My phone dinged. “I’ll be there tomorrow at 8. Does that sound OK?”
“Sounds great, thank you!” I typed back. But even as I pressed send, I couldn’t help thinking: I guess we’ll see if that actually happens.
I didn’t want to be cynical. But this person had fallen through on her word several times before. I’d stopped holding out hope that “tomorrow at 8” would have her showing up for the job she’d promised to do.
Cancelled plans. No-show appointments. Last-minute excuses. We’ve all known someone whose follow-through is as consistent as rainfall in the Sahara. And as much as we hate to admit it, many of us have been that person a time or two (or more).
Stranded once again at the 11th hour, I couldn’t help but wonder why. Why do we have an epidemic of broken promises and unreliable follow-through? Is it busyness? Laziness? Apathy and lack of consideration? While each plays a part, I believe our failure at keeping our word in the small things is a symptom of a much larger problem.
Generation Allergic to Commitment
Consider Gen Z—a generation known for commitment issues that run deeper than simply canceling plans at the last minute, failing to show up for volunteer work, or failing to complete tasks at school. Let’s look at some facts.
Millennials and Gen Z are dating longer and marrying later than any prior generation. The average age for first marriages increased from 21.5 years in 1960 to 28.9 years in 2019. The average dating relationship for those in their mid-20s lasts about four years. Yet even many long-term relationships end in breakups. Our generation has more broken relationships than successful marriages.
Our generation has more broken relationships than successful marriages.
The problem isn’t just incompatibility or conflict, but that we often prefer to keep our options open. The thought of committing ourselves to one person for life seems foreign and suffocating. In case feelings wane or times grow tough, we want the flexibility of an easy out.
Job-hopping is another example of Gen Z’s struggles with commitment. Seventy-one percent of college graduates spend less than a year at their first job and Millennials and Gen Z ages 20 to 24 stay at their jobs an average of only 1.3 years. There’s nothing inherently wrong with changing jobs. Often it’s even wise. But might the prevalence of job-hopping reveal something, in general, about our growing struggle to commit? (And we’re not even talking about church!)
The “married my first love, settled down, and worked at the same job for years” story has become a rarity instead of the norm. Instead of being grounded and steady, we flit from thing to thing, relationship to relationship, job to job, saying yes to anything and everything, following whatever catches our eye or sounds good to our ear.
Problem Bigger than Gen Z
Statistics like these focus on younger generations, but the underlying issue goes beyond one age demographic. It’s an old-as-time, sin-ridden struggle to live by the words of Philippians 2:3–4:
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Since the fall, humanity has always elevated self. We look out for ourselves above others, considering what’s easiest, best, and most convenient for us. Sacrificing to keep our word—whether in marriage, at a job, or in volunteering at the church nursery—is difficult.
Words are cheap and we’re good at throwing them around, but follow-through is rare and the truest measure of our integrity.
It’s simple to say “Sign me up,” “I love you,” or “I’ll take the job”—but showing up, loving well, and sticking it out requires maturity, tenacity, and commitment. Words are cheap and we’re good at throwing them around, but follow-through is rare and the truest measure of our integrity.
Keeping our commitments requires a depth of maturity and selflessness often lacking in our generation (though true maturity isn’t contingent upon age). Immaturity merely says, “I’ll be there!” Maturity actually shows up. Selfishness merely makes promises. Selflessness keeps them, even if it’s hard.
Counting the Cost
The deepest root of our commitment issues is often a shaky commitment to Christ. It’s easy to talk a good talk and pontificate about surrender, sacrifice, and wholehearted obedience. But considering how they apply to our own lives is hard. Ecclesiastes 5 warns against this: “Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. . . . When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for he has no pleasure in fools” (vv. 2–5).
In other words, our verbal promises, hastily said, are foolish unless they’re backed by action. Like the second son in Jesus’s parable who immediately agrees to obey his father but never follows through (Matt. 21), if our words never turn to action, we too fail to do the will of our Father in heaven.
When we’re tempted to bail on our commitments, the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to obediently follow Christ, count the cost, and do our Father’s will. His power made perfect in our weakness, making us dead to sin and alive to Christ, enables us to remain faithfully steadfast.
Call to Keep Our Word
How does this affect our daily lives? Is this a call to be faithful in our relational and workplace commitments? To recognize our weakness and rely on Christ? To show up for that volunteer work, or turn in that assignment on time?
We’re not called to say yes to everything. But we are called to be true to our word.
Rather than looking at these as separate issues, we’re called to thread them together with renewed conviction to walk in integrity and be people of our word. As James wrote, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no,’ ‘no,’ lest you fall into judgment” (James 5:12).
While culture has normalized a “do what’s best for you,” “back out if it’s not convenient,” “words are cheap” mindset, Christ calls us to a higher standard—one that values the weight of a promise and puts others above self, seeking to obey his command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Most of all, he calls us to walk in faithful obedience that overflows into a lifestyle of integrity.
We’re not called to say yes to everything. But we are called to be true to our word. May God grant us grace to walk in wisdom between the tension of our every “yes” and “no”—and give us strength to let “yes” truly mean yes and “no” truly mean no.