The young man should have protected me, but his indecent proposal did just the opposite. It all began at that tumultuous time of life when I was just becoming a woman. While the innocence of childhood still lingered over me, I instinctively understood what the veiled proposal meant. Thankfully, nothing happened that day on a physical level. The emotional, however, was another story. I went home, and with an inner steel in my soul, I vowed: “If this is what becoming a woman brings on, I want nothing to do with it.” I bound my chest tightly with cloth, hoping to hide the changes that were happening in my body. I went into denial mode. This wasn’t happening to me. Maybe if I just ignore it, it will all go away. Feelings of shame washed over me. Without a single spoken word, I unknowingly had made an inner vow; a vow that shut down a part of the emotional and spiritual maturing process in my life. It would be years before I came to understand what I had just done and how I could be set free from that vow.
Unlike resolutions, inner vows aren’t usually thought through on a conscious level, but strangely enough, have a way of becoming a permanent binding force in our lives if left unchallenged.
An inner vow is a binding promise made to oneself that shouts NEVER AGAIN as a result of a threatening or traumatic life event.
In situations where inner vows are left unspoken, they could best be described as a silent scream. Something in the person rises up to protect themselves and those they love from a repeat performance. Instead of trusting God to do the heavy lifting when it comes to protection, the person powers up and effectively says, “If it’ to be, it’s up to me…the responsibility to protect is mine.”
Anyone who’s been on this earth any length of time has probably experienced one of those painful life events that left them hurt, confused and angry. Those kinds of events seem to penetrate the very deepest part of our being, like arrows aimed right at our hearts. The problem is that most of us never stopped long enough to acknowledge the pain and seek healing. Maybe because we simply didn’t know where to even start, much less how to fix it. Perhaps without realizing it, we subconsciously decided that God hadn’t been faithful to protect us, so we vowed we would never let “that” happen again. These inner vows act like walls around our hearts; walls whose mortar and brick are made out of fear. Sometimes out of revenge. These inner vows have the power to change the course of our lives and stop us from maturing. When we made them, we became so focused on protecting that we didn’t even realize that we no longer loved the way we used to. Walls around our hearts work that way; they keep us from loving others and keep the love others try to show us from being received. A walled off heart is a heart that suffers pain and loneliness.
What would other examples of inner vows look like?
- “Bob” grew up with a father whose addiction to alcohol went unchecked. He observed the pain that alcoholism caused in countless ways. In an effort to protect those he loved, a resolve began to grow in his heart: “I will never be like my father.”
- “Abbey” always felt inferior to her friends. They all came to school dressed in new clothes; her wardrobe consisted of clothes that others had cast off. Her family simply didn’t place value on new clothes. Her anger over feeling like she didn’t have appropriate clothes grew steadily. She vowed, “If my parents won’t provide for me, then I’ll provide for myself. I don’t need anyone’s help.” Instead of getting involved in extra-curricular activities at school, she got a job. She sub-consciously decided that she would be her own Provider. She had a hard time trusting that God would provide for when she needed something.
- “Elaine” grew up in a physically abusive home. In response to all of the pain and trauma she made an inner vow; one that said, “I will never again let myself or those I love be hurt by another person.” She began to control and manipulate her loved ones in an attempt to protect them, but the weight of trying to protect everyone she loved was exhausting.
- “Patricia” grew up in an extended family where the women’s sense of identity was seen only in how thin they were. She had heard the comments many times, conveying the message that the worth of women is measured on a scale; “Are you really going to eat all that?” Did you see so-and-so? She has gotten so fat!” “I can’t believe she let herself go like that.” The women in her family were never seen accurately enough to discover the beauty of who they really were. She began to fear becoming fat. Sub-consciously, she made an inner vow: “I will never let myself get fat.”
Others have vowed:
- “I’ll never be that vulnerable to anyone again.”
- “No one will ever control me.”
- “No one will ever treat me like that again.”
- I’ll never let anyone break my heart again
- “I’ll never try to resolve conflict with them again.”
- “I’ll never forgive ______for what they did.”
- “When I express my anger, people don’t accept me, so I’ll never be honest about being angry again.”
- “I’ll never let a woman dominate me.”
- “I’ll never let a man tell me what to do again.”
- “No one is ever going to bully me.”
- “No one is ever going to humiliate me like that again.”
On the surface, some of these inner vows might sound like reasonable, logical, possibly even good things. However, when we look at the underlying motives why we make these vows we discover that they are destructive. Let’s take a look at some of those reasons:
Inner vows often reveal that we are finding it difficult to trust that God will help and protect us and our loved ones when we need it. Psalm 91:14-15 says, “’Because he loves me’, says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble…’” Whatever the inner vow we have made, if it means that we are attempting to do for ourselves, by ourselves, that which God has promised us in His word that He wants to accomplish for us, then we have fallen into a trap; a trap that keeps us tethered to an act or condition that unnecessarily drains our strength and resources. Is it protection we need? He has promised to protect us. Is it humiliation we need protecting from? “Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:5) Is it being dominated by others who are posturing authority in our life? “His dominion is an eternal dominion.”(Psalm 145:13) Is it provision you need? Philippians 4:19 promises us that “…my God will supply every need of yours.” Is it help you need to keep from repeating the sins of the generations before you? “He has given you everything you need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3) (For more on trusting God when you have the perception that He has not helped you when you need it, check out my blog post entitled, “Overcoming depression through restoring trust.”)
Another reason that making inner vows is destructive is because it stunts our growth. The natural maturing process gets short-circuited when we make inner vows. Weather it’s spiritually or emotionally, these vows become a hindrance to growth; a hindrance that we need to be set free from if we are to reach our full potential.
Inner vows are not always goals that we would have picked to spend our life energy on if we had consciously sat down and decided what is really important to us…what we are really passionate about. Instead we feel driven to act in ways that we ourselves often don’t even understand.
Inner vows are also destructive because they can be rooted in pride. Without realizing it, the daughter that vows that she will never be like her mother is presuming that she is better than her mother; that if she were given the same challenges that her mother had faced, that she would have made better choices. The problem is that we all have a sin nature and are wholly dependent upon God to overcome bondage to sin. A better choice would have been to forgive her mother and humbly ask God for His help to resist the temptation to make the same choices that her mother had made. We tend to hit the target that we focus on, even if we despise that target. By focusing on the sin and failure of others, we often end up at the same destination as they did if viewed from a position of pride.
Does any of this hit home for you? It did for me. One of the problems we all face when it comes to inner vows is that we haven’t thought about it in years. Often we’ve never verbalized them on a conscious level. So, what do we do with that? First of all, it helps to recognize our dependence upon the Lord. He knows each one of us fully; every thought and intention of our hearts; and the good news is that we have some promises we can depend upon that He will counsel us and help us. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things that you do not know.” Often, the memory of the painful live event that triggered the inner vow has been there all along, but the significance of it was missed.
If you are willing, I want to invite each one of you to join me in a prayer, asking the Lord to guide us by bringing back to our remembrance any time that we may have made an inner vow that we need to come out of agreement with:
“Dear Lord, you have promised in your word that you will “instruct us and teach us in the way that we should go. That you will counsel us and watch over us. (Psalm 32:8) We are asking that right now, you would guide our hearts and minds. Please remind us if we have made any inner vows; vows that have laid heavy burdens on us because we are trying to do life on our own. We recognize that these are things that you have promised us in your word to help us with. We are asking you to search our hearts right now and remind us of any inner vows that we have made so that we might be set free from them. In Jesus’ name, Amen”
Breaking inner vows, one step at a time:
- Ask yourself, “Have I made any inner vows?” What were they?_________________________________________________________
- Define who was involved in the life event that led to the inner vow, directly and indirectly:_____________________________________________________
- One at a time, forgive everyone involved: “Lord, I choose to forgive____________. When they___________________, it made me feel_________________________. I choose to release this offense to your perfect justice.”
- Repent for making the inner vow and for not trusting God to be what you needed Him to be in the situation: “Lord, I now recognize that I have made an inner vow that reveals a lack of trust in your willingness to help and protect me and those that I love. I ask that you would forgive me. I want to transfer that need to feel helped and protected onto you, and I humbly ask that you would do just that; help and protect myself and those that I love. I renounce the inner vow that said, “___________________________. Please break the power of this vow over my life and help me to set wise goals that are in agreement with your plans and purposes for me. I also ask that you would heal any wounding in my heart that came as a result of the event that caused me to make this inner vow. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
- Ask yourself, “Did I believe any lies about God or others in this situation?”____________________________________________
- Renounce the lies you listed in #5:__________________________
- Exchange lie(s) for the truth: Ask, “What was the truth in this situation?”
My prayer for you is that if an inner vow has been redirecting the course of your life and placing a heavy burden on your shoulders that you were never meant to carry, that today you have had that weight lifted off of you. May the healing begin and may you be free to follow the plans that God has for you without weight or restriction.
Bless you my friend,