One of the character traits I desire most is integrity. I want to succeed with integrity, fail with integrity, struggle with integrity, learn with integrity... I just want my whole life to scream it.
Dictionary listings for the word integrity include such definitions as "adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty" and "the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished". It seems to me that the church had used a sort of selective defining process on this one. To a good deal of Christians, being a person integrity involves only the "moral and ethical principles" part, with the unwritten addition that such principles must be adhered to with perfection. But I think that the other words here -soundness and wholeness, and especially honesty- are vitally important. In my life, I hunger for an integrity that is defined as consistently being who I say I am, having my words and actions agree. I want to be someone who is whole and sound- no hidden seams or cracks. The opposite of this kind of integrity is hypocrisy, which is the essence of a divided life. There is no wholeness when words and actions contradict and all of life is pretense.
So why do we find ourselves having so much trouble getting from hypocrisy to integrity? I think it has everything to do with that limited definition of integrity, with clinging to the idea that the leap is from a life of pretense to one of moral perfection; we continue to present ourselves as perfect, and put everything we've got into making our actions line up. That's a recipe for failure if I've ever heard one. If having integrity means perfection, we might as well just throw in the towel right now and keep on being hypocrites! So what needs to happen? There still needs to be a change, but we've got it backwards. Instead of making our actions more perfect, we need to make our presentation- our words- more authentic and honest. Being who you say you are becomes a lot easier when what you are saying becomes a little more realistic.
My last couple months have been a mess. I have battled and struggled and spent a serious amount of time walking the razor's edge of moral disaster. Thankfully, I have managed to fall on the right side, but I sure have cut my feet and bled all over the place in the process. My victories have been peppered with mistakes. Some might call it a season where I lacked integrity. And if it's all about moral perfection, then I'd have to agree. But of all the things I have compromised (and there have been many), I do not think my integrity is among them.
How can I say that? Because through the whole mess, I have still tried to be who I say I am. Not because my actions have been perfect- no, I've just been trying to stay afloat. But even in those times of imperfection, we have the choice to make our words authentic, to present ourselves as the fallible humans we are. Then, even if there are cracks, at least they aren't hidden ones, and no one can accuse us of pretending they aren't there.
What would happen if the church stopped putting all its effort into attaining moral perfection (disclaimer: I am NOT saying that we should entirely give up striving for strong moral character- that is a huge part of discipleship)? What if, instead, we decided to offer a more authentic presentation of who we are? What if we said: "We are followers of Jesus, and we really do love him and want to be like him. But we are also people that struggle with addictions and lust, with dishonesty and greed,with insecurity and homosexuality and hatred. And we're not afraid or ashamed to admit it, because we really do believe in a God who loved us right in the midst of it. We're striving for holiness with everything we've got, but we aren't going to get it right every time, because living like the Bible tells us to is downright hard sometimes. It's an imperfect journey, but it's more worth it than any words could adaquately explain." And what if, as individuals, we were willing to go ahead and say, "I love Jesus, but I sure am having a rough go of it right now." ?
It would be in that place of honest weakness that hypocrisy would die and integrity would thrive. The world would see a body of Christ whose words and actions agree, whose members can say, "We are who we say we are, warts and all." Weakness ceases being hypocrisy when we're willing to go ahead and admit being weak.
Integrity does involve remembering to line our actions up with what we've spoken. But a huge part of it means painting an honest picture of ourselves. That's the kind of integrity I want, the kind where I am seeking holiness with everything I've got, but even when I'm knee deep in muck, well...at least I'm willing to walk into the church with muddy feet and ask for a towel to clean off with.