Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes wrote an article that I read as a young pastor and a still new husband. It helped me enormously as both a counselor and spouse. It is called “Controlling the Unpredictable—The Power of Promising” [Christianity Today 27:2 (January 21, 1983): 16–19]. (p. 90)
Keller then interacts with the article to underscore his point that “marriage is essentially a covenant” (p. 90). Here are some excerpts from Smedes’s article:
Some people ask who they are and expect their feelings to tell them. But feelings are flickering flames that fade after every fitful stimulus. Some people ask who they are and expect their achievements to tell them. But the things we accomplish always leave a core of character unrevealed. Some people ask who they are and expect visions of their ideal self to tell them. But our visions can only tell us what we want to be, not what we are.
Maybe we can best find out who and what we are by asking about the promises we have made to other people and the promises we are trying to keep for their sakes.
When I married my wife, I had hardly a smidgen of sense for what I was getting into with her. How could I know how much she would change over 25 years? How could I know how much I would change? My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed—and each of the five has been me. The connecting link with my old self has always been the memory of the name I took on back there: “I am he who will be there with you.” When we slough off that name, lose that identity, we can hardly find ourselves again. And the bonds that connect us to others will be frayed to breaking.
When we make and keep promises we are most of all like the God whose name is “I am he who will be there with you.” Among all the dimensions of the mature person in Christ, none comes closer to the character of our Lord than the daring to make a promise and the courage to keep the promises we make.