We’ve all watched that movie scene–the one where someone was presented with an apparently once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the only price being…everything they’ve stood for up to this point. We hope that they make the right decision, that they don’t take the money, that they say no to the bad person wanting to reenter their lives, that they walk away from past patterns, or choose their true friends. That they do what we
know desperately hope we would do in the same situation. In real life, we see it through the very public lives of celebrities, accepting roles with scenes that make them deeply uncomfortable or making private decisions that, once in the light, forever change our view of them. It’s heartbreaking and happens all the time.
And the fact that I am anonymous in comparison makes their choices seem SO HUGE, I conveniently forget that I, too, face choices that have the power to chip away at my truest self, or root me further in the bedrock of what I truly believe.
Mine are never announced by fanfare and rarely result in the kind of swift consequences or rewards that my short attention span craves–the endings that wrap up nicely, within the purview of a movie script. They don’t get photographed, disseminated, analyzed. They are quiet, small choices. They go unnoticed. They haven’t always been the events I journal about. And yet they are the foundation of an unromantic, un-glamorous and absolutely crucial pursuit of integrity.
I run my dad’s woodworking tool company and this idea began to crystallize in my head a couple weeks ago, when I was sitting squarely in my oversized roller chair. As a one-woman office, I get pulled in a lot of different directions; as an introvert, phone calls are always at the bottom of my Want To Do list. I hate answering the phone. I’ll do this thing where I stare at the number for a few seconds, hoping it’s a wrong-number situation, before I muster the courage to answer. Once I answer, 99% of the time, all I need to do is take down an address and send a replacement part. Easy-peasy. At the end of any such call, I invariably say, “I’ll send your parts out this afternoon!”
Woo-hoo! The realization that their parts are going into the mail so soon leaves people almost giddy and free to voice their happiness, quelling my fears of having a bad phone call. Everybody wins. All I have to do is…you know. Actually send them.
And I do! I write the addresses on the front, slip the replacements inside, slap on a logo sticker and carry those cute little packages out to my car. Then they sit in my backseat for a little while and, a couple days later, I head down to the (inexcusably convenient) post office and send them. Not so bad, right? You know where this is going.
Staring at the stack of packages two weeks ago, I realized I had no integrity in these dealings. I wanted the approval and instant satisfaction of my customers, without following through with my assurances. They got their packages a day or two later than anticipated, and everything worked out on the whole, but I was straight convicted. Somehow, this was both not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, aaaand a YUGE deal in the grand scheme of things. #yesidid
It sparked a cascading waterfall of how I do this in other ways–promising to send an email, text or return a call. Promising to fill out paperwork, get something done or reach out to someone. Waiting to reply and not explaining why. It didn’t take more than a few minutes of this for me to realize that a lack of integrity permeated my entire life. Things got done and people heard from me within a reasonable amount of time, so no one ever said anything. It was a vice that was and is unlikely to get found out or verbally addressed. And that made me very, very uncomfortable.
Needless to say, those packages and every stack since have gone out the same day, but it really got me thinking. It’s been said many times that who you are in the dark is who you truly are, but I usually associate that with destructive addictions and emotions, like hatred. I had forgotten C.S. Lewis’s brilliant words:
“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”
Let that sink in: Every time you make a choice.
It appears that there is no in-between. It appears that we have to do the unromantic work of actually being who we’d like to be and who we claim to be. We will have to make choices that aren’t convenient, seem really insignificant and stretch us in little ways. It’s either that, or being fraudulent in our dealings with other people and ourselves.
But that’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it?! Integrity isn’t something you check off a list or acquire, the way you finish your to-do’s or buy a new outfit. It has to be consistently chosen, again and again, every day. When the initial excitement wears off, when the exhaustion of the week sets in, when I-just-don’t-want-to, I have a choice. I can choose to let things fall by the wayside, cancel at the very last minute, or slip back into old patterns–just like the heroes of our movies can choose to do. I can turn my “central thing,” just a shade more, into someone I don’t want to be.
Or I can step into a young woman I don’t quite know yet, but who longs for and does the daily work of pursuing greater harmony with God, others and herself.