Integrity: Owning Our Inconsistencies
I usually sat on the right side of the auditorium about midway to the back. Just over half the seats were occupied and students were scattered across the room in clusters.
My Psychology 101 course at Wheaton College occurred on Tuesdays and Thursdays right during peak lunchtime hours. On this particular Tuesday I had slept in which resulted in missing breakfast. As I walked into class I realized I would most likely be missing lunch as well. My stomach was speaking loudly, causing my mind to start scheming a plan to get food, and soon.
In an effort to navigate a way to satisfy my stomach I went against the grain of my own routine. My friend and I chose seats in the back row to aid in leaving class early. Our plan was to slip out unnoticed after the weekly quiz, skipping the remainder of class to make it to lunch before closing. During our short mid-class break we proceeded to exit the building.
It didn’t go well.
Just as we were pushing our way through the double doors of the building, in the opposite direction of the rest of our classmates, our professor saw us. He followed us outside. Our pace quickened and so did his. We began to run and so did he. But his sport coat, bow-tie and dress shoes were not working to his advantage. We kept running, but he eventually stopped his pursuit and made his way back to the building. Even though I had gotten caught I chose not to turn around.
I had let my hunger dictate my judgement. The biblical story of Esau selling his birthright comes to mind.
A lapse in judgment can lead to poor decisions.
Needless to say, I got a zero on that quiz, but that wasn’t the worse consequence. A lapse in judgement made way for a lack of integrity.
- I lacked integrity in skipping class.
- I lacked integrity when I was caught and kept running.
- I lacked integrity when I didn’t turn around.
In that moment, I became aware of the belief that informed my behavior. I was fine with making the wrong choice as long as no one knew about it. Guilt and regret rose to the surface only after my lack of integrity was clearly seen by the person from whom I was trying to hide it, not because of the unwise decision I had made.
Integrity is who we are when everyone is watching, but it is also who we are when no one is watching. Consistency is key.
Living a life of integrity is reconciling any difference that lies between our internal life and our external one.
Doing so requires owning our mistakes, identifying what is motivating our behavior, and entering into constructive communication with trusted friends who can help keep us on course.
My day as a runaway student is not my most recent incident lacking integrity, but it has been a formative one. This particular event is burned into my mind, inviting me to remember what it feels like to not reconcile with my mistakes, to not own up to the clear discrepancy of the life I was projecting and the one I was actually living.
To act with integrity amidst my lapse of judgment would have looked like turning around to own my mistake. Instead I ran away. And due to the choice I made in the moment, I endured more than just a lower grade. I had to live with myself. The condemnation and negative self talk that ensued in the coming days, months and years, kept me in a place of believing that I was a person who lacked integrity, not that I had made a choice that lacked integrity.
It took me longer than I care to admit to dig out of that hole, but once I did I knew I never wanted to go back. With the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit I learned some key lessons that have served me in reconciling my inner and outer self, to pursue a life of integrity and accountability.
Owning Our Mistakes:
Our days are full of missteps and mistakes. We are human and this is part of the journey. Accepting that mistakes are inevitable, and part of the growth and maturing process is the first step towards owning our failures when they happen. We will never achieve perfection, but we can strive towards progress. When I own my mistakes I reconcile the belief that I don’t have to be perfect to be loved. My behavior of acknowledging my shortcomings not only strengthens my inner person, it aligns with the belief that I can grow and change and do it differently the next time.
Why do we do what we do? Sitting with that question is not comfortable or easy, but finding the answer will lead to some important discoveries about our inner beliefs that are motivating external behaviors. Identifying the true motivations behind our behavior is the starting place for change to occur. It is easy, and often expected, to go with the flow of culture and the latest trends. But where is that leading and who are we following? Each one of us has an audience of people we are trying to impress, whether in our heads or in real life relationships. When that audience requires more attention, time and resource than the people who actually share in our daily lives, it may be an indication that a motivation assessment is in order.
Today’s culture is very individualistic. Phrases like “find your truth” and “you do you”, push us away from living interdependently in relationships with others. We are each to live our own stories. But in order to do so well we need constructive communication from trusted people in our lives. The biblical narrative in 1 Samuel chapter 12 displays this idea clearly. The prophet Samuel is at the end of his life and he is requesting feedback from those he has led and served. In 1 Samuel 12:3 he says:
“Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”
He is asking for an honest account from others of how they have seen him live his life. And this is how the people of Israel respond:
“You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from the hand of anyone.” 1 Samuel 12:4
What a beautiful example of someone who is living a life of integrity by inviting feedback from those who have lived with him throughout the course of his life. The prophet Samuel was brave in asking that question. His conscious must have been clear to be able to ask it of the people. What would it take for us to ask that question of those who are in close relationship with us? More importantly, are we ready for the answer?
When lack of integrity goes unchecked and unresolved it leads to hypocrisy.
The origin of the word hypocrite is describing an actor who puts on a mask by assuming a false identity while playing the audience. The phrase hypocrite is what Jesus called the Pharisees, the self-righteous group of esteemed, religious elite of the Greco-Roman world. Jesus was accusing the Pharisees of saying one thing and doing another. And in the same way, if you and I fail to own up to our inconsistencies, we are hypocrites too.
Our stories have a way of coming full circle.
It’s been over two decades since I ran out of that auditorium. I now have the privilege of being a student once more at the same academic institution, this time as I pursue graduate studies. Each time I am on campus I visit that auditorium. Turns out all my graduate courses are housed in the same building. I literally walk up those same steps and through the familiar double doors that I once ran out of.
Since that formative moment years ago I have experienced firsthand the value of owning my mistakes, connecting to the motivations of my heart and inviting feedback in my life from those who have earned that place of trust.
I’m building consistency between what is on the inside of me to be reflected on the outside. I’m in progress; working out my integrity along the way through reconciling my beliefs and my behavior, and embodying my values to be lived out in practice. Wherever it is you find yourself, I invite you to join me on this journey.
Connie is our Joy of It Content Developer. She cares deeply about discipleship and feels called to raise up and equip leaders to step into the next place God is inviting them to serve. She shares candidly through speaking and writing of both the struggles and victories through her journey as friend, sister, wife, mother and leader. She loves the creative process and is currently furthering her education at Wheaton College to receive her MA in Leadership and Evangelism. Connie is wife to Taylor and mother to four energetic children. Read more of her work at conniearmerding.com.