As we step into a season so inherently suited for seeing things in a new way, read Jo’s perspective on how our commitments can be one of them.
a case for failed commitments
by joanna gaines
Our hearts are often the first to notice when our priorities are a little off, when the things we care most deeply for have unknowingly started to shift. And it makes you wonder if the very things that give us life are still beating in unison. That feeling will hit me every now and then. I’ll sense this nudge deep within me to look up and take stock of priorities that might’ve drifted, and that’s when I know it’s time to reestablish the commitments that anchor me.
This happened a couple of years back. Our family was in a season when our lives felt busier than ever, and knowing that I didn’t want busy to define those years with our kids, I made a commitment to what seemed like the exact opposite: an intentional night out with one kid every Thursday. In theory, a fixed date and time seemed like a good idea, but in reality, between our family’s ever-changing schedule, the kids’ games going into overtime, and late nights at the office, it was nearly impossible to make it happen every week. Whenever it didn’t go as planned, I would feel like I was failing to keep a commitment to the very people who matter most to me.
There are some lessons that ring truer with each passing year. One being that life happens fast. Our days unfold quickly. Moments become memories before we even notice they’ve slipped away. And for the most part, that all makes sense.
We are a curious kind, naturally wired to wonder what’s next and where we’re headed. To set our sights on the horizon and stay the course.
Consider the way we begin a new year, thinking about the goals we want to achieve, asking ourselves where we want to be at the end of that year, at the end of five years, at the end of 10 years. The last scene of a movie, the final page of a book, the finished meal on the table—we judge a lot of things by how they turn out.
And through all of this, it seems like we’ve learned to glorify the outcome of something far more than the defining moments that got us there: the spark that caught our heart’s interest in the first place or even the beauty of all that happened in between—the courage and belief and intention it took to pick up our brush and paint, only to repaint the very next day. I can see how I’ve judged my own commitments this way, forgetting that all things are shaped during the journey. That is the essential part.
When I think back to that commitment I made to my kids, I can see it more clearly now for what it lacked. And what it lacked wasn’t intention. My heart was in the right place. But for a while, I had placed the act above the purpose—emphasizing the outcome of that commitment as the only way to measure it.
What I’ve come to believe about the promises we make, the ones that align with who we are at our core, that keep us steady—those commitments that give our life purpose—is that the desire to make them meaningful doesn’t mean they are meant to be unbending.
Because for every date night that didn’t go as planned, if I could shift my perspective from what I’d envisioned as the end-all, I could more easily see the unexpected opportunities I had right in front of me—unforced and unplanned but precisely what my heart was after all along.
Sometimes that looked like pulling up a chair to join the girls all huddled around a puzzle we’d been working on for weeks, our busy hands giving way to wandering conversation. Or noticing that the time was just right to gather everyone out on the porch, and we’d all savor the last of the light, eyes fixed on the promise of another day. Other times it looked like sneaking into the boys’ room after I’d already tucked them in for the night, only to turn on their bedside lamps so we could tell just one more story—which often turned into two or three more stories.
Those evenings might’ve looked different from what I intended, but we always found our way to one another. And that needn’t be resigned to a single day of the week.
So, as I sit here now, thinking about the pursuits and the people I am committed to, I’m not worrying about outcomes or how they should look through the lens of a culture that so highly values results. Because maybe the true purpose of being devoted to something isn’t found in how it ends, but in the way it takes shape—or even ends up shaping us—along the way.
This story was adapted for digital from the summer issue of Magnolia Journal.