What’s in a promise?

By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luke 1:78-79

Dear members & friends of the Swedenborgian Church,

A promise from someone who you trust and love causes a certain positive expectation in your heart. Sometimes, the promise is the only hope you can hold on to in a dark and miserable situation. Consequently, a broken promise hurts deeply. It can hurt even more when the one who broke it is someone you trust. When I was six years old, I was sent to live with my grandparents without any explanation. Then, six months or so later, my mother came and stayed one night with me. As she was leaving, she promised, “I will come to see you next year. I promise. I love you, son.” I counted every day after she left until exactly one year passed. On that day, I waited at the bus stop literally the whole day even though I knew the bus only came once a day in my remote village. My mother did not come on that day, or the next day, or the next year, or the year after. I tried to understand the first year, but by the second year, I grew angry. At last in the third year I just gave up. But, one lesson that I took to my heart was, “I will never break my promises!”

Little did I understand the complex and delicate nature of the human mind and the uncertainty of human life! It took me many years of reading books, meditation, and my own life experiences to know and understand a truth about human life: no one can be certain what the future will bring to one’s life. In other words, no one can promise anything for certain when it comes to the future! The only thing that truly matters with a promise may be the sincerity and authenticity of the heart at the moment the promise is made. My mother might have fully intended and planned to come and visit me once a year, but she had no idea that she was about to enter into an unhappy, difficult marriage that would prevent her intentions from coming true.

Understanding my mother’s life fully and objectively freed me from being under the spell of a few dark clouds. The hurt feelings certainly do not go away, but a new perspective was gained: my mother did not lie at the moment when she made her promise, but she was swept away by a big wave that was harsh reality of her life. With honest reflection, I realized that the pain in my heart was not because of the lack of my mother’s love, but because of the difference between my expectation of what a loving mother should do and be and what my real mother was capable of doing and being. In other words, my pain was caused by disappointments of not meeting the expectations created by my own mind. To me, this is why all the great teachers of humanity emphasize one thing for sure: overcoming one’s self is the way to true freedom, enlightenment, and God.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee