If there is any practice common to all those with even the faintest belief in God, it is probably making promises to God during times of fear and suffering. The saying "there are no atheists in a foxhole" is well-known and probably quite true. Think about it for a minute. If you ask someone if he believes in God or not, you will probably get a well-supported argument of some sort, unemotionally delivered, but if you put that same person on a battlefield, bullets whizzing over his head, all of a sudden God is extremely important to him. So, now our man finds it imperative to have an intimate relationship with the Deity, but what does he do with that impulse? Does he pray "Dear Lord, please illuminate my mind. Take away all my bad tendencies (sins). Help me do my best to please you?" Or does he say: "God save me. Let me survive this ordeal. Get me out of this mess?" And if the latter, does he not try to strike a bargain with God? A couple of months ago, he barely believed in a God, and now he is expecting God to rescue him. Doesn't it make more sense to offer something in return; sort of sweeten the deal. But what could God want? He has everything, doesn't he? It stands to reason that he would want us to progress on some sort of spiritual path. So, a typical promise to God might be "Dear God, if you get me out of this mess, I will go to church every Sunday." or "...I will be nice to my children." In a life threatening situation, no price would be too high, right?

Few of us ever have to fight in a war, but I think we all find ourselves in a foxhole every now and then; a situation unpleasant enough that we suddenly really believe in God, or at least suddenly find his existence far more relevant than we normally would, and in those moments something tells me it is very common to strike a bargain with God, a bargain which is very difficult to keep; a bargain which is very often, if not nearly always broken by man. Ouch!

Well, a few days ago I found myself in such a foxhole. I did my best to simply take cover at God's feet, but after a day of suffering my resolve weakened and I offered a deal to God which he apparently accepted because my problem evaporated within the next 20 minutes. The bad news is that I had offered exactly the same deal during a previous disaster months earlier and failed to deliver on my side of the bargain when God had answered my prayer within a couple of hours. The good news is that, noticing the pattern, I hastily made my offer considerably more specific this time; including very specific daily activities, places, times etc.

That was my side of making this promise to God work, but God had a couple tricks of his own up his sleeve. That same evening as I was putting my kids to bed, my 11 year old son suddenly asked me: "Dad, what happens when you break a promise to God?" He had absolutely no prior knowledge of my experiences that day; those words just popped out of him. He had had a parallel experience and made a promise of his own to God, which he felt he could not keep. I told him that the whole process was quite common, but that in my heart I felt that it was best to keep such promises. He told me he had promised God he would meditate every day, but hadn't done it. "Well" I said "there is still time. Sit up and let's meditate together for a while." And that's what we did. Then I encouraged him to set some reasonable specifics, do his best to stick to them, and I would do my best to help him. He said he felt much better.

The following day, while I was doing my own evening mediation my son burst in and announced that he wanted to help me with my promise to God. What was my promise to God? I promised I would write a book about Him, and the hastily added specifics were that I would work on it one hour per day, seven days/week, and (surprise surprise) I had the first half of this very essay sitting right next to me when my son burst thru the door. I handed it to him, he read it, and we meditated together.

Copyright 2007 Bruce Boyd and BabaNam.com

Author's Bio: 

Bruce Boyd has been a spiritual seeker since the early 70s and spent most of his adult life overseas (Japan, India, Nepal, China, Ireland, Germany and Thailand), studying and teaching yoga and martial arts, playing music and looking for gurus. He now lives in Eugene, OR with his wife and three kids teaching yoga and meditation. http://babanam.com