I made a promise once.
I meant it with all my shaking soul.
I think it would be difficult to say what an influence that promise has had on my life, impossible to count how many times I have read it again or remembered it, crying.
I don’t remember the date or the time of year. I remember that I was twenty-one or twenty-two and teaching a small Mennonite school is southern Virginia. It was a country foreign from my northern home, distinguished by many small churches and scarcely any bars, by an equal ratio of blacks to whites, and by people who talked with a lovely slow twist in their voices.
The Mennonite church I attended held special meetings–whether week-long or over a weekend, I can no longer remember. Nor do I remember the name of the preacher who spoke at those meetings or what he looked like, besides that he had gray hair.
I don’t even remember what he spoke about, though it holds a general association in my mind with the promise I made and with a song I learned a few years later, “Go Light your World” by Chris Rice.
What I remember is the promise.
I sat on the padded church pew listening to the preacher–undistracted by doodling, by the gurgling baby beside me, by the dipping row of heads of the girls on the front bench. This message–this promise–was for me, and I felt that God had been preparing my heart twenty-two years to receive it.
When the preacher invited us at the end to come up and pray the promise with him, I was the first one to step out of my pew and walk up to the front. Normally shy, in that cut-out moment of time, I didn’t care what anyone thought. I knew exactly and completely what I wanted.
I stood in the front trembling, and others–a lot of them–joined me, and we prayed the promise together, the preacher reading the words. Even in such deep stirrings of soul I was conscious–I have always been conscious–of the audience, and of myself standing in front of them. Wrapping my arms tight to my body to keep it from shaking, I tried hard to look smooth and composed, not awkward or red-faced or emotional.
But I was glad I had been first. Now I knew and God knew that I hadn’t waited for anybody, that I really meant what I said.
Now, at the time of the New Year, I get it out and remember.
My Dedication Prayer
Dear Lord, tonight I again dedicate myself completely unto Thee. I want to know Thy will and always walk in it.
Lord, forgive me and cleanse me of every sin in my life. Purge me from all iniquity. Keep me pure and holy so I can serve you and you alone.
I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. I’ll do what you want me to do. I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord. I’ll be what you want me to be.
Lord, fill me with thy Spirit. Guide me in every decision I must make in life. Use me, dear Lord, to witness to others and to build thy kingdom in our community.