Commitment. Sometimes I wonder if the word has totally gone out of fashion or conversely, if we know what it means. The dictionary guides us in the word’s use – “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” and “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.” Even a casual reading of the definitions suggests why it seems to have disappeared, but I wonder when all the pundits have finished debating what has happened to our current world if they miss this important attribute.
I grew up never having a question about what the word meant or looked like in action. My dad (born in November 1910) was the model of commitment in every area of his life. And his life circumstances didn’t make that easy. He was born the youngest of six on a family farm of 60 acres. By the time he was five years old his father died leaving the responsibility of the family to his older first-born brother. He watched as his brother at age 25 began to handle the farm and all that was needed for their mother, four sisters, and him. Everyone did his or her part to help. There was time for fun, but chores and helping out was understood to be everyone’s part.
But my dad’s father’s death wasn’t the only challenge the family faced. Economic times were never easy, and losses continued in various forms. Then his brother tragically fell from the barn roof and was killed when my dad was just 13 years old. He was enjoying school back then and looking forward to what high school might bring. Instead, he left school and followed the commitment of his brother and with the help of his uncles on neighboring farms, assumed the responsibility of farming to support his family while his sisters took jobs in the nearby town. It wasn’t an easy shift but years later I never heard my dad complain about those challenges or decisions.
How excited he was about this stand of corn in the field as a young teen. One could wonder what sustained him through such hard things like dreams set aside, childhood upended, and more. The answer would be in his faith. His family had always embraced faith as the value most vital to living life, but as I knew him as his daughter well into adulthood and knew his siblings as well, I could not help but notice that it was my dad’s faith that was the bright light in the family. It didn’t waver and stayed steady through the testing and the sacrifices he made (some chosen, and others required). He was selfless in gentle unassuming ways, generous in patience and serving.
My dad met my mother at church when she was just 13 and he was 19. They participated in activities there and in other farm gatherings. It was clear they cared deeply for each other, but he already had priorities. When she was old enough, he told her he would like to marry her, but he couldn’t take that step financially until he had money to buy a tractor to replace of the team of horses he used to farm. His family needed him to keep sustaining their survival with that and another job he took working at a brickyard nearby. And my mother understood. She knew what everyone else who knew my dad knew – his commitment was sure and true.
They married at 23 and 29 on an April spring day in 1939. The family needs meant my mother moved into the farmhouse with her mother-in-law and any unmarried sisters. Nothing about it was easy for her or my dad, but their commitment held. It held a year later in 1940 when they were looking forward to the birth of their first child and he died just 24 hours after he was born.
I was born three years later, and it was this heritage that was foundational to what I saw about commitment and faith through all the trials and losses that continued in their life together including the birth of a disabled son four years later. Serving, faith, and selfless devotion shaped their legacy and were hallmarks of their character that displayed commitment. That character was also marked by my dad’s dry subtle wit, a quiet voice, and a strong love of country, education, and principled values. He made sure that I had a college education though he had no idea how he could pay for it with his modest income. He gave me what he never was able to have himself and did so with joy versus envy or regret.
Sometimes the culture we live in now is referred to as the “me generation.” I didn’t coin that term, but it suggests what may be part of the clue about the erosion of commitment common now. If we are most interested in what we can get or achieve, our focus is less about sacrifice because it looks like we want to gain something from it. We are looking at what will benefit us, what pleases us, and how we can have the good life. And those aren’t bad things but point to a very different motive and mindset. It also raises questions about the role of faith in our lives that serves as the source of the value of commitment.
Commitment lives on if it is modeled by the lives we emulate whether they be ordinary men like my dad or those known by thousands of others. And commitment to One higher than ourselves, values that matter and withstand the test of time are what are needed by the collapsing world around us if it is going to survive. And that doesn’t come from a program or government or course in any educational institution. It comes from a heart transformed by the only One who can do such a miraculous thing.
It’s not about striving for perfection or even looking for it but adjusting our focus on what leaves a legacy that lives on into eternity.