I made a promise once. I meant it with all my shaking soul. I think it would be difficult to recount 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 21 or 22 and teaching a small Mennonite school in 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 weeklong 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 clear sweet song that drew without enchantment — was for me, and I felt that God had been preparing my heart 22 years to receive it.
When the preacher invited us at the end of his sermon to come up front and make the promise publicly — setting a post, he called it — I was the first to step out of my pew. I normally consider myself shy, but 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, not with shyness but with emotion. Others, a lot of others, joined me. We prayed the promise together, the preacher reading the words aloud. Even in such deep stirrings of soul I was 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.
The prayer was an old prayer, written in old-fashioned language. But old words are beautiful words. They have been used and have depth to them.
Now, in the spring of the year, when the sleeping earth yawns, rolls out of bed and plants flowers in her hair, I read my promise again 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.
Lucinda J. Miller lives with her called-out family in Rusk County, Wis. She is the author of Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite and blogs at lucindajmiller.com.