Making a vow can be dangerous.
Why? Because God holds you to it (see Num 30:1-2 and Dt 23:21). If you break it, consequences will follow. Always.
Given this, when making a vow or pledge, I suggest counting the cost beforehand to make sure you’re not committing to something hastily or lightly, or in an attempt to escape personal responsibility, pain, or the feelings of guilt.
While making a vow can be dangerous, it can also be exceedingly beneficial. It can move you from that of a casual participator ("If it suits me in the moment, great; if not, no big deal.") to a surrendered devotee ("This is how I choose to live my life. Period.") The difference is about as obvious as, say, as the "participants" in the creation of a plate of bacon and eggs. The chicken, who laid the eggs, was a participant; the pig, however (and I think we can all agree on this), was committed. Vows have a way of bringing a certain committed distinctiveness to the structure of your life.
In many monastic communities, monks (and laity alike) make vows. Typically, they're public and progressive (meaning they're embraced [with guidance] over a period of many years). And, more often than not (especially in western communities), they include at least some aspects of the following elements:
The Vow of Poverty: The vow of poverty is NOT the pledging of yourself to a life of destitution. Rather, it is a practice of minimalism and of holding all things in common within a religious community. In other words, the individual chooses to own very little (if anything at all). Everything you possess (even your Bible) is seen as owned by everyone in common; the one "possessing" an item is really just a steward of it. In a very real sense, the individual doesn’t really belong to himself (or herself) either; he belongs to God and to the community. [BTW...this is NOT socialism. As important as the community is, the community is a collection of individuals, and individual needs and rights (if they're discernibly legitimate) supersede the needs and rights of the community as a whole—always. The individual doesn't exist for the community; rather, the community exists for the individual. Paradoxically, as the individual grows in his (or her) selflessness, he begins to think more and more about others and less and less about himself. This is the essence of monastic community and of living in to one's poverty (or reliance upon God in everything).]
The Vow of Chastity: The vow of chastity is synonymous with sexual purity. It doesn't necessarily mean never marrying—although it could. Broadly, chastity means not having any sexual relations outside of a marriage covenant. If you're married, it means being completely faithful to your spouse until death parts you.
The Vow of Obedience: The vow of obedience is the pledging of your life to Christ. Undertaken in a spirit of faith and love, it is an intentional and continual surrendering of yourself to the rule of Christ. This vow can apply also to submitting to the will of legitimate superiors and authorities, who, by the witness of God, the Church, and the individual (yes, all three "witnesses" are necessary), mediate the Presence and Wisdom of God.
Before I lay-out the vows I've taken, I want to be clear about something as it applies to my monastic approach to life: I am not a monk, and neither do I feel called to be a monk. I am, though, an inner-monastic (meaning, I live monastically in the monastery of my heart), and I've lived as such for a very long time. Presented below (in the exact way I vocalize them multiple times throughout the day) are the specific vows I've made to God and myself:
In the Name of Jesus, I vow…
To not be deceitful.
To not take what isn’t mine.
To not engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.
To not take a human life (unless, of course, that life seems hell-bent on taking mine or that of someone close to me).
To not use food, stimulants, depressants, or alcohol.
To be kind—to myself and others.
To pursue intimate and divine union with God Almighty.
Limited as I am, to seek, in every moment, to incarnate the very Thoughts and Feelings of God.
To pursue life mastery—principally, through martial arts practice, holistic discipline, and meditative prayer. And…
To empty myself into other people—principally by coming alongside them as their slave and by living a life of genuine selflessness.
In and through these vows, O God, I pledge my heart to Heaven.
So, there you go—my vows professed.
The most important thing, though, is not what I profess, but how I live. The question I ask myself regularly is as follows: In this moment, am I living out my profession? In the quiet of my soul, I ask God to illuminate any areas in my life where He Feels I'm lacking or needing additional guidance. More often than not, His Words come as refreshing, gentle suggestions intended to supply exactly what I need in the moment. I'm not a good judge of my character or behavior. I need God and others (those wise souls around me) to show me what real living looks like. Such is the path of the true beginner, the life-novice, who has a lot to learn but, it's hoped, still has a lot of life left to be experienced.
Here's to what I pray will be a long and exceedingly fruitful life!
IKIGAI Weekly Blog Schedule (per The Training Trinity):
Mondays: Meditative Prayer
Wednesdays: Holistic Discipline
Fridays: Martial Arts Practice