One Toxic, Anxious Vow to God You Can Nullify Today

Scrupulosity Video Post

Jaimie Eckert

Published on May 13, 2024; Updated on May 13, 2024

You’re striving against sin or against your OCD, but you’re not winning. You keep failing, and each failure makes you feel further and further from God. You want so badly to stop your sin or your compulsive behaviors, but you just can’t seem to gain the victory. Finally, in a moment of utter desperation, your heart cries out a tormented and anxious vow to God. 

“God, if I ever do [that sin or compulsion] again, I promise I’ll give up _________ for the rest of my life.”

Have you ever done that?

We are so desperate to stop our unwanted behavior that we try to scare ourselves into stopping with a terrifying, anxious vow to God. We vow to give up something we cherish or do something difficult that we don’t want to do. If we up the ante with something REALLY awful, we think we can persuade ourselves to stop the unwanted behavior!

But that’s usually not what happens. What usually happens is a complete disaster. 

Anxious Vows to God

Some of these “scare myself into righteousness” vows are made intentionally and thoughtfully. Other times, we just get a thought flashing into our minds and we aren’t sure if it was just a random thought or if we actually meant to make that vow. But whatever the case, these types of vows are intended to bolster our weak self control. We are so desperate to stop ourselves from sinning or from compulsing! 

That’s it! This is then end of the road. I’m putting my foot down. If I ever do that again, I’m going to punish myself by vowing ______!”

Some of these vows are about giving things up, like video games or vacations. Other times they relate to salvation, such as vowing your soul to the devil (these type tend to be the unintentional, intrusive thought type of vows. If you haven’t seen my previous article about vows, check that out here.)

scrupulosity and vows to God

This kind of anxious vow to God, a crowbar to get our willpower to work harder, is actually a tool pushing us further into legalism. We are looking to ourselves for a solution! And what I see over and over again is one of the following two progressions. You tell me which one you think is worse!

The “It Works But Makes Me Miserable” Pattern

  1. Cycles of struggle and failure 
  2. The threatened vow
  3. You get absolutely terrified of failing again, because the threatened vow is so bad
  4. Your fear CURES your former problem
  5. Your fear becomes the new problem 
  6. You live in chronic terror that you might stumble again

The “It Doesn’t Work and Now I’m Dead Meat” Pattern

  1. Cycles of struggle and failure 
  2. The threatened vow
  3. You get absolutely terrified of failing again, because the threatened vow is so bad
  4. You DO fail again 🤯 and therefore it seems the vow goes into effect
  5. You now feel bound to give up whatever you’d used to threaten yourself with, OR you feel eternally lost if your vow was related to your salvation. 

What to Do If You’ve Made an Anxious, Self-Threatening Vow to God

Please remember that threatening your way to righteousness is not found anywhere in the Bible. This is a terrible technique that Christians with OCD sometimes use to our own detriment. Because this sort of vow is based on a legalistic approach to sanctification, it would actually be a virtue to walk away from it.

If you’re very scrupulous about your vows, it might sound horrendous to walk away from a vow! But what if I made a very obvious example: let’s say before you were converted, you were a Satanist and you vowed your life to enemy’s service. 

Oops. That’s a bad vow to make. 

Can you see that you have to break that vow in order to come to Christ? You cannot have two masters, Jesus and Satan. You would now find yourself having to prioritize one of the following:

A. Spiritual truth, or 

B. The integrity of your avowed word

Turning from Satan to follow Jesus would be a prioritization of spiritual truth over your own vow (thus breaking your word by turning from Satan to Christ). Keeping your own word/vow intact would keep you chained to Satan.

breaking free from anxious vows to God

You might think, oh, such an obvious and black and white example is easy to follow. But MY anxious vows to God are not so clear cut. (That’s what everybody says, my dear friend. See my video on the exclusion fallacy here.) Your OCD vow isn’t different from everyone else’s. Most likely, you just have a lot of mental static and emotional biases that make it very difficult to ignore compulsive vows. 

Conclusion

We cannot arbitrarily say that all our anxious vows to God must be kept. Some vows are just bad ideas and we ought to ignore them and move on. 

Self-threatening or self-punishing promises made to God in an attempt to scare yourself into stopping certain things is one of these “bad idea” vows. And I hope you can reach the place of feeling justified in walking away. 

If you’ve made a genuinely bad vow in a moment of extreme anxiety, go to your Heavenly Father, who knows all things, and ask Him to forgive you and release you from that bad vow. I know this can be a tough one to wrap our minds around due to all the Bible verses that DO talk about keeping our vows to God. But I’d like to make an illustration which I think will help make my point.

A father has two sons. One son is 17 years old, the other is 7. One day, both of them make a vow to their father about two very different things.

The 17 year old is going out with some friends for the evening. The father is concerned about this because the next day is a school day. But the son promises him: “Dad, I promise I won’t do anything dumb, and I’ll be home by ten o’ clock sharp.”

The 7 year old has something totally different on his mind. His dog has run away, and none of the neighbors have seen her. Gutted with grief, fear, and anxiety over his beloved pup, the boy crumples into his father’s lap and wails, “I swear, I won’t eat until Fido returns!”

understanding God's heart for our anxious vows

How will the father react to these two promises from his two sons? In the first case, the promise is made by a teenage boy who is of intelligent age to understand the implications of his promises. His vow is rational, intentional, and attainable. In the second case, the promise is made by a child who doesn’t understand the implications of what he is saying. He speaks unreasonable things out of his grief and fear. The father, knowing the ways of the world, most likely understands that there is a chance Fido has been run over by a car or is lost beyond hope. He hopes, for the sake of his child’s happiness, that they will find Fido. But if not, does the loving father really hold the child to his promise to not eat? For how many days? One day? Two days? Three days? What will the father expect on the seventh day Fido is missing? Such a promise would kill the child of starvation if the dog never returned.

The wise, loving father views both vows very differently. The plethora of Bible verses about keeping our vows to the Lord apply in cases that can be compared to the older son. Certainly, he will have temptations to stay out longer or to do dumb things–and he can benefit from the voice of his conscience reminding him of the promise he made to his father. But such verses can hardly be applied to the younger son’s grief-stricken, anxious vow, or any of the similar parallels that we face with our OCD vows.

I hope that you can find freedom from compulsive vow-making. Please, don’t use threatening, anxious vows to God as a crowbar to try forcing behavioral change in your own life. God is the One who changes you inside and out. Don’t try to force this change with life-draining sacrifices and vows. Look up and trust God, even when the “change” doesn’t happen as fast as you’d like.

Best wishes on the journey,

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  • In order to get rid of intrusive thoughts in the form of vows, I purposely thought (without intending it as a real vow) basically that I would promise to kill myself, but it backfired horribly and now I’m left wondering if I accidentally promised God I’d commit suicide. The fact that Jephthah in the Old Testament believed He was bound to the vow to kill his daughter doesn’t help. Ugh, this sucks. Ladies and gentlemen, do NOT make my mistake – stay away from vows for even imagine “pseudo-vows” in your head as a bizarre form of immature ERP. It’ll just give you a disaster headache and ruin your life.

    Sadly, I’m poor as frick and can’t afford therapy.

    • Oh no! I’m sorry to hear you’re in a place like this. I agree with your assessment, that these pseudo-vows are indeed a mistake, a headache, and a form of intrusive thoughts! Not from God at all!

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