold or filed them under the wrong name. Such were the feelings of Rachel,” who of course went childless for years while her sister, Leah, gave birth to son after son. Elder Condie assured us that “just as God remembered Rachel, God will remember you.” This talk gave great comfort to me and let me know Heavenly Father was conscious of my challenge. It didn’t end the struggle—in fact, another two and a half years passed before Heavenly Father’s promise to me came to fruition—but Elder Condie’s point was that when God makes a promise, He never forgets it.
Much like a child who thinks a month is a long time and a year is forever, our view of time is much different than His. He has a much longer memory than we do, and He has the power to fulfill His promises, even when we can’t see how He’ll do it. An inability to see and understand should not dim our hope or shake our faith in a God of miracles. Like Susanna, we can keep hoping and looking for the promise’s fulfillment and find joy when it comes to pass.
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