When you think of vows, what comes to mind? Is it when a wife commits to stand by her terminally-ill husband? When a husband determines to provide for his family no matter how hard life gets? Or when a man and woman vow to stick together "'til death do us part?"
Vows like these are seen positively, as a God-given privilege, and are something most singles long for. However, not all vows are positive. In fact, some can sabotage romantic love and hinder singles from making it the wedding altar.
I once struck up a conversation with a bubbly, twenty-something waitress who reminded me how devastating some vows can be. After chatting for a few moments, I asked, "Are you married?" She rolled her eyes and dramatically responded, "Oh, no! Been there, done that. Never doing it again!"
I'm sure her smile would have convinced a casual onlooker that she wasn't bothered by her past divorce, but I knew otherwise. Why? Because a heart that is unbroken and healthy has no need to make vows for self-protection.
After speaking with this young woman, I remembered that my story is not so different.
Devastated from a broken relationship that I thought was headed toward the altar, I lay in bed and cried until I hyperventilated. My sobs became a wail that catapulted toward heaven and then seemed to hit the ceiling. "God, do You even hear me?" Then I uttered a phrase that changed my life for the next eight years—"I'm never allowing any man to get close to me again!" Like this young waitress, I didn't think that I could handle another heartbreak, so I made a vow for self-protection.
Many years later, I realized that my vow did in fact guarantee that I wouldn't feel the devastation of a broken heart, but it also guaranteed that I would never experience the joy of God-given love again—because self-protective hearts can't love.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a vow as an "earnest promise that binds one to a specific mode of behavior." I thought the vow I made protected me when in reality it was binding me. Like a rope that strangles, it tied itself around my heart so I couldn't give or receive love. My heart just felt numb.
Can you relate? Perhaps like me, you've known something is preventing you from experiencing the intimacy you desire, but you haven't been able to identify why. Perhaps a vow is at the root of your romantic woes.
If you can relate to what I've said, you might be wondering, What are the characteristics of an unhealthy vow and how can I overcome it if I've made one?
If I could speak with my waitress friend again and ask her why she vowed to never remarry, perhaps she'd tell me that she believes all men are liars, that she couldn't handle another heartbreak or doesn't think she's good marriage material.
Then, if I compared her response to the truth in God's Word, I could prove that each of her statements is a lie that she has embraced. This isn't surprising. Why? Because when we make vows after heartbreak for self-protection, deception is always a part of our story. Broken down into an equation, the recipe for a vow is:
Disappointment and a broken heart + deception=a vow.
If God is showing you that you've made an unhealthy vow after romantic heartbreak, the first step to overcome it is to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the lies you've believed that led you to make the vow. Once this is accomplished, ask God to show you the truth in His Word to counteract the lie. Then, pray and confess His truth. I often find that speaking the truth out loud is powerful because faith comes through hearing God's Word (Romans 10:17).
My good friend, Kathleen, lived a portion of her young life on the street and in foster families. Without the steady presence of a loving mother and father, orphan mentality became a way of life for her. One day, as we chatted over coffee, she said, "I realized no one was going to take care of me, so I would have to take care of myself."
For Kathleen, making a vow was directly related to feeling like an orphan—and that's exactly how we can feel about God after a romantic breakup. Why? There are several reasons, but one is that we often pray diligently about finding "the one." And when it doesn't happen, we can feel ignored, abandoned or orphaned by God. And, if He doesn't care about our personal lives, then we'll just have to take care of ourselves by making a vow, right?
A second step to overcoming unhealthy vows is to reject the idea that God has abandoned you. Choose to trust that He has never left you, just as He promised (Hebrews 13:5). Acknowledge His love and ask Him if you have believed any lies about His presence in your life. Again, confess the truth and accept it.
Making a vow is like slapping a hand over a bloody bullet wound and telling the surgeon, "No, I can take care of it myself." As a result the Great Physician is not allowed into the place that hurts. In order to recover from heartbreak and overcome any vows you have made, vulnerability with God is always necessary.
Some people have a difficult time getting real with God. If you struggle with sharing your true emotions with Him, remember that He knows how you feel anyway, so you might as well tell Him everything. This is the third step in overcoming vows. Take your emotional pain to God and invite Him into it. You can trust Him and He wants you to cast your cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7).
My journey from making a vow to never love again and experiencing the freedom of heart I know now didn't happen overnight. Instead, it was a gradual process as God revealed the lies I'd believed. Like peeling an onion, it happened in layers rather than in an instant. I can't tell you how many times I prayed and asked God to change my heart and to teach me how to love.
One day, He spoke to my spirit and gave me Ezekiel 36:26 as a promise: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." True to His promises, He has done that very thing. I'm confident that He wants to do the same for you. I encourage you to hang in there with Him, and if you need to, speak with a professional counselor to help you unravel the lies you've believed so that God can give you the desires of your heart.