Father’s Day was last weekend. I thought about my dad. As I was rolling back through all of our experiences, a story came to mind. It’s the one story which I think of whenever I wonder how my dad feels about me.
When I was playing high school baseball, we played some late afternoon games. They would start within 30 minutes of school getting out. My parents did their best to be at all my games (there were a lot of them – I played from 1st grade through high school graduation. One specific afternoon, my dad made a saddening discovery. Although he had told me he’d be at my game, he had double-booked his schedule and a couple was coming in to meet with him. (My dad is a pastor) The couple wanted to learn more about our church before deciding to officially become members.
My dad was faced with a difficult decision. Did he keep the appointment with the couple or did he keep his word to me that he would be in the stands on that spring afternoon?
Ultimately, he called them and canceled the appointment and he was there for first pitch. The following Sunday, as the service concluded, the couple walked down the main aisle of the church to him and told him they were ready to join the church. My dad’s willingness to put his family first, while owning up to his mistake told them all they needed to know about his leadership. They wanted to follow this kind of leadership and make our church their home.
My dad had given his word to his son and he was going to do all he could to keep it. He learned this quality from his dad (my grandpa Willis). He’d seen it in Jesus and preached it to our church. There’s a word for this quality – integrity.
According to Merriam-Webster, the first three definitions of integrity are
1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility. 2 : an unimpaired condition : soundness. 3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness.
My favorite definition in that list is the third one. Integrity is “the quality of state of being complete or undivided. One of my favorite books on this subject was written by Bill Hybels and is titled “Who You Are When No One is Looking.” Since reading that book, my default understanding of character or integrity is summed up in a question, “Who are you when no one is looking?”
The trouble is, though, someone is always looking. In our present world, everyone is a reporter, with a video camera and broadcast platform in their pocket. To see the dark side of this reality, just ask Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, or Justin Bieber.
One of my favorite activities is to reimagine a past event or figure in the modern era with 24/7 news cycle and omnipresent social media. Consider these possibilities. How would Nixon and Watergate have gone with Twitter and blogs? What stories would have been written about FDR and his handicap? JFK’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe? The Black Sox baseball scandal on ESPN’s Outside the Lines? If our founding fathers only had Snapchat? These tools would have shown a different kind of light on these famous people and significant events.
Integrity can seem unimportant or nothing to worry about. We often feel we have more pressing demands – bills, deadlines, expectations, audits, assessments and hectic schedules.
However, what happens when there is a gap between who we are and what we do? Between our promises and what we actually deliver? Between our words and our actions? What happens when we constantly apologize but never change? What do people do with the gap between how we portrayed ourselves online and the people we are up close and personal?
This is why I loved that third definition. It’s the idea of wholeness or undividedness. Integrity connotes the idea of being consistent. The people we admire for their integrity are people we can count on, even when they disappoint us. Because even in disappointment, they shine.
Integrity is immensely powerful. Integrity earns us trust. Integrity allows for long term influence. Integrity increases our authority, as we’re promoted or given more leadership. Integrity invites dependence because we keep showing up in the same way.
So, how does build a life of integrity? I’ve watched the people I admire consistently take these 5 steps, year after year, with remarkable results.
1. Keep your word even when it hurts.
David, king of ancient Israel and author of many of the psalms, wrote these words in Psalm 15.
“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart…
who keeps an oath even when it hurts.“
I love this image – keeping our word even when it hurts. Practicing integrity and exhibiting character is not easy and often painful. It’s a risk. We don’t know how it will work out. The way of integrity doesn’t always win a popularity contest. But God is honored and we ultimately win when we keep our word.
2. Disappoint someone so you can be true to the people who matter most.
The ultimate judge on our integrity are those closest to us. One of my friends from college days said that on the day of his funeral, he cared most about what his wife and kids would say about him. Andy Stanley unpacks this concept in his book, Choosing to Cheat. In the book, Stanley argues that we will ultimately choose to cheat on our families or our work. We can only be ultimately be faithful to one or the other. He urges readers to cheat on your work and be faithful to your family. While neither Stanley or I are saying compromise your work or your word in your job, the challenge will be to make the performance reviews of those you come home to above and beyond the one who signs your paychecks.
3. Invite accountability
Once we set integrity as our aspiration, we’ll need help. This is where accountability comes in. Because true, healthy accountability can never be externally demanded; it can only be internally invited. We all have gaps between what we say and what we do, who we aspire to be and who we actually are today. The presence of someone who is committed to our good is the difference-maker. As I look back on the 10 year career I just completed at my church in Phoenix, I see many places where I transformed as a person because a loving community held me accountable.
4. Discover who you are and live from that identity
Our culture’s battle with insecurity creates a giant barriers to integrity. When we don’t know we are or who we want to be, we’re consistently inconsistent. We continually change directions and exude confusion. To be whole or undivided, we have to claim our God-given identities and live from them daily. I do my best each morning to roll out of bed and plant my feet on the floor with this conscious thought – “I am loved unconditionally by God, for who I am not what I do. I have nothing to prove and nothing to lose today. God, help me to live from this place all day.”
5. Validate your integrity through your response to failure.
I’m about to celebrate my eighth anniversary with my wife next month. If this crazy ride called marriage has taught me anything, I’ve learned that it matters what happens when you make a mistake. If integrity was perfection, then none of us have a shot. But if it’s possible to be imperfect and integrous, then it must come down to how we respond to failure. It matters what we do between our failure and our apology, between our apology and our next opportunity.
The funny thing about integrity is we built it over months and years, but people often remember us for moments. I remember my dad’s integrity because of what we did when he double-booked commitments. I remember other people’s lack of integrity by a promise they made and never kept. We never really know when one of these defining moments will come. But if we live each day as if what we do matters, it won’t matter when one of these defining moments arrives. We’ll have integrity and we’ll be ready.