I got a random text from a former student the other day. The reason why it was random is because of all the students I have had the privilege of spending time with, he was probably one that I would not have expected this text from. This isn’t for any particular reason, it was just that we were never that close. We have hung out a bunch of times over the years, but nothing really beyond the superficial.
However, he texted me with a sense of urgency . . . phrases like, “Could we talk on the phone . . . in a few minutes . . . I’m am feeling complete spiritual brokenness.” Again, surprising coming from him but he called and we talked for almost 30 minutes about what he was going through.
At first, I was wondering why he was talking to me about his situation but he kept on saying to me, “I know we were never close but I’ve watched how you lived your life from afar and I knew you could help me,” and “I saw how you handled your life and I had to get in touch with you.”
What was he talking about? Well, he was talking about a life-changing event in my life where my marriage fell apart . . . and didn’t get back together. Yep, I’m a Pastor who has a failed marriage . . . something that gets me chocked up just writing about it.
But through that whole experience—years of brokenness, counseling and spiritual questions—I came out stronger. Why? Because who I am in Christ never waivered. Did I make a bad decision here or there? You bet; we are all sinners. But because of certain things in my life, God led me through it, and now He is using that for His glory.
The dictionary defines integrity this way, “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” If you read the definition closely you’ll see that it doesn’t say anything about “time off” for integrity. It’s not a part-time job for those times you are doing “ministry.”
Who you are when no one is looking is often a phrase used for integrity. But the problem with this is, there is always someone looking. You may not notice him or her, but there is always a really good chance someone is looking. That is why it is vital that who you are in the public eye is exactly who you are when you feel that no one is looking. Just look at the conversation I had with that former student above. I didn’t even know he was watching me at the time, but he was and it made a difference in him.
So, what can you do? How can a person live a life of integrity, no matter what situation they are facing? Here are some of the things I did:
• I have some really good friends. When life got crazy, I needed to circle the wagons and share with just three friends. I didn’t need to share all my stuff with everyone, just a core. It was those three that kept me focused on what I needed to do and helped me get there daily. They helped me live a life of integrity.
For instance, one night I was going through a really hard time. I told one of my core that I didn’t care anymore and that I was going to go to the movies by myself, then go to the bar next door and see what happens. (Do ministers really think like that??? I don’t know about others, but I did.) I was a wreck. He prayed for me but that didn’t matter, honestly—I was going to do whatever that night.
But the “strangest” thing happened, when I walked out of that movie theater, my friend was there with another friend and I just lost it. He cared for me so much he wouldn’t let me go down that path. That was a friend and without him, my integrity could have been compromised in a big way.
• I talk through my junk with a paid professional. That’s right, I’ve got junk, you’ve got junk, we’ve all got junk. It’s really nice to be able and go share my junk with a trained professional who I didn’t work with—someone who would keep my junk to himself, and I wouldn’t have to worry about sharing with someone else.
When we live our life as ministers we are going to see that the world is messy and it’s going to mess us up. We won’t be able to deal with it sometimes and we are going to want to quit or give up—we may even slip up. That is why it is great to talk to someone who will help you keep your focus on God. My counselor always pointed me to Him, reminding me weekly, “Focus on Him.” That kind of focus-centered therapy allowed me to keep my integrity strong during a really rough time in my life.
• I have got to seek God. This seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But really, if you want to lead a life of integrity, it starts here. Without the constant reliance on God’s Truth daily, we will fall to another form of truth. As hard as it may be to spend that daily time with Christ, it HAS to be a number one priority.
I am grateful for reminders like that phone call I got because, when you think that no one is looking and that the life you are leading isn’t impacting anyone, realize it is extremely important and the way you are living your life, through Christ, is making a difference to people you may have no idea are watching.
Remember, though, living a life of integrity all the time is impossible. I stink up the joint all the time in different ways. We will never be perfect, no matter how hard we try. We will never get it all right. But we can’t use that as an excuse, either. As Paul said in Acts 24:16, “so I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”
I pray this for you and please, pray this for me. People are watching us, whether you think they are or not. The way you live your life with integrity matters. God desires to use us and is using us to make a difference in a really messy world by the way we simply live our lives.