Addiction’s Empty Promises
But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. James 5:12
Over my 15 years of drug use, I did have a couple of attempts at recovery. Both involved outpatient treatment, confession to my wife, and a promise never to go back. I’d swear to heaven and earth, vowing to my wife that I was changed and that I’d never use again. She believed me the first time. She wanted to believe the second time. After the third time though – my last relapse – her trust was shattered. My promises proved empty as I’d failed once again, destroying our lives. When I came home from treatment that third time, I knew that I’d found authentic recovery and I desperately wanted my wife to believe it too. She was hurt, broken, and betrayed though. I’d proven myself to be completely untrustworthy and only a fool would have believed anything from me.
This is what I think of when I read today’s passage. In it, James instructed Christians to avoid making oaths, swearing by heaven and earth, promising to do something. He said that we should simply say yes or no, and then back that answer up with our lives. As followers of Christ, we must act with such integrity and consistency that those around us will simply believe us when we say we will or will not do something.
We often know when we’re being manipulated by the empty promises of the fraudulent. When someone who’s burned us before, once again says, “I’m not gonna lie”, we know they’re lying. When they say, “I swear to God”, we know they’re full of it. James said that as followers of Christ, we must avoid this reputation, living in such a way that others simply trust our answer.
When I got out of treatment this last time, I understood this. I knew what a promise from me would sound like to my wife. So, I made no promise. I took no oath. I simply began pursuing faith and recovery – every day. Eventually, after maybe a year and a half, she began to believe that the change was authentic. I still don’t make grand promises though. Eight years later, if it comes up, I simply say that I’m going to do what it takes today to pursue my faith and recovery. Then, I do it.
Empty promises and hollow oaths couldn’t restore my wife’s trust in me. The only thing that could bring that back was living with consistency and integrity – every day for a very long time.